Posts Tagged ‘Wild Foods’

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Running Silver:
Restoring The Fish Migrations of Atlantic Rivers

Running SilverEver wonder what pristine runs of migratory fish in Atlantic rivers looked like to early colonists? Some saw so many salmon, shad, alewives and other species that they said the waters “ran silver” with fish as they swam upstream to spawn.

John Waldman’s Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and their Great Fish Migrations (Lyons Press, 2013) covers the biology, history, and conservation of shad, salmon, striped bass, sturgeon, eels and the others that complete grand migrations between fresh and salt waters.

This includes the evolution of these unique life cycles, the ingenious ways that native people and colonists fished for these species, ‘fish wars’ between mill dam operators and fishermen, the ravages of damming, pollution, and overfishing, and more recent concerns such as climate change, power plant water withdrawals, and the introduction of non-native species. » Continue Reading.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ed Kanze: A Brush With Nightshade

ed_kanze_nightshadeDone anything stupid lately? As much as it pains me to admit it, I have. I’ve eaten wild foods all my life and never made a mistake identifying them. Until now.

Listen and hear the cautionary tale of a naturalist biting the wrong fruit and nearly biting the dust in the process on this week’s edition of All Things Natural with Ed Kanze. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dan Crane: The Edible Adirondacks

Adirondack wooded gardenSpending time in the Adirondack backcountry requires an entire menagerie of skills, including navigation, endurance and tolerance for being the object of affection for hordes of bloodthirsty flies. Often overlooked are those skills necessary to survive in the wilderness for an extended period without all the convenient gear and compact foods typically carried by most backcountry enthusiasts.

These skills include, but are certainly not limited to, building a shelter, starting a fire and finding something to eat. Although these skills are useful when impressing members of the opposite sex far from civilization, these skills just might mean the difference between life and death when forced to spend a few unexpected days in the remote backcountry.

One important survival skill is locating edible wild foods in the backcountry. Whether lost and in dire need of sustenance or just curious about sampling the local cuisine, knowing what to eat, when and how is crucial to avoid a mouthful of something disgusting, or worse. Although the dense Adirondack forest may appear devoid of anything remotely resembling nourishment, the backcountry is full of nourishing, if not delicious foods, with only the knowledge of where to look for them lacking.
» Continue Reading.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Burdocks and Cockleburs: Have Hooks, Will Travel

bursHang off, thou cat, thou burr! vile thing, let loose,
Or I will shake thee from me like a serpent!

-William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The aroma of wood smoke lingers as you take your evening stroll. The sun has slipped behind the hills as the moon takes its watch at the other end of the valley. It’s the moment of twilight when solid figures are no longer discernible from shadows, and so you fail to notice the tiny hitchhiker lurking beside the path.

Upon your return, you reach down to untie your shoes and feel a painful pinch. After a blood-curdling “YOWCH!” you reach the light switch. Once your eyes adjust, you see the culprit – a spine-covered bur.

It’s no easy task getting to the roots of a burdock plant (anyone who’s ever tried to pull one out of the soil will know this pun is intended). Both burdocks (in the genus Arctium), and their look-alike cousins the cockleburs (in the genus Xanthium), belong to the aster family, a huge group that includes sunflowers and goldenrods. They are also both characterized by a tendency to prick fingers and ride through the laundry cycle on socks. » Continue Reading.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Wildlife Food: More On Mast

nutsHard mast, the term used to refer to the nuts wild trees produce, is humbling this way. We know that, generally speaking, trees require a lot of energy to produce nuts, and so a tree won’t produce them every year. The books say every two or three years for beech nuts and three to seven years for oaks, but take it all with a grain of salt.

There are advantages, from a tree’s perspective, to being unpredictable. Abundant years followed by lean years keep seed predators in check. (Biologists call this predator satiation.) In a good year, the woods are flooded with nuts – more than any squirrel or mouse can eat. The next fall, when rodent populations are high thanks to all the easy living, the trees take the year off and the surplus rodents starve.
» Continue Reading.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Beechnuts, Acorns and Whitetail

MAst and whitetailIt’s a good year for beechnuts and acorns. Beechnuts – the fruit of the American beech tree – are a small three-sided edible nut. Since they are high in protein and fat, they’re favored by Adirondack wildlife along with acorns, or oak nuts, the nut of the oak tree. Both are in the beech family (fagaceae) and play an important role in Adirondack forests. These natural nut crops, known as mast, are very plentiful this year.

Early this summer, while harvesting trees in Warren County, I could tell it was going to be a good year for beechnuts and acorns, as the canopies were full. As the beechnuts matured I often found myself enjoying their bounty – they make a nice snack in the middle of the woods. These crops are not always there for the deer, squirrels, bear and turkey, so I am sure they appreciate the extra snack as well. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

2013-14 Sporting Licenses Now On Sale

nys dec logoThe 2013-2014 hunting, fishing and trapping licenses and Deer Management Permits (DMPs) are now available for  purchase.

In a statement issued to the press New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens praised Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY Open for Hunting and Fishing Initiative. Under this initiative, New York is streamlining the purchase of hunting and fishing licensing and reducing license fees, improving fishing access at various sites across the state, stocking as much as 900,000 pounds of fish, expanding fishing clinics and increasing hunting opportunities in various regions. The reduced fees become effective February 1, 2014. » Continue Reading.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Programs Highlighting Sportsmen, Outdoors Enthusiasts

Two program series set to begin this month in Newcomb and Keene offer events for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts. The Adirondack Mountain Club’s 2013 Winter Lecture Series will take place at the High Peaks Information Center, while the Adirondack Interpretive Center (AIC), formerly the Newcomb VIC, will offer a variety of programs highlighting the role that sportsmen in the Adirondacks play in conservation and game management.

The AIC’s programs will begin on January 26, with a focus on white-tailed deer. Future AIC program topics will include trapping, and preparing, cooking and enjoying fresh game. This month’s program will be led by Jeremy Hurst, a certified wildlife biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Hurst specializes in managing New York state’s big-game populations.
» Continue Reading.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A New Edition Of A Trail And Camp Food Classic

A new edition of the trail and camp food classic The Hungry Hiker’s Book of Good Cooking by Gretchen McHugh has been published by McHugh’s husband John Sullivan of Chestertown.  Hungry Hiker was first published in 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, who assigned Judith Jones its editor (Jones was also editor for Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and before that The Diary of Anne Frank).  The book was in Knopf’s catalog for 25 years. It sold 50,000 copies in 13 printings, inspired multitudes of back-country meals, and many imitators.

“When Knopf dropped the book in 2007, we started making plans to revise and republish it,” John Sullivan told me recently (he’s a neighbor, across the valley on Kipp Mountain).  “We were barely under way when Gretchen was diagnosed with Frontal-Temporal Dementia.”  She moved to a nursing home last spring and John decided to go ahead with the new edition in time for its 30th anniversary.  A new generation of readers, now schooled in the kind of 1970s self-sufficiency that served as background to this classic when it was published, will be glad he did. » Continue Reading.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Prime Time For Hunting Whitetail Deer

Traditionally, it is between November 4th and 18th when the peak of the rutting or breeding season for the white-tailed deer occurs in the Adirondacks. Bucks are continuously on the move during these two weeks as they attempt to locate any doe that is nearing her initial heat period.

Also, as bucks expand their search for females outside their regular area of travel, males must continue to regularly return to their home range in order to ensure that rivals do not intrude into their domain.
» Continue Reading.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

DEC Seeks Input on Waterfowl Hunting Seasons

Hunters are invited to submit recommendations for the dates of the Fall 2012 duck hunting seasons to regional Waterfowl Hunter Task Forces, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced. DEC will evaluate the task force recommendations in setting waterfowl seasons, which must comply with federal rules.

DEC is soliciting recommendations for the Fall 2012 hunting seasons, including opening and closing dates, split seasons and a special hunting weekend for youths. The recommended dates must be within federal guidelines established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). For Fall 2012, DEC expects the USFWS to allow a 60-day duck season, split into no more than two segments per zone, opening no earlier than September 22, 2012, and closing no later than January 27, 2013. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat

Georgia Pellegrini isn’t the typical image of a hunter. She was once more accustomed to martini on Wall Street than a back woods duck hunt, but after a stint at Wellesley and Harvard she enrolled in the French Culinary Institute and discovered a love for local, sustainable, farm to table cuisine that led her down an unexpected path.

While cooking with top chefs at Blue Hill at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, Pellegrini was sent outside to kill five turkeys for that night’s dinner. Suddenly face-to-face with the meat she was preparing, she says she was forced to reevaluate her relationship with food. The result is Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time (Da Capo Press, 2011).

The book chronicles Pellegrini’s evolution from buying plastic-wrapped meat at a supermarket to killing a wild boar with a .22-250 caliber rifle, a journey, she says, toward understanding not only where our food comes from, but what kind of life it lived before it reached the table. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Adirondack Foods: Venison Chili for a Chilly Day

Like many others in the Adirondacks, I grew up with venison incorporated into many meals. In sausage form, we had it prepared with peppers, the ground version made meat sauce for spaghetti, steaks were cooked on the grill no matter the time of year, and various cubed cuts made kebobs, sauerbraten and various stews. As a child, I can remember trading half of my daily peanut butter and jelly sandwich for half of a friend’s venison sandwich.

As I slipped into adulthood and urban living, I found that many of my friends weren’t sold on the idea of eating game of any sort – even found the idea foreign. While at that point, I realized that I didn’t know anyone in these circles who had grown up with family members that hunted, I also realized that part of the reason my family enjoyed so much venison throughout the year was because of the positive impact it had on the weekly grocery bill. » Continue Reading.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ausable River Restoration Walk and Talk

Carl Schwartz, US Fish and Wildlife Service and John Braico, NYS Trout Unlimited will lead a walk of the Ausable River on October 24 focused on rebuilding and repairing streams effected by flooding. Funds recently secured by the Ausable River Association (AsRA) for restoring tributaries damaged during Irene flooding are being considered for allocation.

Both Schwartz and Braico have worked extensively throughout New York to repair rivers and restore aquatic habitat. Schwartz works actively on river restoration projects and operates an excavator to build natural channels.

The Ausable River Association and the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District are inviting and encouraging Citizens, Town Council members, Town DPWs, County DPW, DOT, DEC, and NonGovernmental Organizations to attend.

Date: October 24, 10 AM; Meet at the mouth of John’s Brook at the Rt. 73 bridge in Keene Valley; 2 PM Meet at the Gazebo in Ausable Forks.

For more information, contact the Ausable River Association.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

After Irene: Paddling The New Duck Hole

A few days after Hurricane Irene, I hiked to Duck Hole to see how the place looked after the breach of the old logging dam. Although the pond lost most of its water, there were streams running through the resultant mudflats and a pool remained at the base of the waterfall on east shore.

Earlier in the year, I had carried my canoe to Duck Hole and had a ball paddling around and admiring views of High Peaks. Now I wondered if anyone would ever want to bring a canoe to Duck Hole again.

Well, someone already has: Adirondack guide Joe Hackett.

Hackett took the same route I took in the spring: he paddled across Henderson Lake, carried 1.7 miles to Upper Preston Pond, paddled across the two Preston Ponds, and then carried to Duck Hole. He said the short carry trails between Upper and Lower Preston and between Lower Preston’s outlet and Duck Hole were in good shape.

He found enough water at the end of the last carry to launch his boat. In fact, he estimates that the pool I saw from the far shore is about half the size of the old Duck Hole. In the deepest spots, he said, the water goes down six feet.

He paddled to the dam no problem. He also went a short distance up two inlets, Roaring Brook to the north and another stream that flows from the south. The water was shallow, but paddlers should be able to go farther in spring or whenever the water is high.

“Duck Hole is down, but it’s not out,” said Hackett, who writes an outdoors column for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

For wilderness paddlers, this is good news. Anglers, however, will be disappointed to learn that Hackett found no signs of fish in the pool or in the streams. In the past, he had no trouble landing brook trout.

He speculates that most of the trout were washed into the Cold River, which starts at the dam. “I fished it all over and never had a bite,” he said. “I fished below the dam and had several hits.”

He added that many trout that remained in the shallow water probably were picked off by osprey, eagles, or herons, and any that weren’t eaten fled up the brooks to avoid a similar fate.

“When the water’s that skinny they’re as nervous as a whore in church,” he said. “They don’t want to be seen.”

Duck Hole has long been a favorite camping spot on the Northville-Placid Trail, prized for its fabulous views and remote setting. Before Hurricane Irene, hikers organized a campaign to save the Duck Hole dam. Coincidentally, Adirondack Explorer ran a debate on the topic in its current issue.

Tom Wemett, who wrote in favor of repairing dam, is now mounting an effort to get it rebuilt. Wemett is the chairman of the Northville-Placid chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Bill Ingersoll, the author of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebooks, wrote in favor of letting Duck Hole revert to its wilder self.

Click here to read their debate.

Photo by Joe Hackett: Duck Hole near Lower Preston outlet.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. He has been writing about Irene’s impacts on the Adirondacks on his Outtakes blog and here on Adirondack Almanack.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Adirondack Lamprey: Monsters of the Deep?

Lampreys (petromyzontidae) are native to parts of the Adirondacks. They are among the most primitive fish in the world and can be distinguished from eels by their lack of jaws and paired fins. Most species of Lamprey have a parasitic life stage, where they will attach themselves to other fish like Lake Trout and “rasp” through the skin using their teeth and tongue. Within the Adirondacks three species can be found within Lake Champlain and some of its tributaries, these include: Silver lamprey, Sea lamprey, and the non-parasitic American Brook lamprey.

Lampreys have an elongate shape with seven pairs of round gill openings. They have a single nostril that is located in front of the eyes. All species have similar life histories; in the spring, they move into streams to spawn. Adults build nests by moving pebbles on the substrate to form a depression in which to lay their eggs. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Adirondack Sporting Experience

What follows is a guest essay by longtime local guide Joe Hackett:

The Adirondack Park has a long and storied history of outdoor sporting adventures.

For centuries, the region was a favored hunting ground for the Iroquois and Algonquin nations. Indeed, the area provided the first commodities of trade in the New World as Adirondack beaver pelts became crucial to early commerce. » Continue Reading.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ed Zahniser: Wilderness, Our Community of Life

What follows is a talk given by Ed Zahniser at the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks’s Arthur M. Crocker Lecture Series in 2006. Ed Zahniser is employed by the National Park Service in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He writes frequently about National Parks and the Parks mission. He is the son of Howard Zahniser (1906-1964), the principal author and chief lobbyist for the National Wilderness Preservation System Act of 1964. It was in the Adirondacks High Peaks in 1946 with the late conservationist Paul Schaefer that Howard Zahniser first recognized the importance of Article XIV, Section 1, the “forever wild clause” of the New York State Constitution could be a precedent for federal protection of wilderness by statute. Ed edited his father’s Adirondack writings in Where Wilderness Preservation Began: Adirondack Writings of Howard Zahniser. He also edited the book Ranger Bowback: An Adirondack farmer: a memoir of Hillmount Farms (Bakers Mills).

It somehow takes the pressure off public speaking to know that one stands up here, rather than sits out there only by accident of birth. That is to say: my father Howard Zahniser, who died four months before the 1964 Wilderness Act became law, was the chief architect of, and lobbyist for, this landmark Act that created the now 106-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System. I am up here because of his accomplishments.

If I have another credential than birth for being up here, it may be that Paul Schaefer—the late, great, indomitable Adirondack conservationist—was one of my chief mentors, my early hero, and my formative outdoors role model. Paul bought my first fishing rod and helped me catch my first trout. I was seven years old then. That life event took place in what is now the New York State-designated Siamese Ponds Wilderness right here in the Adirondacks.

I worked for Paul Schaefer’s small construction outfit for two of my high school summers. I lived at his home in Schenectady, New York, along with three of Paul and Carolyn’s children, Evelyn, Cub, and Monica. Ev, Monica, and I collaborated on the cooking. And I spent many of those weekends with Paul in the Adirondack cabin land that was his heart’s home. So, in public speaking, as in much of life, it’s not what you know. It’s who you know, or knew.

But it is more than appropriate to talk about wilderness preservation in New York State, for here, in your Adirondacks and Catskills, is where wilderness preservation began, which fact I will return to. It is also appropriate to talk about the Wilderness Act in New York State, because it was here that advocating the preservation of specific wilderness began for Howard Zahniser.

And, although this fact was lost on me until I was an adult, Paul Schaefer was my father’s mentor for learning the ropes of grassroots stumping and lobbying to preserve wilderness. Paul and Zahnie, as my father was known, labored together against dam-building schemes in the western Adirondacks from 1946 into the 1950s. When they took up the gauntlet in 1946, to block the dams was deemed a lost cause. But Paul and Zahnie went from town to town in western New York, testifying at public hearings, meeting with news people, and identifying and cultivating other advocates of saving wildlands.

My father also brought national experts from Washington, D.C. to New York to testify against the dams. So Paul Schaefer was Zahnie’s mentor in sticking with lost causes, too. And that was important mentorship—sticking with lost causes—for a wilderness advocate on the national scene later in the 1950s. That was 20 years before the environmental movement hit. As Olaus Murie would later say—Olaus and his wife Mardy Murie were crucial players in the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—Olaus would later say that “Zahnie has unusual tenacity in lost causes.” That was a New York State skill, unusual tenacity in lost causes. I hope some of your have that skill, too.

The history of the 1964 Wilderness Act is commonly taken to be an eight-year legislative struggle. The first Wilderness Bills were introduced in Congress in 1956, in the House of Representatives by John P. Saylor of Pennsylvania and in the Senate by Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota. The Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964. My mother, Alice Zahniser, stood in my father’s place at the White House for the signing, and President Johnson gave her a pen he used. All I ever got from President Johnson was a letter in 1967 telling me I had been selected, drafted in fact, to serve in the U.S. Army during the Viet Nam conflict.

The history of the realization of a Wilderness Act is more aptly a 100-year struggle, from 1864 to 1964. Two events in 1864 begin a history of the Wilderness Act. The first event is President Abraham Lincoln’s taking time from prosecuting the Civil War to sign an act ceding certain federal public domain lands of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees—Giant Sequoia trees—to the state of California as public parklands. The other 1864 event is the publication of Vermonter George Perkins Marsh’s book Man and Nature.

Historian and planner Lewis Mumford called Marsh’s book the fountainhead of the American conservation movement. Its subtitle is “The Earth as Modified by Human Action.” The verb form of that word, to modify, makes it into the opening paragraphs of the Wilderness Act. This was no literary accident. Howard Zahniser was a keen student of the roots of American concern for wilderness. Marsh’s book Man and Nature was a historical synthesis of humankind’s global assaults on forests. Still in print today, the book has never been out of print. It went through some seven printings in its first nine years. Marsh wrote it in Italy, where President Lincoln had posted him as a diplomat.

Marsh had witnessed the destruction of Vermont’s forests in his own lifetime. In 1856, Marsh and his wife had traveled in North Africa, sent there by Jefferson Davis, then U.S. Secretary of War, to study the camel for use in fighting American Indians in the Southwest. Ironically, as Marsh wrote Man and Nature, Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate States of America.

Marsh realized that many desert areas they traversed were once sites of great civilizations founded on forests harboring elephants, not deserts with camels. But it did not hit Marsh full-face until he was posted to Italy.

Marsh’s travels there convinced him that the once great civilizations of the northern Mediterranean Basin, like Greece, also declined when their forests were cut down—as Marsh himself witnessed Vermont forests decimated. Marsh’s book marked a watershed event for his thinking. Forests were keepers of watersheds. Forests were keepers of civilizations.

In its broadest sweep, the Wilderness Act is a statement of social ethics. It is about restraint and humility, about restraint and humility for what we do not know about the land organism . . . about which Aldo Leopold wrote. As acid rain, acidic deposition, has forced us to understand soil relationships better, we find in soils the same spiralling downward of complexity that the Hubble space telescope finds spiraling outward as the complexity of the universe—or multiverse.

I belabor this conservation history to show that wilderness preservation was not a new idea in the 1950s. To preserve wilderness, as a future vision for federal public lands has been around a long time. Right across Lake Champlain from Marsh’s Vermont, these Adirondack Mountains testify to Americans’ long-standing concern for wildlands. In 1872 New York State began to move to create an Adirondack State Park. The motivation was clear: in 1871 New Yorkers suddenly found themselves net importers of wood fiber for the first time ever.

Heeding Marsh’s warnings in Man and Nature, New Yorkers, in 1872, moved to protect what forests they had left. Then, in 1885, New Yorkers designated, on state-owned lands of the Adirondacks and Catskills, the State Forest Preserve lands. And in 1894, New Yorkers put in the state constitution the “forever wild” clause. The clause says that forest preserve lands will be kept “forever as wild forest lands.”

One voting member of that 1894 Constitutional Convention was the lawyer, Louis Marshall. Louis Marshall was a renowned champion of Jewish civil liberties, immigrant rights, and all minority rights. And Louis Marshall later led the floor fight, at the 1915 New York State Constitutional Convention, that blocked a move to gut the “forever wild” clause.

In wilderness preservation history, Louis Marshall is best known as the father of Robert Marshall, the indefatigable Bob Marshall who labored within the U.S. Forest Service to protect roadless wilderness in the 1930s. So New Yorker Bob Marshall, who organized The Wilderness Society, was a second-generation wilderness advocate. The urge to preserve wilderness has been around a long time.

Historically we have seen three big conservation movements: first a forests movement, then a parks movement, and now the wilderness preservation movement. All three continue today. However, as movements to preserve wild nature on federal public lands, the forests movement was eventually seen by many conservationists as co-opted; and then the parks movement, too, was seen as co-opted; and so conservationists tried again — most recently with the wilderness preservation movement and 1964 Wilderness Act—creating the National Wilderness Preservation System. One can only speculate about the next major movement: Perhaps something like the Wildlands Project or a Network of Wildlands—some attempt to link, perhaps with green infrastructure, protected natural areas and open spaces so as to preserve and/or restore wildness at the continental scale.

Working through their representatives in Congress, Americans first got forest reserves established on federal public lands — through the 1891 Forest Reservation Act. Forest reserves were true reserves, closed to grazing, mining, logging, homesteading. But, in 1905, Gifford Pinchot convinced Congress to open forest reserves to resource extraction as national forests. That change sparked a national parks movement. Again working through Congress, Americans then bet on national parks to preserve wild nature on federal public lands. Indeed, the rapid growth of the National Park System in the 1920s and 1930s saw many of the new parklands carved out of national forest lands. But the first National Park Service Director Stephen Mather allied the parks movement with automobile tourism. Road and development pressures on park backcountry grew as automobile touring mushroomed. Pressure to road and to develop park backcountry added urgency to the drive to protect wilderness by law rather than by administrative whim.

I said that the Wilderness Act is an ethical statement about our human relations with what Aldo Leopold called the land organism. In fact, wilderness has a deep tradition in Judeo Christian thought of being prophetic for human culture. By “prophetic” I do not mean predicting the future. Prophetic, rather, means a calling back to fundamental, right relationships. Wilderness has been the location for calling people back to right relationship both within the human community and with the divine.

The wilderness sojourn of the Hebrew people fleeing 400 years of slavery in Egypt under Pharoah is reported in the Hebrew Scriptures’ Book of Exodus. These wild settings — desert wilderness, mountain top — like Gothic cathedrals, put us in spatial perspectives that impress on us our true scale in the universal scheme. Wilderness experience calls us back to what my father described as a sense of dependence and interdependence as well as independence. Wilderness experience can call us back to right relationships with what my father called the whole community of life on Earth that derives its existence from the Sun. Wilderness experience can bring us to realize that, as my father wrote, we prosper only as the whole community of life prospers.

Novelist Andrew Lytle writes that prophets do not come from the city promising riches and wearing store-bought clothes. No, prophets have always come from the wilderness, stinking of goats . . . and telling of a different sort of treasure. Wendell Berry writes that “If change is to come, it will come from the margins. . . . It was the desert, not the temple, that gave us the prophets.” And in Hebrew scripture as in New Testament Greek the words we translate as desert and wilderness are the same word.

This prophetic role of wilderness experience — how wilderness can call us back to right relationships, to right living, to social justice — this prophetic role of wilderness also figures in the history of the Wilderness Act. For this we step back to the Transcendentalist reformers Margaret Sarah Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.

Zahnie was a lifelong student of the writings of Emerson and Thoreau. He served as president of the Thoreau Society for the 1956 to 1957 term. One of my father’s public school teachers had her students memorize an Emerson quotation every week. My father’s interest eventually shifted more to Thoreau, who has since perhaps eclipsed his friend and mentor Emerson in the popular imagination.

It was Thoreau who, in his 1862 essay “Walking,” inscribed the Zen koan-like rallying cry of conservation that “. . . in Wildness is the preservation of the World.” In his book Walden, in his books Cape Cod and The Maine Woods, and in his millionous words of Journals, Thoreau meditates on the necessity of wildness—wildness as necessity not luxury. And isn’t it intriguing how Thoreau does not say we preserve wildness. He says wildness preserves the world? And Thoreau, who read French, German, Latin, and Greek, points out in the essay that the word world as he uses it is the Greek word kosmos, meaning not only world but also beauty, pattern, order. . . . in Wildness is the preservation of the World, Beauty, Pattern, Order.

Until women’s studies took hold, Margaret Sarah Fuller was far less well known than Emerson and Thoreau. But some now credit Fuller as the greatest Transcendentalist thinker. (She was the great aunt, by the way, of the wildly inventive R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller.) Margaret Fuller’s book Woman in the Nineteenth Century may be, still, the best statement on that subject. She edited the Transcendentalist magazine The Dial. She was the first female book reviewer for a major New York City newspaper. She was a thorough-going reformer. Fuller even went to Europe to take part in the Italian revolution. She died in a ship wreck just off the U.S. east coast coming back to America. Emerson asked Thoreau to go look for her body and effects, for her manuscript on the revolution. But none was found.

Margaret Fuller is intriguing for Wilderness Act history because her 1840s reform agenda uncannily prefigures the legislative agenda of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey in the 1950s. Margaret Fuller advocated American Indian rights, ending slavery, women’s suffrage, women’s rights, education reform, rehabilitation of women prisoners, and valuing nature. Margaret Fuller’s reform agenda and Senator Humphrey’s agenda, of which the Wilderness Act was one important element, show that wilderness is not at the periphery of society but is a core concern of a whole society, holistically construed.

Fuller’s and Humphrey’s similar agendas round out the truth of Thoreau asserting that “. . . in wildness is the preservation of the World.” The Wilderness Act was part of Sen. Humphrey’s legislative package that also included the National Defense Education Loan Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the landmark Civil Rights Act. Wilderness and wildness are necessity, not peripheral luxuries of a society holistically construed.

Bob Marshall, who was Jewish, early fought for access to wilderness as a minority right. Bob Marshall also fought for a fair shake for labor and other social justice issues. On his death at age 38 in 1939, one-third of Bob Marshall’s estate effectively endowed the Wilderness Society, but two-thirds went to advocate labor and other social justice issues. Again, wilderness and wildness are necessity, not peripheral luxuries of a society holistically construed.

This bit of biography underscores how Congress declares the intent of the National Wilderness Preservation System Act to be “for the permanent good of the whole people. . .” by a House of Representatives vote of 373 to 1 and a Senate vote of 78-12. Isn’t that amazing?

Wilderness and wildness are integral to what Wendell Berry calls the circumference of mystery. Wilderness and wildness are integral to what the poet Denise Levertov calls the Great Web. Wilderness and wildness are integral to what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls our inescapable network of mutuality. Wilderness and wildness are integral to what God describes to Job as the “circle on the face of the deep.” Wilderness and wildness are integral to the bio-sphere, to that circle of life, which is also this circle of life, our circle of life. Our full community of life on Earth that derives its existence from the Sun.

The prophetic call of wilderness is not to escape the world. The prophetic call of wilderness is to encounter the world’s essence. John Hay calls wilderness “Earth’s immortal genius.” Gary Snyder calls it the planetary intelligence. Wilderness calls us to renewed kinship with all of life. In Aldo Leopold’s words, we will enlarge the boundaries of the community—we will live out a land ethic—only as we feel ourselves a part of the same community.

By securing a national policy of restraint and humility toward natural conditions and wilderness character, the Wilderness Act offers a sociopolitical step toward a land ethic, toward enlarging the boundaries of the community.

So, preserving wilderness and wildness is about recognizing the limitations of our desires and the limitations of our capabilities within nature. But nature really is this all-encompassing community— including humans—that Aldo Leopold characterized simply as “the land.” With preserving designated wilderness we are putting a small percentage of the land outside the scope of our trammeling influence.

Terry Tempest Williams titles her introduction to Aldo Leopold’s wilderness excerpts in The Essential Aldo Leopold as “Wilderness: A Place of Humility.” Maybe Thoreau intuited that in Wildness—in recognizing our rightful, ethical place in this broadly construed community—is the preservation of the world, beauty, pattern, order.

Let me share with you how I first grasped my place in this larger community that so concerned Aldo Leopold and my father. In 1961, I and another 15-year-old, Stephen Griffith, were privileged to go to the south slope of Alaska’s Brooks Range with the legendary field biologist and conservationist team of Olaus and “Mardy” Murie. We camped on Lobo Lake near the Sheenjek River in what is now the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. One day Stephen and I took our cameras around to the lakeshore opposite our camp to explore.

After we had traveled some distance from the lake, and I was alone — although mostly, in that treeless country, in sight of Stephen — I came across a pile of grizzly bear droppings. The pile was 18 inches across and stood five inches high. I looked at that pile and thought: “Wow, if I had gone through that bear it wouldn’t leave that much behind!” That necessarily-humbled, gut recognition of my place other-than-at-the-top of the food chain in that wilderness nudged me forever into that larger community that so concerned Aldo Leopold. That was 1961. Twenty five years later I wrote from memory a group of poems about that summer. Here are two:

Sheenjek River

Wolf tracks on a
silted gravel bar:

I found them just
off camp in a drizzle.

Got the others and
off we went to cast it.

Mosquitoes kept down
by light rain.

Mixing silt and plaster,
Olaus messes his hands.

The sky clears and
mosquitoes come out.

Brushing them off his head,
blood mixes with the mud.

The perfect wolf track
cast in silty definition.

Tonight the river rises
and for the second time
this wolf just disappears.


Fourth of July, hunkered
down in a small depression
on the wide floodplain,

photographing chicks
of a Baird’s sandpiper
when a coal black wolf

happens onto us
upwind to 42 paces
measured later but

not until our hearts
and minds have leaped to deep
pre-Revolutionary pasts

no fireworks display
will henceforth ever
hold a Roman candle to.

The anthropologist and Alaska resident Richard Nelson says that we are the land as it rises up on two legs for a time and walks around and looks. Nelson says this is very clear when you live a subsistence lifestyle, as Nelson did with Alaska Natives, the Koyukon people, as his book Make Prayers to the Raven records.

Land law expert Eric Freyfogle says that “We remain such a knowledge-focused culture that we have no good mechanisms for taking what we know and then adjusting or supplementing it to take into account what we plainly do not know. [Aldo] Leopold’s land ethic was designed to do just that.”

“Conservation,” writes cultural ecologist E. N. Anderson in his book Ecologies of the Heart, “is not about natural resources. It is about the social contract.” And again, as the Wilderness Act does, Anderson would make the social contract not just with the human world but with the more-than-human world. Recall that the “forever wild” clause of the New York State Constitution, Article XIV, Section 1, does not read simply “wild forest.” It reads “wild forest lands.”

Howard Zahniser was both a writer and a reader—immersed in the literature of Dante, Blake, The Book of Job, and Thoreau. He wore virtual fabric file cabinets, suit coats tailor-made with four, supersized inside pockets well suited to a lobbyist. His jumbo pockets usually held a book by Thoreau and one by Dante or Blake, along with other wilderness propaganda.

Zahnie’s literary interests fed his delight in words that informed his choice of the word untrammeled to define the wilderness ideal. My sister Karen had a teddy bear my father variously nicknamed “Wilderness Bill” and “Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear.” “Wilderness Bill” is an obvious nickname. The other moniker parodies the Christian gospel song, “Gladly, the Cross I’d Bear.” Carefully mixing metaphors, Zahnie once joked that wilderness was “where the hand of man has never set foot.”

Zahnie fed himself with literature. He kept current with nature writing through his role as books editor of Nature Magazine. He wrote the conservation section for the Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook series. It remains important to feed ourselves with works that reach beyond the limited self to enlarge the boundaries of the community.

In 1955 Zahnie wrote that “It is characteristic of wilderness to impress its visitors with their relationship to other forms of life, and to afford those who linger an intimation of the interdependence of all life.” “In the wilderness,” he wrote, “it is thus possible to sense most keenly our human membership in the whole community of life on the Earth. And in this possibility is perhaps one explanation for our modern deep-seated need for wilderness.”

Howard Zahniser did not live to see the Wilderness Act. He saw only a series of wilderness bills that he shepherded through 66 drafts and 18 public hearings. In fact, my father once said that creating a National Wilderness Preservation System was not even as important in itself as the fact that so many of us would one day take that step together.

That step is now a 42-year journey, a journey toward sustainable inhabitation of North America, of Turtle Island, by the multiple cultures we now so clearly are. The National Wilderness Preservation System—and New York State’s own wilderness areas—exist now to create ethical space for that vision, Aldo Leopold’s ethical space evoking human restraint in our relations with the more-than-human world, that is, the whole community of life on Earth.

The root of the word humility is shared by the word humus, the soil. In the Hebrew Genesis story the Hebrew roots of our words for man, woman, and soil also are very closely related. Humus, humility, soil as earth. Man, woman, ground. But we still put Descartes before the horse—in our overweening consumeristic, materialistic hyper-rationalism. As Bill McKibben has written, if the human people of the world were drawn to the accurate scale of our relative consumption of resources, we Americans would be as big as sperm whales.

We forget that the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan is not a discourse on Middle Eastern sociology or religious competition. The parable is a slant, truth-telling answer to the evasive sophistry of the question that merely poses as an answer: “Yes, but who is my neighbor?”

Preserving some wilderness and wildness in perpetuity, is one way of being a good neighbor to the whole of that circle . . . being a good neighbor to the Bio-Sphere . . . . a good neighbor to the wholeness of that circle on the face of the deep. . . As Thoreau wrote, Walden Pond proved one of his best neighbors.

Bill McKibben says we need wilderness because it is one of the few places where we can still sense our true human scale. Weird inflated pictures of our most base wants and desires are flashed at us as advertising litanies of outsized lust for the ludicrous. McKibben compares wilderness to soup kitchens and hospitals — as other places where transcendent love still plays.

What is our true human scale? McKibben says, existentially, we are so small — but we can matter so much. That is the boldness of human humility. The boldness of human biotic humility. And it is a truism that humility is never gained by seeking it. Humility is worked into our lives by the discipline of service.

When the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote out his profoundly relational view of human life in 1923, he included our I-Thou relationship with nature. Deep subjectivity with the more-than-human world was not invented by deep ecology. You see, time is like a spiral not an arrow. “We are not more elegant or eloquent than our ancestors,” as Barry Lopez points out.

Look! says British novelist Jeanette Winterson, the world contains many things that exist but cannot be collected and put someplace — the set of complex numbers, gravity, dreams, wildness. Beauty hovers still . . . without a dollar sign. Look! If your emotional life had the luxury of critiquing your rational life, it would probably say “Hah! That’s only superstition!”

“What have we lost in this vast hemisphere since the European contact?” asks Barry Lopez—“whole communities of people, plants, and animals. We lost languages, epistemologies, books, ceremonies, systems of logic and metaphysics. How can one compare intimacy with the facets of this knowledge to the possession of gold? How could we have squandered such wisdom in that search, that rush, rush, rush for gold?”

“To acknowledge our interdependence is simply a good and wise habit of mind,” he says. “To know wilderness,” my father wrote, “is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness, to sense dependence and interdependence, indebtedness, and responsibility.”

“I wonder if the ground has anything to say?” asked Young Chief in 1855, “I wonder if the ground is listening to what is said.”

The Old Testament Hebrew verb we translate as “to know” was often used in a sexual context, Jeanette Winterson reminds us. “It is not about facts but about connections. Knowledge not as accumulation but as charge and discharge. A release of energy from one site to another. Not some hoard of certainties. Not a bug collection. Not taxonomy but a release of energy, the dance. What is the separateness of things when the current that flows from each to each is live? It is the livingness we want.”

Barry Lopez recalls a Nunamiut man in Alaska. He asked him what he did when he went into a foreign landscape. The man said, “I listen.” “We are part of the wildness of the universe,” Howard Zahniser wrote. That is our nature.”

A Koyukon elder told the anthro¬pologist: “The bear can way out-mind you, Richard.”

To enquire after this knowledge, to be intimate with the land like this, is to enclose it in the same moral universe we occupy, to include it in the meaning of the word community.

“We’re here to disappear,” says poet Anne Waldman, “let’s be as vivid and generous as we can.”

The matriarch of wilderness advocacy Mardy Murie died last in 2003 at age 101. Mardy and Olaus Murie had an enormous impact on my life. Memorializing Mardy’s conservation vision, Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote that “Over the centuries, the ink has gone to the discoverers, the men who found or claimed or opened new territories. But we’ve gotten to a place in history where the preservers are the ones who deserve the ink.”

So what about you? That’s why I’m really here. To ask you: What about you? Wildness is as close as your carotid artery. The scientist Lynn Margulis says there are more cells of other beings in and on your body than there are cells of your own. You are a wild community within the cosmic community. What about you?

You can step up and be one of the preservers who will one day “deserve the ink.” David Gibson will gladly sign you up with his network of local, state, and regional folks. Ev and Don Greene can sign you up with the Residents Committee for Protecting the Adirondacks. John Davis can sign you up with the Adirondack Council. Aldo Leopold was not a famous ecologist when he died fighting a brush fire in 1948. My father was not a famous conservationist when he died in 1964. Olaus and Mardy were not famous when they grasped the wilderness torch in the 1940s. All of these folks started out as ordinary citizens. Just like you. Now is your chance. This is your time.

If you have ever felt the urge to connect to eternity, working to preserve wilderness and wildness in perpetuity can be your chance to connect. By working for a wilderness-forever future—as my father once wrote—we “project into the eternity of the future some of that precious, unspoiled, ecological inheritance that has come to us out of the eternity of the past.”

You can become, as Mardy Murie be-came, a link between those two eternities—“for the permanent good of the whole people.” Go forth. Do good. Tell the stories. Be one of the preservers. Deserve the ink. Get involved for wildness. Do not miss this rarest of wild opportunities—for the permanent good of our full community of life on Earth—to touch eternity with both hands in the here and now.

Photos: Above, Ed Zahniser (Courtesy Ed Zahniser); Middle, Howard Zahniser at his Adirondack cabin (Photo by Alice Zahniser, courtesy Adirondack Research Library Paul Schaefer Collection; Below, Paul Schaefer (Photo by Paul Grondahl, courtesy of the Schaefer Collection).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Urban Youth Meet Nature On The West Branch

What follows is a story of some young men from Albany learning to fly fish on the West Branch of the Ausable River, and who for the first time experience the pull of the river, its rocks and pools, a trout on the line, and in their hands. I start with some background.

When Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve organized one year ago, we decided to seek out non-traditional allies and educational partners in our efforts to broaden aware, informed support for wild nature. One of those partners is Brother Yusuf Burgess of Albany.

For many years, Brother Yusuf has been helping young urban youth to discover discipline, teamwork, self-awareness and self-worth in the great outdoors. As often as time and funds allow, Yusuf brings youth from Albany to the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Valley and beyond to learn outdoor skills such as boat-building, fishing, skiing, camping. He understands young people and the streets. He has walked their walk.

A former counselor at the Albany Boys and Girls Clubs, Yusuf is employed as Family Intervention Specialist with Green Tech Charter High School. He is an experienced kayaker and fisherman, founder of the Environmental Awareness Network for Diversity in Conservation, and is also New York’s representative on the Children and Nature Network. For several years, Yusuf worked for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to recruit more children and families of color into DEC’s Summer Campership program. His successful efforts to create teen “eco-clubs” in urban America have been noticed at home and internationally, and he is widely sought as a speaker. Some of the young men and women whom Yusuf influenced have gone on to professional careers, and some have returned to help Yusuf mentor today’s teens.

Yusuf and his students are featured in the acclaimed 2010 documentary film, Mother Nature’s Child (Fuzzy Slippers Productions, Burlington, VT), which explores nature’s powerful role in children’s health and development. To quote from the film’s promotional materials, “The film marks a moment in time when a living generation can still recall childhoods of free play outdoors; this will not be true for most children growing up today.” For more, go to

Recently, Yusuf brought six young men from Albany’s Green Tech Charter High School to learn fly fishing from Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley, to apply what they learn on the West Branch of the Ausable River, and to camp out at Dan’s oak grove in Keene. Yusuf had each boy equipped with fly rod, poncho, and camping gear. Dan worked tirelessly to improve their casting technique, where the thumb and tip of the rod work together to drop the fly where it wants to be – right where the hatch is rising and the fish biting. Few other sports require the wrist and shoulder to be so still. Slowly, with Dan’s careful guidance some of them got the feel for it.

On the river, Dan explained about the Forest Preserve and its significance, and taught the boys that this particular section of the West Branch was a “no kill” conservation area, where fish are “catch and release” only. He showed them how to tie a fly, how to hold the hook to avoid being punctured, and how to read the river for the best places to fish.

One boy got in the waders, took Dan’s favorite rod, and immersed himself in the life of the West Branch. Completely absorbed, he moved upriver to an unoccupied pool, casting by himself. About 2 pm, we heard him. He had a trout on his line! His friends joined him as he unhooked a nice brown trout, proudly held it for the cameras, and released it. This was one of many special moments where these young men exchanged self-consciousness for independence as they explored a completely new and challenging outdoor world.

As other fishers left a pool unoccupied, Dan moved the group to that very spot and found that within minutes the trout were rising to a hatch, perhaps the black flies which were beginning to harass us on the bank. Dan positioned the young men for success, but their casts were just falling short of the constantly rising fish. Finally, Dan took his rod and practice-cast upstream, and then dropped the fly perfectly. After several attempts, he had a trout on the line. He called for one the boys to bring it in slowly and very soon in their hands was a handsome, small brook trout which tolerated a photo-shoot, and then shot from their hands back into the river: a magical conclusion to the afternoon’s “edventure,” a term Yusuf uses frequently.

Back at their camp in Dan’s oak grove, the boys settled in to tend and watch their camp fire, joke and laugh, and also to think on the day and what they had accomplished. “I am thinking about how far I am from home right now,” said one young man very quietly as he stared into the fire’s light. I knew he was not merely referring to road miles, but to inner miles. Next morning, Dan asked another about his overnight experience. “It was my first time camping, and it was extremely fun!”

It is remarkable to see how Yusuf works with these young men who, without the guidance and opportunities for growth he provides, might easily fall under many negative influences close to their homes. Yusuf participates in their camaraderie, knows these young men, and knows how to bring out their best qualities, put them to work, and to earn their respect. I am pleased we are playing a small role in Yusuf’s determined campaign to transform the lives of several generations of urban youth through exposure to nature in the wild Adirondacks.

Photos: Brother Yusuf Burgess with the young men he brought with him to the Ausable; Brother Yusuf; Dan Plumley coaches from mid-stream; Trout in the hand.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Continued Impacts of Lake Champlain Flooding

Although water levels have finally dropped below flood stage on Lake Champlain this week, a Flood Warning remains in effect and facilities and businesses near low-lying shorelines continue to be heavily impacted by high waters.

The Ausable Point Campground remains closed, as is the campground access road. Many Valcour Island campsites and access points are still flooded and due to the high waters, floating docks have not been installed and bathrooms are closed at Peru Dock, Port Douglas, Willsboro Bay and other boat launches. Vermont closed all access to Lake Champlain except for Tabor Point, malletts Bay, Lamoille River, Converse Bay, and Larabee’s Point. Quebec closed all access and shut down boating to prevent further shoreline erosion due to wakes. » Continue Reading.

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