Sunday, January 18, 2015

Paul Schaefer: 1900s NYS Wilderness Advocacy

Paul SchaeferMy first childhood memories of Paul Schaefer are of his hands. They were huge to me. They seemed big enough to serve as lasts for making baseball gloves. I also remember Paul from my earliest Adirondack summers as a quality of expectancy.

On Wednesday nights we four kids used to sit on the big wood beam Paul had placed in front of our outdoor fireplace at our family cabin Mateskared and wait for his pickup truck headlights to turn off Route 8 onto Edwards Hill Road. Into the 1950s you could still see headlights on Route 8 two miles south of our cabin at Bakers Mills. Headlights heading up Edwards Hill Road generated immediate tension. Would they make it as far as the second bridge – about half of the two miles from Route 8 to Mateskared – without turning off into a driveway?

“Do you think that’s Paul?” we kids would ask each other. Or if we were feeling expansive, “I bet that’s Paul’s truck.” Paul came to the Adirondacks from his home in Schenectady on Wednesday nights and again on Saturday afternoons or evenings. He’d drive back to Schenectady in time for work on Thursday and Monday mornings. There was no high-speed Adirondack Northway then – but Paul was known for his heavy foot on the gas pedal.

As I grew older Paul’s outsizedness didn’t diminish but shifted and expressed itself for me in less physical ways. When Paul worked in a group of diverse hunters and anglers and other conservationists his outsizedness showed as part innocence and part egolessness. Time and again Paul helped such groups find a common conservation stance – especially to defend wilderness and the Forest Preserve – even though many in the gathering might have seen the issue as tangential to their core commitments or interests.

Indeed, there is remarkable raw video footage of Paul accepting a conservation award. Right before your eyes Paul turns the event into a celebration not of himself but of the organization giving him the award. A focus group would remember Paul as presenter not the recipient.

Paul retained a lifelong innocence of character most of us probably lose by our mid-teens. This innocence was buttressed by his winning grin. No doubt Paul’s own felt lack of formal education – he left school at age 15 to help support the family – lay behind his seeming self-effacement. Paul was a life-long learner who admired scholars, scientists, and writers. He educated himself continually by digesting the best of their works. But this sense of personal lack no doubt helped stoke his desire to build a major personal library around the Adirondacks that he had begun to love even before he had to leave formal schooling behind.

Fortunately, very early in his budding love affair with these mountains, Paul read Verplanck Colvin, who had led the survey of the Adirondacks in the late 1800s. As Paul later wrote, “Colvin’s writing made me want to learn as much as possible about the Adirondacks and why he would write such beautiful prose for submission to state agencies.”

Paul’s admiration for Colvin as a writer later extended to my father Howard Zahniser, known as Zahnie, in this curious regard – the ability and determination to write beautiful prose for other than literary purposes. Paul’s admiration for the goals of the Wilderness Act was matched by his admiration for the poetic prose of its Section 2. That section includes the statement of purpose and definition of wilderness my father largely crafted and polished:

Sec. 2. (a) In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. . . . (c) A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

That careful prose of Section 2(c) now also defines the designated wilderness on New York State Forest Preserve lands. No one knew more intimately than Paul Schaefer that this was no coincidence. Paul even amassed an archive to prove it.

Paul represented a positive conservation anachronism as he dogged the sportsmen-preservationist alliance that he kept alive by the strength of his own personality as both hunter-angler and ardent conservationist. No question, Paul was the longtime glue for New York State’s wilderness movement, the glue that conservationist David Brower, in the late 1990s, lamented was lacking for today’s national wilderness movement.

Paul brought forward the formative sportsmen-backed 1870s conservation thrust of Theodore Roosevelt and the Boone and Crockett Club. Mainly through his personality he helped ally that thrust with the post-Earth Day 1970s environmental politics. Paul eventually became New York State’s elder statesman hunter-conservationist. No doubt his intimacy with Verplanck Colvin’s writings helped Paul embody this bridge between old-school sportsmen-conservationists and post-Earth Day environmentalists.

“Howard Zahniser and I had a very fine relationship on matters Adirondack from the time that he acquired his cabin in the Adirondacks to his death in 1964,” Paul wrote in the early 1990s. “We climbed mountains, walked wilderness trails, attended hearings of State Legislative Committees, public hearings of River Regulating Boards and conventions of the New York State Conservation Council in many parts of the State. In addition to these rather frequent get-togethers at his cabin or mine in the Adirondacks, we met numerous times with members of the [New York State] Conservation Council both here in the Adirondack Room at St. David’s Lane and elsewhere in the State. By happy coincidence, in our discussions it seemed that Howard’s philosophy of wilderness and the way to preserve it was substantially identical to mine.”

My father paid periodic homage to Paul’s stature as a conservationist. Typical is this short letter Zahnie wrote to Paul on Wilderness Society letterhead in November 1955, just before a decisive state vote on the continuing sanctity of the Forest Preserve: “Dear Paul: This may reach you on the eve of the election next Tuesday and, if so, it will I hope carry with it an expression of deep appreciation for the wonderful way in which you have carried the large campaign against amendment No. 7. Win or lose, we owe you another great debt of gratitude.”

As he so often did, Zahnie closed his epistle with an appeal for Paul to come to Washington, D.C., to help stir up interest in the national wilderness legislation that my father would draft two months later.

I know of Paul Schaefer’s leaving New York State only two times, in both cases to come to Washington, once with the family on a largely social holiday visit and then again to testify at a hearing on the wilderness bill in 1962. “Wilderness is not a luxury,” Paul told the members of Congress at that hearing, “it is a dire necessity in this age and will become even more precious as the years go on.”

How well Paul knew that – as a next-door neighbor to what is now the New York State Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area. And I think he knows it still. Paul Schaefer had a significant impact on the national wilderness preservation scene despite how few times he left New York.

Paul Schaefer’s Adirondack epicenter definitely sat on Edwards Hill Road in what he called “cabin country.” This was where his family first came for summers to help his mother escape airborne allergies when Paul was still a boy. This was where Paul had moved a 100-year-old cabin onto land next to his family’s cabin land near Edwards Hill Road off Route 8 out of Bakers Mills, N.Y. This was where local neighbors tutored him in Adirondack ways – and where he roundly shocked them by planting trees, which they told him “were for cutting not for planting.” This was where, in the early 1960s he built his Beaver House so his hunting party, the Cataract Club, would have a place to gather, as would the many meetings of New York state conservationists he convened there.

In the mid-1960s Paul built his the first of two cabins over on the Chatiemac Road, east of Edwards Hill Road off Route 8. Soon he began staying over there more than at the Beaver House right down our hill and across our mutual unpaved, final stretch of Edwards Hill Road. It worried me that he might be pulling up his roots here.

“You won’t lose interest in Edwards Hill and sell your land over here, will you?” I asked him one day. We sat on our porch at Mateskared. Paul sat closest to the road and to his land on the other side of it. Seated between me and Eleventh Mountain, Paul seemed momentarily lost in looking toward it for a spell.

Mine had been a direct, personal question. It had taken me a long time to work up the nerve to pose it to him. These weren’t the days of men’s sensitivity groups, and fathers often qualified as our most distant relatives.

Paul’s first reaction was to look back over at Eleventh Mountain, not at me. When he did speak moments later, it was straightforward, looking down the valley, almost as though addressing not me so much as Crane Mountain due south of us.

“Of course not,” Paul said. “This place means the world to me.”

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Ed Zahniser retired as the senior writer and editor with the National Park Service Publications Group in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. He writes and lectures frequently about wilderness, wildlands, and conservation history topics. He is the youngest child of Alice (1918-2014) and Howard Zahniser (1906–1964). Ed’s father was the principal author and chief lobbyist for the National Wilderness Preservation System Act of 1964. Ed edited his father’s Adirondack writings in Where Wilderness Preservation Began: Adirondack Writings of Howard Zahniser, and also edited Daisy Mavis Dalaba Allen’s Ranger Bowback: An Adirondack farmer - a memoir of Hillmount Farms (Bakers Mills).




10 Responses

  1. Dave Gibson says:

    Ed, you fill in and round out the older more reflective man that I knew, to reveal a man in the prime of life who had many responsibilities but did not hesitate to “glue” the region’s wilderness movement together without being overtly self conscious about it, and through love of place. I visited that place yesterday and can attest that many others are saying in their own words, “this place means the world to me.”

  2. Cloudsplitter says:

    Another great remembrance of Paul.
    Thanks, Ed.

  3. Chad Dawson says:

    Thank you for bring to history so clearly to life so that we can learn by it, celebrate it, and retell it to those who are just now hearing how the Forest Preserve and wilderness came to be here.

  4. Bob Meyer says:

    beautiful… just beautiful. thanks you!

  5. Ed:

    You totally nailed it again. I miss the big lug. Let’s set a remembrance day at Beaver House and swap stories in front of the fire. Overdue. We’re not getting any younger.

  6. Charlie S says:

    “In the mid-1960s Paul built his the first of two cabins over on the Chatiemac Road, east of Edwards Hill Road off Route 8.”

    I’ve been getting to know a side of Paul Schaefer that nobody talks about…the craftsman Paul Schaefer. My business brings me into homes old and new and since about three years ago I have come to know at least a few of the homes he built in Niskayuna. His style was different and everyone who knew Paul Schaefer as a builder can pick out any of the homes he built in that community.

    He was big on using recycled materials and he left his customers a list of where all of those materials came from that he used to remodel their homes. For instance: in one old home I worked on near the Mohawk River his list reads thus:

    Brick for exterior – From an old house on Beaver Street South Mall Albany.

    Slate – From a house near the Vermont New York border on a plateau overlooking Adirondacks.

    Fireplace stone – From the Helderbergs.

    Fireplace beam – Maple from an old building at Tribes Hill in the Mohawk Valley.

    Flagstone hearth – From the Catskills, near Alcove.

    Plank floor – From an old house on a hill north of Hawks Corners in Washington County, NY.

    Small beams and rafters – From the oldest house in Warrensburg in the Adirondacks.

    I’ve seen two of these materials lists from two customers whose houses were either built or remodeled by Paul.Both lists were signed by the author.Just by his craftsmanship you know the man was different. I worked on one house he built that had a storage shed in the back yard that was shaped just like a lean-to,with the roof in the rear going down in a steep pitch. I knew it had to be the original shed that came with the house (built in the 60’s)as who else would build a shed that looks like a lean-to? Even in his craft the Adirondacks influenced Paul Schaefer.

    He did things different in the homes he worked on,ie shelving in weird and/or tight places. Another unique feature in his homes were fireplace cooking crates and cranes which he invented.I would have never known this had a customer not told me.

    So there is more to Paul than most of us realize.I have been to the home he built on David’s Lane. An interesting structure to say the least,and his library is very impressive. Thanks for the story above. I am encouraged once again to pull out some of his literature and maybe do some re-reading.

    • Ed Zahniser says:

      Hi Charlie
      I worked for Paul two summers in high school — living at the home on St. David’s Lane. I will probably tell some tales later that include going to old Dutch barns in Schoharie, etc. to get beams. With a reciprocal gas Wright saw. Standing on a junked car’s roof. In the rain. Cutting a beam. I don’t think there was an OSHA back then!

      Cheers, Ed

  7. Thank you for this profile of Paul Schaefer, Ed. I enjoyed previously reading about Schaefer in “Where Wilderness Preservation Began” by Howard Zahniser, “Wilderness Forever” by Mark Harvey, and “Ways to the Wilderness” by Alice Zahniser.

    Your new essay is a nice reminder of the work he did for the Adirondack wilderness over the course of his interesting life. I wish I could have met him.

  8. Jim Schaefer says:

    Ed, you captured part of this great man, my Uncle Paul. One slight omission is that he had amazing brothers and sisters who with whom he conversed on a regular basis about all things Adirondack and to some degree his craftsmanship. Always kicking around ideas, usually with an open fire burning. That was almost a scared tradition among the elder Schaefers. While there, if you paid attention, were treasured philosophic nuggets enough for a lifetime! We cousins were like wet cement around them — everything made a deep impression.
    One interesting sidebar — you mention Paul’s educational foundation, and that of my father, Vincent — both leaving formal schooling to help with the family finances. One needs to realize that was a blessing in disguise!
    In the case of my father, who you know became a recognized authority on many topics scientific — benefited greatly from NOT having the culturally influenced boundaries, or paradigms that often can hamper creativity and innovation. Yet both Dad and Paul devoured all sorts of authoritative books, probably more so than their peers who finished high school and went on to college! In my father’s case, when Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir tapped him to be his associate in the GE Research Lab, Langmuir the theorist and Dad the pragmatic experimenter were a perfect match! Unfettered by artificial disciplinary boundaries they explored the extremes of physics, chemistry. In so doing made important discoveries. Both profited from serendipity — it was their mantra. Paul was the same. He was not shy about reaching out to unlikely allies in his battles against the rich and powerful who wished to dam up the fresh waters of the Adirondacks, who wished to cut and clear and build in places that needed to be left wild. Paul and Vince did their homework on every issue, every river, every valley, every mountain side or mountain top. Because they went there, and like their wilderness mentor Apperson, gathered first hand information, no one could ever challenge them on the evidence. They were able to disarm their critics! Something they did in self-effacing ways, never gloating. There were no high-fives or crazy dancing around. NO.
    If anything — just a knowing smile.
    Zahnie emulated that.
    Would that we had more like them all.

  9. Joined pauls cataract hunting club in 1956 when I was 16yrs old.have been to beaver house many times , and had many conversations with paul and his hunting club .l miss paul very much as he was a great influance on my conservation
    Knowledge. sonny,