My 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.”