Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paul Schaefer’s Headwaters Faith

DSCN1725As a builder of Adirondack cabins, conservationist Paul Schaefer did not consistently solve the problem of water supplies. About 1950 Paul had a well dug in front of his old log cabin on the the Cragorehol property in Baker’s Mills. Paul told me he bought the 100-year-old cabin – then sited elsewhere – and moved it before I was born.

The well still provides delicious, cold water, although the cabin no longer exists. The main, extended Fogarty family cabin – formerly owned by Paul’s and his siblings’ parents – now has its water pumped in by electric pump from its own, drilled well. Many years ago we kids helped carry the well water in buckets over to Cragorehol camp – quite the laden tromp for youngsters.

I walked Liz Thorndike (once a Commissioner of the Adirondack Park Agency)  and her former Cornell University student Kristin Reuther over to Paul’s old log cabin one September day. They wanted to see where the young Paul Schaefer dreamed his early wilderness preservation dreams. We too often think of our conservation forebears as older men and women with white hair, but they all experienced starting-out.

When Paul Schaefer met Bob Marshall atop Mount Marcy in the early 1930s, Paul would have been about Kristin Reuther’s age the day we visited the cabin site. Paul was on Marcy with his camera to document a pressing conservation problem. It was what he knew to do then. Paul’s conservation mentor John Apperson taught Paul to stand at any place he wanted to save and to photograph it so people could see what’s at stake.

Liz Thorndike was then a visiting fellow at Cornell University, teaching a wilderness course in its traditionally utilitarian Department of Natural Resources. Kristin had taken Liz’s course the year before. Liz also served as a trustee of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, the organization in which Paul Schaefer served as vice president for forty years.

I looked at the fieldstone chimney on Paul’s old log cabin. Possibly George Morehouse built it. It was so like our George Morehouse-built chimney nearby, although smaller on Paul’s old one-story log cabin.

“I thought wells were always round,” Kristin remarked.

I looked down into the well, given Kristin’s question. Indeed it is like an enlarged fieldstone chimney rising from below ground. My memory of the well – going back to 1950 – would have pegged it as round. I should major in biology like Kristin, to sharpen my perception. Kristin went on to receive her J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School and is now senior staff attorney with the Western Watersheds Project. Her legal work has kept livestock grazing out of Washington State wildlife areas and influenced grazing decisions in Wilderness Study Areas.

Part of Paul’s problem with cabin water sources may have been that he didn’t relish fooling with electric pumps. Scooting up to Bakers Mills from Schenectady, you don’t want to spend your time fooling with pumps and other impediments to the contemplative life. Paul made those scoots north to Bakers Mills, Cragorehol, and his old log cabin for decades before the Adirondack Northway was built in the 1960s.

Paul also had great faith in gravity, a sort of headwaters faith. Maybe it was mixed in with his enormous regard for Verplanck Colvin’s having identified the Hudson River headwaters on Mount Marcy in what Colvin named “Lake Tear of the Clouds.” The upshot was that Paul spent considerable time looking for the perfect spring uphill of his most recent cabin projects. I don’t know how many hundreds of feet of black plastic piping I got involved in running across the landscape from likely springs down to the Beaver House cabin Paul built in the 1960s below our own cabin, Mateskared. We ran more down to his cabin he built on the Chatiemac Road in the mid-1960s.

How Paul so readily located specific things in the woods was a mystery to me until, post-Army, Christine and I came to Mateskared in spring, before trees leafed out. It was a revelation, how far we could see into the woods. Paul tramped all through here in late fall’s hunting season, after the leaves were off the trees.

One day in the early 1960s Paul gathered us to help dig out a spring he’d found down and across our road between Mateskared and the Beaver House. Where our road begins its steepest descent halfway between our cabin and the end of the hardtop at Camp Triumph, Paul led us about fifty feet west into the woods. Paul’s brother-in-law Ed Fogarty and Ed’s son David took part. The spring Paul had located emerged below a rock nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. We cut out a pooling basin with a hatchet and shovels and were not greatly impressed with how slowly the water pooled up. But we ran the piping down to the Beaver House through the second-growth woods.

Paul would dicker with other potential Beaver House waterworks that wouldn’t pan out. In Paul’s last years he settled for piping in water from the stream that flows under Edwards Hill Road from the former Dalaba Hillmount Farms onto his property. He picked up the head of flow below our barn at Mateskared. But it’s now problematic to drink untreated surface water, so the Beaver House solution wasn’t a potable solution.

My brother Matt and I once traced the present piping uphill from the road. In some places turf and root masses had claimed it in the power line right of way. The power company keeps that stretch clear of tall trees and creates a tangle of shrubs and stump-sprouting trees. Matt and I scouted dead ahead whenever we lost the piping. We found its headwaters surprisingly close to Mateskared’s barn. It was as though Verplanck Colvin had searched for the Hudson River source only to find it near home.

Pieces of board raised the water level of a small, shallow pool and walled three sides. The board cover and rock meant to submerge the pipe were dislodged. We re-jigged things and cleaned the improvised filter screen. We scooped out cold pool-bottom sediment, the better to bury the pipe head.

We re-coupled all pipe-clamp joints we could find, but back at the road culvert still found no flow. We had to ask Leland Morehouse to come make it work. But Matt and I now knew why the Beaver House piping flows with a healthy head of pressure. How might Verplanck Colvin have felt, had he traveled to see the Hudson’s outflow at New York City.

Over many years I would grasp how much Colvin’s example influenced Paul Schaefer. It might explain Paul’s vast delight when he, his nephew Michael Fogarty, and I “discovered” that the State of New York owned Nate Davis Pond. The pond did not appear on topographic quadrangles or state maps, although it lies just south of Bakers Mills. The state didn’t know it existed.

Paul’s enthusiasm for our small-scale exploration of discovery points to why we need to keep wilderness and wildness alive in the world. Paul’s delight paralleled Bob Marshall’s 1930s sense of discovery high on Mount Doonerak in Alaska’s mountain kingdom that Marshall named Gates of the Arctic. Both no doubt resonated to Colvin’s sense of discovery at Lake Tear in the 1870s. In 1966 Paul would write of Nate Davis Pond in The Living Wilderness magazine:

The lake is situated in the bowl of several small mountains, off the beaten path, and is reached by climbing up through a mixed forest where huge canoe birches predominate. The outlet of the lake goes over a rock ledge and its stream goes into a heavy swamp before entering the open hardwoods and dropping to the valley where it crosses a dead-end road into a large tract of the Forest Preserve. The lake, at about 2000 elevation, probably about 25 feet deep, has been known to a few mountaineers only. By a strange coincidence, descendants of the original settlers in the area, living less than three miles airline down the valley, never heard of it.

When Paul’s article appeared, the state conservation department had verified that it indeed “owned” the lake. Perhaps Paul Schaefer’s headwaters faith was that any stream implies one.

Photo of Paul Schaefer’s cabin, Beaver House, in Johnsburg by John Warren. 

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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).

2 Responses

  1. Patty Mearns Fusco says:

    I so love your articles about Uncle Paul. Always brings back wonderful memories of him and Bakers Mills.

  2. Jim Schaefer says:

    Nice memories. A piece that is missing in treatises such as Ed’s, that lionize Paul, is that Paul had brothers and sisters and parents, all of whom were as invested in outdoor activities complimentary to his.
    My cousins all can attest to animated discussions among the elder Schaefer sibs when we were growing up in their midst. Each would bounce ideas off of trusted family members at every bend in the road. That was part of the genius of each of the “Schaefer 5.” In later years I heard my father and Paul remark how fantastic it was that they all got along so well — no regrets, no hidden agendas, no fluff, no upmanship –always a shared joy in discovery.
    Yes, we all had Ed’s well remarked play with cold springs, shallow pool boards and plastic pipe. Remarkable water — small wonder some of the best moonshine was from these sources.

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