Friday, November 25, 2022

The Sagacious White-Tail: Memories of Paul Schaefer

Paul Shaefer

Paul Schaefer in his early 70s in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness during deer season, perhaps around 1980.

I think of Adirondack conservationist and forever wild advocate Paul Schaefer (1908-1996) during deer season, actually in any season, but particularly in deer season at his Adirondack cabin. From 1921 on, over a century now, Paul Schaefer and his family, friends and hunting club comrades in the Cataract Club ventured into the wilderness from cabins in the Adirondack mountains. Some of them stayed in deer camp during big game season, others came and remained in the area for a lifetime. Physically, Paul frequently came and went for 75 years, but his spirit lingered in the mountains and cabin country, as he called it. Friends my age and I only knew him in his final decade. I wish that I could have known him as his family, Adirondack neighbors and hunting companions knew him, in full vigor, ever alert, loping, climbing and watching through the big woods, hills and ledges of the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, searching for the “sagacious and graceful” white-tailed deer.

In his second book, Adirondack Cabin Country (Syracuse University Press, 1993), Schaefer wrote:

“This part of the wilderness is wild and precipitous. Mechanized vehicles have been left far behind. Ancient hardwoods dominate the forest. Spruce and balsam line the waters and are etched against the skyline on mountaintops. From our tent, sunsets, often of crimson and burnished gold, light the narrow valley between the mountains to the west. Some nights, the stars hang like lanterns in a black velvet sky. And on others, moonlight drenches the land and sparkles on running streams.”

Schaefer continues:

“It is ideal country for the white-tailed deer and black bear, creatures of almost unbelievable sagacity and grace. They know how to take advantage of every cliff, thicket and swamp. In our country, they bed on ledges high on the north side of the mountain from where they can see extensively down the mountain through the woods .They are endowed with radar to add to their sensitive hearing. On high mountains with evergreens and swamps, they are almost impossible to get…The challenge to get a trophy buck in country as wild as this is so compelling that it brings hunters back to this remote area year after year whether they are successful or not. And the essence of an Adirondack wilderness hunting camp is much more than the success of the hunt. Rather, it is the adventure in a land untamed by man. It is experiences in a land that has been saved from vanishing, so rarely the case across the landscape of America.”

Paul Schaefer

Paul Schaefer at 16 or so, with fishing rod, headed west

I wrote this in his memory after he died, fresh lyrics to Summer Lightning by songwriter Garnet Rogers.


I was headed west through the Adirondacks,

Sun was setting through the balsam fir

And a raven called from the flanks of mountains

I was feeling grand as the Saranacs.


And I thought I saw him out on a lakeshore

Looking out and reflecting in,

And I had feelings strangely akin to longing

That turned all craggy as a raven’s chin.


In Bakers Mills there lies a boulder

Brought by glaciers time out of mind

And it lies there still hiding only secrets

And like the leaf mold it gets better all the time.


And I thought I saw him rocking in his rocking chair

Looking out, reflecting on his quest

And the answers came floating across that valley fair

From the mountain he called Thunders Nest (Crane Mt)


Who scattered these diamonds in the vault of heaven

Who lifted these mountains past the dying light

Who had the courage to proclaim forever wild,

Powerful medicine, antidote to fright.


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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

6 Responses

  1. A million memories. Of our conservation and wild land protection campaigns under Paul’s strong guidance and watch care. Back of beyond to 2nd Pond Flow hunt camp and fast camp and cabin fires and endless stories to revel and wonder by. We got to live Cabin Country well through Paul long before his books were written! I introduced myself to him in 1985 after one of his showings of his stellar, unrivaled film, “Adirondack – Land Nobody Knows.” A broad smile, a bone jarring handshake and the deal was sealed. The rest was passion unbridled, adventure for the wilds and can hardly be denied as some of the best years of our mountain lives!

  2. For some of us, long gone from the Adironacks, Dave’s posts and Dan’s rejoinders keep our love of those special places alive and well….thanks for sharing.

  3. Dave, I vividly remember Paul Shaefer, but my recollections are from the University at Albany and its Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and numerous Adirondack based meetings in the early 1970s. Paul, with his arrow straight posture and his well-honed opinions. Without people like Paul and others in the early days, New York might very well not have the environmental protections for the Adirondacks and the state generally. A man to remember with fondness. Not to mention the donation of his beloved home and its magnificent library. Thanks for the post.

  4. I met Paul in The mid 1980s when I was conducting research on the history of the moose River plains. He was very generous with his time for me and my research. It has not been for Paul s guidance today vast amount of land in the plains would be underwater. Flooded. The story of how this did not happen will be part of my book titled The Moose River Plains Land of the Deer Vol.2 . The book is scheduled for a June 2023 release

  5. David Gibson says:

    Thanks so much for the comments and memories of encounters with Paul Schaefer, and maybe of his brother Vince, Rosemary? Maybe you knew Vince also, director at the ASRC Albany. All five Schaefer siblings, Vince, Gertrude, Paul, Carl, Peggy have left their distinctive mark and successors and grandkids too in the capital district and in the Adirondacks. One of Paul Schaefer’s conundrums was the future of his family home and its Adirondack history. It could have simply been sold to anyone. But Paul ultimately had the wisdom to leave it to his four kids knowing, I think, they would do what he wanted done. And they did, a bargain sale to the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in 1999 as an Adirondack learning center for the “youth of distant tomorrows”, now operated and endowed by Union College.

  6. louis curth says:

    Many have discovered richer and more fulfilling pathways through life, thanks to the positive influences in our lives of people like Paul Schaefer, who taught, befriended, and inspired us to support important endeavors including, but not limited to, Adirondack conservation.

    It is my hope that there will always be such men and women to be the role models who will motivate future generations to support worthy causes and aspire to the greater vision of a better world for all.

    P.S. Hello to Rosemary Nichols from your fellow EPL board member.

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