Almanack Contributor Edward Zahniser

Edward Zahniser

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).


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Poetry: At Sodom Community Church

At Sodom (NY) Community Church

“Restoration can follow”
says the preacher of our litanies of loss.
His name is Oliver, no ordinary guy.
Of the gift of tongues he will allow
an incident in Desert Storm, glossed
by Holy Spirit wind. A Bedouin came by
by camel with a child needing–needing
what!? “One of our Assemblies of God boys
prayed that someone understand.
And God said ‘Why don’t you?'” Heeding
which he did, reducing Babel’s noise
to apprehend the need at hand.
At hand today: Oliver’s stated theme:
“Except the Lord build, we build in vain”
–from Ezra’s ancient Hebrew book.
Grief and loss can blossom as a fruited plain
and compost be more and sweeter than it seem.
Lift another rock; take another look.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Ed Zahniser: A Shepherd’s Tooth Expedition

Howard Zahniser Cabin Bakers Mills Johnsburg NY photo by John WarrenAs we made forays out from Mateskared, our family’s cabin in Baker’s Mills, most often Schaefers were the way-showers and Zahnisers their eager followers. On their 1946 backpacking trip to Flowed Lands and Hanging Spear Falls on the Opalescent River in the High Peaks with Ed Richard, Paul Schaefer went so far as to carry my father on his shoulders across one difficult and hazardous approach by narrow ledge to the falls themselves up through the boulder-strewn canyon of the Opalescent. Paul’s accounts of the trip never mentioned that fact, gleaned from my father’s journal. But it set a suitable tone for our families’ joint wildlands outings. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Howard Zahniser’s Poetry Heroes and the Wilderness Act

Howard Zahniser played an important role in mid-twentieth century Adirondack wildlands conservation. His main culture heroes were three poets: Dante Aligheri, William Blake, and Henry David Thoreau.

Although Thoreau is not now widely known as a poet, that’s how he embarked on his rocky literary career that time would eventually secure. As Thoreau scholar Robert D. Richardson has noted: “The two years Thoreau spent at Walden Pond and the night he spent in the Concord jail are among the most familiar features of the American intellectual landscape.” » Continue Reading.


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Mateskared: The Zahniser Cabin in Johnsburg

Howard Zahniser Cabin Bakers Mills Johnsburg NY photo by John WarrenIn the mid-1990s Harold Allen reminisced about my father Howard Zahniser: “He bought the place, and he never had seen it,” Harold said. “Paul Schaefer was the one who told him about it.”

Pansy and I were sitting at their kitchen table. Her parents, John and Hester Dalaba, named their girls for plants—Pansy, Daisy, Blossom, Fern, and Carnata — and their boys for trees — Oliver and Linden.  Harold, Pansy’s husband, sat in his favorite easy chair, next to the door to their closed-in front porch. “We even tried to give it away,” Harold said of their first attempts to sell what became Mateskared to our family, “because we didn’t want to pay the taxes on it.” They paid $3 school tax and $8 land tax. Harold knew exactly what they paid, because he was the collector for school taxes then. “Here now school and land taxes are $2,000 a year,” Harold said of their present home just down the hill from Mateskared. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tapping A Spring and Tipping Outhouses at Bobcat Ranney’s

Photo of Archie “Bobcat” Ranney courtesy of Adirondack Museum.In the Harold and Pansy Allen family’s e-mail newsletter Dogtown News, Harold once recounted how they got the water from the spring — which lies across the road — into their first house, now our cabin named Mateskared.

“Ranney was the proprietor of the Paul Schaefer Club property, the old club,” Harold began, invoking the land directly across our road.

“I asked Archie Ranney if I could go over and pipe that water into the house. Ranney said ‘Oh no. You can not do that.’ So I ignored what he said. I bought pipe and a pump from Ernest Noxon [in North Creek] for $19.50. A week’s wages then were $20. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ed Zahniser: Language of Life and Death

Howard Zahniser Cabin Bakers Mills Johnsburg NY photo by John WarrenIn life and in death we belong to God, I tell my sons. We are having one of our obligatory parental monologues as we sit on the cabin porch. My two sons are aged sixteen and thirteen. I call these monologues ‘obligatory’ because I feel obliged to have them. What the guys want is their breakfast. Their mother is a night person who likes to sleep late on vacation. I am a morning person who likes to get up early on vacation. Night to me is like a prelude to death, a hint or foretaste, a feeling not so much of powerlessness as of do-lessness. Some nights feel better than others. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Ed Zahniser: Lilac Time in Bakers Mills

lilac bush courtesy wikimedia user JjronA favorite snippet of British poetry my father Howard Zahniser sometimes quoted was “Come down to Kew in lilac time, / It isn’t far from London.” His intense delight in the piece showed in how he would dip one shoulder and lean headlong into his audience — even if only one person — during a recitation. He used his body to punctuate his public speaking about wilderness, too, with his bob-and-weave guided walk-through of rhetorical emphases. “Come down to Kew in lilac time…” There are certain words a lifetime loads with meaning. Lilac was one. Whitman’s “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed …” Its poignancy suggesting spring but, too, its heavy nineteenth-century scent of death and dying. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Ed Zahniser: Woodpecker Wake-up Calls

downy woodpecker One morning early, as I slept in our mountain cabin Mateskared, a woodpecker landed on the cabin’s wood siding. Its profound rapid-fire pecking jerked me out of sound sleep.

Did we have robo-termites?

Not in the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bobcat Ranney and Howard Zahniser: An Exchange of Letters

Bobcat Picture from Adirondack MuseumIn Summer 1946, at the invitation of Paul and Carolyn Schaefer, Howard and Alice Zahniser and family made their first trip to the Adirondacks, from their home in Maryland where Howard had begun work with The Wilderness Society. Zahnie, as he was known, had met Paul Schaefer and Schaefer’s mentor John Apperson that February at the 1946 North American Wildlife Conference in New York City. There, Schaefer and Apperson showed their film about dam threats to Forest Preserve wilderness in the western Adirondacks.

It was Wilderness Society policy that any threat to wilderness must be considered a national issue. Accordingly, at the Conference Zahnie offered Schaefer the Society’s help to fight the series of dam proposals in what became known as the Black River Wars. Paul had suggested then that Zahnie and family visit the Schaefer family and their Adirondack camp off Edwards Hill Road out of Bakers Mills, New York, the coming summer. It was there that he met Archie “Bobcat” Ranney.  The day the Zanhisers left Washington, D.C., a letter arrived from Ranney, addressed from Bakers Mills: » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Adirondack Wilderness: Wild By Law, Not Administrative Whim

Wilderness around Fulton Chain from Castle Rock above Blue Mountain LakeThe former chief of publications at The Smithsonian Institution Paul Oehser once joked that “You’ve never experienced wilderness until you’ve driven through Iowa on Interstate 70 in a heavy rainstorm!” His quip reveals one of many connotations of the inextricably entwined words wilderness and wildness.

Paul Oehser’s use of wilderness to evoke chaos harks back to Europe when urban areas began to be seen as a high earthly expression of order. By contrast, wilderness was unordered landscape outside the pale of humankind. Watch TV news today however, and our modern unordered wilds seem to be big cities. Their seeming disorder makes the wilds of the Adirondacks places of cooperation and restoration. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ed Zahniser: Sweeping the Garden

Howard Zahniser Cabin Bakers Mills Johnsburg NY photo by John Warren“Don’t step too far back in the pantry or you might fall into the cellar,” my mother Alice admonished us kids at our family’s Adirondack cabin Mateskared. Foreboding powers seemed to emanate from our fieldstone cellar walled by the cabin’s foundation.

When I was very young the cellar lurked dungeon-like, unseen below, and haunted with that adult admonition. Its night version—“Howard! What’s that noise in the kitchen?”—audibly whispered from the other bedroom split the pitch-dark, timeless expanse of childhood cabin nights. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Paul Schaefer’s ‘Whole Scheme of Life’

Paul Schaefer at Beaver House, 1990My father Howard Zahniser wrote the following in his monthly Nature Magazine book review column in 1945, the year before he first met Paul Schaefer and first came to the Adirondacks. Nevertheless, Paul would have been one of the “few of those” my father invokes:

“Many of us seldom get, or take, the opportunity to sense the magnitude of the whole scheme of Life of which we are only a part. We know only the rush of human events, and we seldom even challenge the presumption of those who call this rush the march of time. Only a few of those who are in the midst of this rush, and it includes us all, can ever be expected to break pace long enough to fall in step with the greater procession that moves through the natural seasons.” » Continue Reading.


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. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Acting Rock and Steamboat Rock

Photo by Alice Zahniser, courtesy of the Zahniser familyGray-green lichens slowly increase their hegemony on the large rock that sits below our family cabin Mateskared in Bakers Mills and fifteen feet west of its outhouse. My older sister Esther’s daughter Layla Ward remembers sitting on this rock as a child and fearing falling off. Its steep downhill side slopes into depths of tall blackberry plants, ferns, goldenrod, and fireweed. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ed Zahniser: What Crane Mountain Said

Crane MountainIn geological lore Crane Mountain is a monolith, “one rock.” From our Mateskared cabin porch in Bakers Mills Crane is “the view.” Up close and personal, Crane harbors a pond. The summit once had a staffed fire tower, but aircraft surveillance and then satellite monitoring made it obsolete.

Until I saw Half Dome and El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California, I found it difficult to grasp Crane as one rock, partly because forests and blueberry plants cover much of Crane. When I sit up there and look across the pond to low cliffs on the far shore, wonder if this diverse scene can be set on one rock? But is not all Earth one rock — its bump-and-grind lithosphere, at least? We are all campers and sojourners on one rock? » Continue Reading.