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, July 13, 2019

Poetry: Roughing It

Roughing It

I remember cold backpack mornings in Augusts
in the Adirondacks in the late 1960s, hanging-in
our sleeping bags long after waking from sleep
on our tarps only to watch for the longest time
while sunlight clambered down from tree tops
to give us the warming inspiration to crawl out
our snug sleeping bags and launch the new day.

Once with my late sister Karen in an open-front
lean-to shelter along Diamond Mountain Brook,
where a side trail leads to the Siamese Ponds,
the weather had been so warm that we took
our summer bags, only to find the lean-to floor
bare of the expected insulating balsam boughs.
Just barely past midnight we both awoke

bone-cold, deciding to sit up in our bags, our
feet propped on our backpacks, keeping them
off the cold lean-to floor. It reminded me how
Karen and I once rode eastward from college,
home for our Christmas break in the back seat
of a classmate’s car whose heater didn’t work.
At five degrees, we wore our gloves on our feet,
while we sat on our hands to keep them warm.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Poetry: Adirondack Mountain Matins

 

Adirondack Mountain Matins

Tremulous aspen leaves applaud
each breeze without discrimination
Unseen hummingbird wing beats
render human heartbeats both
static and ecstatic by comparison

Monarch caterpillars munch milkweed
to make themselves toxic to predators
These mountains are great grandparents
to the far Himalayas and wear down
slower than the novice monk’s stout will


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Poetry: Somehow Changed

Somehow Changed

The woman asleep upstairs in the old summer cabin
awakens to the voice of a psychic Welsh friend
four states away. She hears her name called twice,
the voice pitched low, low and guttural.

The woman peers out the narrow open window
to the left of the fieldstone chimney.
A black bear growls up at her, once, twice.
She recoils from the cheese-cloth-screened window.

Theirs is now the last dwelling on the former dirt road
out of an upstate New York hamlet two miles away.
The steep last 80 yards of their road is still dirt.
The woman will recover sleep but is somehow changed.


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Ed Zahniser: Part of Your Barn Is on Me

Howard Zahniser Cabin Bakers Mills Johnsburg NY photo by John WarrenBig John Dalaba spoke of his land as himself. A few years before he died in 1951, he and my father Howard Zahniser stood looking out at the view of Crane Mountain from our cabin that his daughter Pansy and husband Harold Allen built on the part of the family farm Big John and his wife Hester had deeded to them as a wedding gift in 1938.

A corner of the cowshed built onto Pansy and Harold’s barn still sat on the Dalaba farm, not on the gifted part, which my father and mother Howard and Alice Zahniser had bought in 1946. Harold and Pansy then sought to move downhill to a larger, flatter farm with far better road access for the long, cold, snowy winters. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Poetry: Memory by Intinction — Siamese Ponds Wilderness

Again this early morning
I leave the kitchen light off
as I eat my cold cereal with milk
to re-mind me of our long ago
days at our Adirondack cabin
that promised an imminent
fishing trip to the backwoods
with each year’s hoped-for surprise
finds of new beaver work there
thrilling to Trout’s tug on our line
in this communion of the saints
my brother Matt holds the chalice
and then produces the bread
from his shoulder-slung creel.

Read More Poems From The Adirondack Almanack HERE.


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Poetry: Glossing a Misplaced Area of Memory

Back in the cabin after five wet days camping
five and a half miles back in these wildlands—

beside the long shifting beaver meadow kept open
since the loggers left their flooded “flowed land”

and its rotted log dam gave out soon afterward
—the pungency of wet wool drifts to the corners

of the front room as the fresh fire kicks up
when someone picks up your wet pack

whose surprising weight pulls them off balance
to tell us how what we don’t know while walking

can always come clear later like the brook trout’s
—you hope—first tentative tugs on your fly line

ground-truth the atavism of the limbic brain
to send you back to the city renewed

like Antaeus as maybe your father once said
while he taught you backpacking’s rudiments.

Read More Poems From The Adirondack Almanack HERE.


Saturday, March 2, 2019

Poetry: Howard Lean-To, Adirondacks

During our own Tang Dynasty we stirred
space-age orange powder in hot water
on cold mornings beside Johns Brook
stomping our feet for warmth outside
the Howard Lean-to.

My bro Matt’s wife Ann wanted to take a dip
in the brook, more like a small river
here at the base of the high peaks.

For Matt it came down to “I will
if you do” and Ann did do.

Later we packed-out by the well-worn
trail we packed-in on, but by then
it was a different way.

Read More Poems From The Adirondack Almanack HERE.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

My First Trout and The Rainmakers

My advice to nine-year-old wanna-be trout anglers is: “Do not wear a sweater.” Repeat: “Do not wear a sweater.”

My earliest trout fishing days in and around Bakers Mills in today’s Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area were frustrating because my own fishhook invariably caught mainly my sweater. And we mostly used night crawlers not artificial flies then. Better to wear something less adept at snagging stray hooks. Try thick vinyl, maybe. » Continue Reading.


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.