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.
Again this early morning
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.
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.
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.
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.
As 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.
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.
In 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.
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.
In 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.
A 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.
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.
In 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.
The 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.
“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.