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).
“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.
My 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.
As 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.
Gray-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.
In 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.
Under the big maple tree above the northwest corner of our barn at Mateskared a large rock holds a mixed history for me. It’s a rounded-off triangular solid. As kids my three siblings and I slid down it, putting the seats of pants at risk. A rounded pocket two-thirds down its topmost, steepeer slope transformed the rock as stone throne. Part of my memory of this rock is photographic – and false. I recalled a snapshot of my father Howard Zahniser and me on the rock about 1950. I wear a beanie cap. But later finding the photo, I discovered we are on a different rock, farther uphill, now hidden in recovering pasture. » Continue Reading.
On rainy nights, if you listen closely, you can hear opera music coming out of the stout wooden bench in front of our Adirondack cabin’s fieldstone fireplace. That’s what Paul Schaefer told us when he brought us the piece of beam and said it would make a fine bench for our indoor fireplace.
Paul was a contractor in Schenectady, NY, who built early American style homes. He and my father Howard Zahniser were also Adirondack conservation partners, beginning in 1946, when I was six months old. Paul served as middle-man when my parents bought our cabin near Bakers Mills from Harold and Pansy Allen that August. » Continue Reading.
My first childhood memories of Paul Schaefer are of his hands. They were huge to me. They seemed big enough to serve as lasts for making baseball gloves. I also remember Paul from my earliest Adirondack summers as a quality of expectancy.
On Wednesday nights we four kids used to sit on the big wood beam Paul had placed in front of our outdoor fireplace at our family cabin Mateskared and wait for his pickup truck headlights to turn off Route 8 onto Edwards Hill Road. Into the 1950s you could still see headlights on Route 8 two miles south of our cabin at Bakers Mills. Headlights heading up Edwards Hill Road generated immediate tension. Would they make it as far as the second bridge – about half of the two miles from Route 8 to Mateskared – without turning off into a driveway? » Continue Reading.
The importance of religion is not so much the forgiveness of sins as it is awareness and gratitude, I tell my sons, Eric and Justin, aged twelve and fifteen, respectively. Amazing grace throbs in daily life, I tell them. There are debts of love owed life.
We are not Jewish, but I sometimes think it would be easier for me to teach them the Hebrew language, which I do not know, than to tell them about this untellable story, which, in a way, I do know. » Continue Reading.
In Tibet they practice celestial burial. The deceased’s body is cut up into pieces small enough to be fed to the gathered vultures, who, because of this practice, are considered sacred birds. In our part of the Adirondacks we see few vultures, but, in part, a like ubiquity of rocks drives certain practices here.
During our early family summers on the edge of Adirondack wilderness, we children dreaded being assigned to bury the garbage. Waste disposal still decentralized in the early 1950s. To find where you could dig a hole deep enough to inter garbage was a serial ordeal of trial holes frustrated by hitting nonnegotiable rocks. » Continue Reading.
In the soul’s delicious fog between our sleep and full wakefulness, consciousness emerges like a sly ventriloquist. Moving freely about the stage, it takes full advantage of the blurry atmospherics. These mornings on the cabin porch, when my sons emerge from their cabin sleep, I try to blend my voice with this ventriloquism. It’s a parent’s only hope of revising the coding errors of our contributions to their DNA.
How often we know far better than we manage to do. If wisdom were a basketball hoop it would be 15 feet off the ground, not the standard 10 feet. I probe my sons’ inner fogs: “Wisdom is knowledge lived over time,” I say. » Continue Reading.
My sister Esther is a therapist in London, England. She specializes in voice dialogue therapy. Her work tries to engage the client’s heretofore unacknowledged multiple inner voices in constructive dialog with each other. Esther is highly intuitive. She can still work up her own fright by recalling from childhood our father Howard Zahniser reciting a poem she and I remembered as “There Is a Wolf in Me.” It turns out the poem by Carl Sandburg (1878–1967) is titled “Wilderness”:
There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.
I can still conjure my father reciting the poem to us as he stood framed by the doorway from our kitchen pantry-way into the dining room of our childhood home in the Hyattsville, Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.
No matter that the house no longer exists. No matter that our father Howard Zahniser died 50 years ago. No matter that I have since seen wolves in the wild and witnessed their extreme wariness toward their bipedal primate nemesis humankind.
What was so frightening about the poem may be the fact that, truth to tell, there is probably a wolf in each of us. What if my wolf got out? What if your wolf got out? » Continue Reading.
Howard Zahniser knew he needed two things when he came to the Adirondacks in 1946. The two things could help him prove himself to his national wilderness mentors—now his new employers—at the Wilderness Society. They could also help him build the practical and functional organization needed to pursue a national wilderness preservation system. First, Zahnie, as he was known, needed honest-to-goodness wilderness in reasonable automobile vacation reach of Washington, D.C. for our family. Even this was a two-day car trip then, and we would camp overnight on the way. Second, he needed to leave his professional comfort zone of public relations and public information and journalism work. He needed to expand into grassroots political organizing and consensus building. That is, he needed to learn to operate in the larger world that would become the environmental movement twenty-five years later.
The Adirondacks and their Edwards Hill setting—soon to be Mateskared—met the first need. Paul Schaefer met the second. Paul was my father’s ticket out of his own comfort zone. » Continue Reading.
My father and mother, Howard and Alice Zahniser, named our cabin Mateskared not long after they bought the place in August 1946 from Harold and Pansy Allen. It sits at the end of a road off Route 8 in Bakers Mills, Warren County.
The late New York State conservationist Paul Schaefer partly owned the land to the west of our place. Paul served as middleman on the deal because our family lived in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. We were a two-day drive from the Adirondack State Park in those days. I was not yet one year old. » Continue Reading.
My father Howard Zahniser, who died four months before the 1964 Wilderness Act became law 50 years ago this September 3, was the chief architect of, and lobbyist for, this landmark Act. The Act created our 109.5-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System.
Had I another credential, it would be that Paul Schaefer—the indomitable Adirondack conservationist—was one of my chief mentors and outdoor role models. Paul helped me catch my first trout. I was seven years old. That life event took place in what is now the New York State-designated Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area in the Adirondacks. Izaak Walton should be so lucky. » Continue Reading.
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