Almanack Contributor Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Discovery of Lost Brook Tract

Towards the SummitToday we move our surveying saga forward from the eighteenth century to the nineteenth.  We will not dwell in this century for long.  The stories of two dominant explorers of the 1800’s, geologist Ebenezer Emmons and surveyor Verplanck Colvin, have been well documented and need no retelling here.  But before Emmons, who was active in the region in the  1830′,s there was plenty of important surveying work done in the Adirondacks.

If you will, please consider the following two résumés, each an example of early American pioneering virtue: » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Fate of Charles Brodhead

Erie Canal LockLast week we left Charles C. Brodhead in Indian Pass, he having arrived almost fifty years prior to David Henderson’s well-documented venture.  As he chained through the pass Brodhead was slightly less than halfway through a survey of the line marking the boundary between the Totten and Crossfield Purchase, the Old Military Tract and the Macomb Purchase, the third and largest of the three great early Adirondack Tracts.

We have not previously encountered the Macomb Purchase and we will only touch upon it now.  The Macomb purchase lay to the west of the Military Tract and its southern boundary was supposed to be the northern boundary of Totten Crossfield.  But as we have seen there was no completed northern boundary for Totten Crossfield, thus the extent of the Macomb Purchase could not be properly calculated.  It was Brodhead’s job to rectify that and to connect to Archibald Campbell’s unfinished line.  As we will see, as astonishing as his High Peaks survey was, in the end he failed in this task.   » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches:
Brodhead’s Astonishing High Peaks Survey

Personal McIntyre RangeGet your coffee, kids.  Here comes one hell of a story.

When last we left surveyor Charles Brodhead he was standing in two feet of snow atop Giant Mountain.  His task, to finally survey the boundary between the Old Military Tract and the Totten and Crossfield Purchase and in the process connect to Archibald Campbell’s distant northern line, lay before him, directly into the formidable jumble of higher peaks ahead.  Unlike his predecessors, all of whom managed to avoid setting this line, Brodhead, the hard-headed, uncongenial tough guy that he was, took in the view without written comment, recorded his chain measurements and headed down into the Keene Valley and history. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches:
The Incredible Story of Charles Brodhead, Surveyor

Giant from Amy's Lookout.  Many new Irene slides.On June 2nd, 1797, twenty-five years after Archibald Campbell surveyed part of the northern line of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase, another surveyor named Charles C. Brodhead, tasked with working to the same line but starting from the east and chaining to the west,  made the following entry in his field journal: “3 Miles, 20 Chains: assg. Ye mountain, Top ye mountain – (snow 24 inches deep) Timber Balsom and Spruce.  3 Miles, 23 chains: desending steep rocks, no Timber.

This relatively pedestrian entry has at least the curiosity of recording so much snow in June but it otherwise causes one to long for the florid prose and colorfully descriptive thoroughness of Verplank Colvin.  Colvin’s accounts of his surveying journeys make for real drama, whereas this journal, typical of the time, offers the barest details beyond the numbers, with only occasional comments on the quality of the land or detours that needed to be taken.

» Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches:
Traveling Campbell’s Northern Survey

Five PondsAs I described in last week’s Dispatch, the more I become engrossed in Adirondack history the more my interest has grown in Archibald Campbell’s incomplete survey of the northern line of the Totten and Crossfield Purchase.

Having possession of his field notes and maps plus a 1911 large-format map of the Adirondack Park as well as modern USGS maps, I did a bunch of digitizing, calibrating, measuring and finagling, virtually recreating his journey.  This summer I plan to hike it to see it for real and compare my experiences to his.  But the virtual trip was a most interesting project for me and I would like to take you along.

Beware!  Unless you are a Class-One Adirondack Nerd this Dispatch might lead to narcolepsy.  But if you have been following my surveying series with interest, then lace your boots, grab your gaiters, your Gunter’s chain and your rum and let’s hike together into the primeval forest. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches:
The Totten and Crossfield Purchase Northern Line

Totten Crossfield Lot Map Version 2Denizens of all things Adirondack can have robust debates about which historical events have had the greatest impact on the Adirondack park.

From Champlain firing his arquebus in 1609 to Colvin’s ascent of Seward in 1870 to Forever Wild in 1894 to the Olympics and acid rain, history gives us a long list of worthy possibilities.  There being no single correct answer, one candidate high on my list would be Archibald Campbell’s aborted and errant 1772 survey of the northern line of the Totten and Crossfield purchase. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: Surveying Chains and Oxen

Saxon OxenWhat if I told you that the specifics of our American system of land measurement, with its miles and acres and such, was the direct result of a bunch of oxen standing tired in a field during a morning’s  plowing more than a thousand years ago.  Would you believe me?  Read on.

If you peruse historical documents pertaining to the great Adirondack surveys you will encounter a variety of measurement units.  Some, like feet and miles, will be common knowledge to you.  Others, like acres, will be familiar terms though you may not know precisely what they are.  But a few, like the chain, which seems to be the fundamental unit of surveying distance, may well be unknown.   Every major land division in the Adirondacks was originally measured in chains using an actual metal chain called a Gunter’s chain. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: Campbell’s Corner

Snowy Mountain from the Jessup River Wild ForestIt was the summer of 1771.  The province of New York was part of the British Empire and all lands not in private hands belonged either to Native American nations, principally the Haudenosaunee, or to His Majesty King George III.

To the north and west of Albany a great wild forest stretched to the Saint Lawrence.  European control of this territory had been in dispute for many decades but the recently ended French and Indian War had settled the matter in favor of the British and the area was now considered safe enough for agriculture, industry and settlement. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: Surveying, Out of Sight

Fallen Spruce and DuffThis week I return to my series on surveying.  Two weeks ago we got as far as revealing the basic idea and magical power of triangulation.  This wedding between shape and mathematical proportion transformed human knowledge and literally made all modern science, engineering, geography, architecture and cartography possible.

» Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: A Third Way

wrestlersThis week I am taking a short break from my surveying series, having been inspired by the spirit of a number of important conversations that have recently been unfolding on the pages of the Almanack.

Consider two Adirondack-loving persons.  Both are reasonably decent, honest, clear-headed, thoughtful people.  They work, they raise families, they vote and they enjoy the woods and mountains in their own way.  They have a variety of views on the wide spectrum of issues that affect the future of the Adirondack Park.  Let’s call one Mr. P and one Mr. N. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: Surveying the Unknown

TheodoliteHow does a surveyor traipse into the woods and come out with accurate heights, positions, distances and property lines for artifacts in the middle of nowhere?  It’s magic, of course, but it is mathematical magic that has been well understood for a good two-thousand years.  In last week’s Dispatch I covered the core of that mathematics, which is the simple but incredible marriage between proportions and triangles.

I finished  by presenting  a fact little understood by the typical person: because of this mathematics you can measure the distance to anything in the world by simply pointing to it.  No direct measurement is needed.  This week in my continuing series on the magic of surveying I’m going to show how it is done, finishing with an Adirondack example of note. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Magic of Surveying

Surveying Tools, 1728Today I begin a series of Dispatches on surveying, one of the greatest and richest interactions between humans and their natural environment, rife with beauties,  drama and challenge.  And magic.

There are many perspectives from which to tell the story of the history of the Adirondacks.  Indeed the numerous Adirondack history books available to the curious reader feature a wide variety of approaches.  Some are essentially chronological in nature; some are cultural; some are political.  I especially enjoy the many historical writings about the region that are thematically organized around the personalities of the unequaled cast of characters whose fates were intertwined with the Adirondack Mountains.  From To Charles Herreshoff to John Brown to Ned Buntline to Thomas Clark Durant the variety of people and their various enterprises is remarkable.
» Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: Promoting Wilderness

Looking up the cliffs to Adam's Ledge and the summit of Burton's PeakLike all who know and love the Adirondacks I have always felt a personal stake in the grand debate over private versus public land and the extent to which the state of New York should support and expand its wilderness holdings.   It’s no secret I firmly believe that the Adirondacks’ greatest asset is its mountainous wilderness character and that increasing this asset and leveraging the image of the Adirondacks as a wild place holds the key to gaining its best economic future.

Plenty of people disagree with me.  So I laid out my arguments in great detail in a series of Dispatches running from October through November of last year that promoted what I called a wild, mountainous Adirondack Image.  All told these Dispatches engendered more than a hundred and seventy comments, which is a wonderful.  Meanwhile the same debate raged on in columns ranging from the State’s acquisitions of the Nature Conservancy offering to tourism, Adirondack branding and others.  As I read various postings and comments I found myself thinking all too often that people still don’t get it, that so many of the viewpoints are myopic, embracing a very narrow focus at the expense of the bigger picture. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Pleasures of Winter Camping

The family and I are just back from our annual winter trek to Lost Brook Tract and I have a joyful urge to write about how terrific winter camping is.  My timing is not intended to offer any sort of counterpoint to Dan Crane’s recent post; the last time I checked he and I don’t  coordinate our contributions.  But counterpoint it will be.

In fact, let me begin with Dan: Dan!  Dude!  Get back out there and pitch your tent, buddy.  There’s plenty of winter to go and I can vouch for the fact that there are perfect conditions in the back country right now – no doubt there will be for quite some time.

Why do we go backpacking in the Adirondacks?  I submit that if you were to make a list of the reasons you go into the wilderness for an extended period, you would find that almost all of them are more valid and better fulfilled in the winter (I know, I know… yeah, sure, but it’s cold Pete).  » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: The Christmas Turkey, Part Two

When I was a  teenager I had a small streak of juvenile delinquency.  This is not uncommon in young men of course and it comes in different flavors.  Some do a little drinking or drugs.  Some do a little stealing.  Some  might commit minor vandalism.  I didn’t do any of that stuff.  I liked to set things on fire.

One March in Cleveland when I was fifteen or so, after a particularly long  and snowy winter the weekend broke into the sixties, setting me and two of my like-minded friends, who were possessed with acute cabin fever, into a manic tizzy to play basketball.  Sadly the driveway was covered in slush from the thaw, splattering us with every aborted dribble.  We tried shoveling, sweeping, even hosing it down, but to no avail. Then we came to another solution. » Continue Reading.



Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.

Support the Adirondack Almanack and the Adirondack Explorer all year long with a monthly gift that fits your budget.