Big 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.
In July 1946, Howard and Alice Zahniser drove with their children to the Adirondacks for the first time. Howard had started work as the first executive of The Wilderness Society in Washington D.C. the year prior. Howard would begin drafting the federal Wilderness Act of 1964 (66 drafts in all) from a cabin he acquired in the Adirondacks.
Howard kept a journal of his first trip to the Adirondack Park. The rest of us know about it thanks to his son Ed Zahniser’s small book, Where Wilderness Preservation Began – Adirondack Writings of Howard Zahniser (Ed Zahniser, Editor., North Country Books, 1992). For 72 years the extended Zahniser family, now including the fourth generation, has returned to the same place in the Adirondacks. This August I held a cook-out to welcome them back. » Continue Reading.
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 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.
In 1892 the New York State Legislature created the Adirondack Park and in 1894 placed “Forever Wild” forest protection into the State Constitution. Thus began a process of wilderness protection for what today covers thousands of lakes and millions of acres of forests.
During the following sixty years however, there were scores of determined efforts by developers, local governments, and subsequent legislatures to weaken that protection to promote mining, logging, hydroelectric power, roads, commercial recreation and off-road access by jeeps, snowmobiles, floatplanes and motorboats. To repel these threats, America’s first modern grassroots wilderness protection campaigns began. » 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 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.
The sparsely populated towns in the Adirondacks often hold a particularly rich and intriguing history, but it often lies undiscovered and under-appreciated. The Township of Johnsburg, in the southeastern corner of the Adirondack Park is a prime example.
It appears that Sir William Johnson used a Native American trail through Johnsburg to sneak north to terrify and murder the French during the French & Indian War. It is likely too that his son, Sir John Johnson, used that same trail to lead a band of 528 loyalist New Yorkers south in 1780 to rescue 143 Loyalists and then burn 120 barns, mills and houses in his home town of Johnstown during the American Revolution. » 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.
The Wilderness 50th Steering Committee will sponsor a public event in North Creek to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The National Wilderness Preservation System Act of 1964.
The event will feature remarks by members of the Wilderness 50th committee, including but not limited to Adirondack Wild, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and Chad Dawson, Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Professor Dawson is also the editor of the international Journal of Wilderness.
The event is also intended to recognize the legacies of Howard Zahniser and Paul Schaefer. The National Wilderness Act’s author and chief lobbyist Howard Zahniser took his inspiration from New York’s “forever wild” constitutional protection of the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve. That constitutional protection also marks its 120th anniversary this year (1894-2014). Zahniser said many times that New York State set the example for the national Wilderness movement and for the legislation. His legislation was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on September 3, 1964. » 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.
On a warm September day in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed what is now recognized as one of the most significant legislative acts in American environmental history. This was the national Wilderness Act. Before then, federal lands, even those protected as national parks or national forests were expected to serve a variety of functions. The national forests, for example, permitted logging, mining, and grazing. The national parks were often centered on opulent hotels and other all-too-civilized amenities. The idea of setting aside part of the public domain as wilderness, even though this word was and is difficult to define, was radical then, and it remains controversial today. It was a monumental step, and its roots lie in the Adirondacks.
How European-Americans have thought about this amorphous thing we call wilderness has been a complicated, often torturous story. (How Native Americans navigated these shoals is another story altogether, but their views have seldom if ever been consulted as this country has gone about the process of setting land-use policy.) If we go back far enough, we find a pervasive hostility to what many of us now treasure. In 1620, for example, the Pilgrim William Bradford contemplated the forests of eastern Massachusetts, which seemed to stand between his band of cold and hungry settlers and any sort of security, and declared despairingly that nothing lay before them other than “a hideous and desolate wilderness.” Wilderness, in other words, was the enemy. If these people expected to survive, let alone prosper, the wilderness had to be eliminated as soon as possible. » 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.
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