John Davis’ new book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor (Essex Editions, 2017) is a look at some of the wildlife thriving in the wooded hills and adjacent waterways linking Lake Champlain with the High Peaks.
Davis and artist friends illustrate the ecological importance, conservation value, and natural beauty of the wildway and its many inhabitants. » Continue Reading.
Split Rock Mountain, the locale of an ancient boundary between nations, is the exotic and mysterious Far East of the Adirondacks. It’s home to rattlesnakes, bobcats, eagles, and peregrine falcons and the scene of a marital murder, a mining tragedy, and Revolutionary War intrigue. You’ll find here disappearing ponds, Lake Champlain’s sheerest shoreline, panoramic vistas, and a wonderfully varied network of trails.
I’ve been lucky to visit these woods often on foot and on skis. The mountain straddles adjoining corners of Essex and Westport. My first jaunt here was in 1984, soon after the state’s first big land purchase in the area, and my guide was Gary Randorf, the first executive director of the Adirondack Council. We explored a rolling dogleg trail, his favorite, now called Gary’s Elbow. That spring day we observed the deeply soft lavender of hepatica (to me, the loveliest early wildflower), and we hiked to the lookout over Snake Den Harbor, a deep anchorage bounded by precipitous haunts of the eastern timber rattlesnake. » Continue Reading.
The series will continue on Friday April 25 at 7:00 p.m. with a presentation entitled Timber Rattlesnakes in Folklore and Fact by Joe Racette. Racette will speak specifically about the Split Rock Wild Forest population of timber rattlesnakes, including recent scientific studies and historical information about the decades when several New York counties offered a bounty for the snakes. In addition Racette will explain the legal protection now covering timber rattlesnakes. There is a suggested donation of $8. » Continue Reading.
Ed Zahniser is the son of Howard and Alice Zahniser (Howard was chief author and lobbyist for the National Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964), and Ed’s essay “Wilderness and our Full Community of Life” is now on the Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve website. It was written as a public address, but also stands on its own as an exciting piece of writing.
Re-reading Ed’s presentation gives me goosebumps because it ties together so much of the human experience. As he makes clear, wilderness is not about natural resource management, ecology, or Adirondack State Land Master Plan guidelines, as important as those are to keeping and restoring of wild places through the management of human use. As Ed says, wildness causes us to think about right relationships with the broader community of life. To see wilderness is to see ourselves, as his father Howard Zahniser described it, as “dependent members of an interdependent community which gains its energy from the sun.” It is “where we feel most keenly our interdependence with all life.” Most keenly. We can feel also this in our backyards, in our parks, in our guts after a rich meal. But wild places are set aside in law to help us to come face to face with this interdependence in a very real way.
Thinking about what that word interdependence means leads one to recognize how little we know about the land as a whole community of life, not dissected under the microscope, but connected to us. Ed compares the Hubble Space Telescope looking at galaxies spiraling outwards with soil layers and organisms spiraling downwards. If there was ever a “4 G network,” it is in the soil. It is even in the teaming mites and bacterial life on our heads! Towards the end of her life, my mother thought wildness was coming a bit too close to our house, as foxes and deer moved ever closer as the result of a kind of re-wilding going in the neighborhood. Well, it turns out wilderness was always that close – even closer.
Experience with the wild really is a humbling experience, and that humility is critical to our Christian traditions as well. Ed traces today’s wilderness ethic to many biblical stories and traditions, to Christ himself wandering in the desert, and the spiritual purification, and the finding of “right relationships” to man and the universe which many people have found there.
One of those humbling days for me was in the Split Rock Wild Forest near Essex and Lake Champlain. Gary Randorf led Ken Rimany and me on a ski trip there with six inches of powder on top of an icy crust. Gary flew uphill; we edged our way up, slipping constantly. From white and red pine plantations, we moved into mixed hardwood forest and occasional glades of hemlock, and then scrub oaks and red cedar near the cliff face above Champlain. Huffing and puffing (Gary was resting easy); we watched bald eagles circling, meeting in mid-air, their talons hooked together in an aerial spiral. A raven checked on the eagles. The sky above was a deep blue. Wow. What a wild moment.
We headed into a deep ravine, following the sun in its southern arc to Champlain’s Barn Rock Bay. Gary explained that here huge rock ballast was cut and slid on great bridges and docks into waiting ships. We tried to comprehend, and all we saw was thick hemlock above us. Here another of our great human enterprises was swallowed up by the unmoved, unimpressed earth organism. Knowing what was once here and how many people sweated, or bled to create this enterprise is an exercise in humility. Now, animal tracks, mouse, deer, bobcat accompanied our ski tracks up the ravine, as we scrambled after Gary, finding him again after a wonderful swoosh back to the parking lot.
Fundamental to Ed’s essay, then, is that wilderness is not a special interest, but part of a core interest in the human condition which is constantly seeking “right relationships” with others and with communities, human and more than human. Protection of wilderness is part of a broad movement which included women’s suffrage and civil rights, and today’s struggle to spread economic justice and opportunity and the search for spiritual meaning in our lives. Ed, like his parents, has read widely and thought laterally as well as deeply about these matters. His presentation connects us, lessens the divides between us and our worlds. Enjoy it.
Yesterday’s crash of a Greyhound bus near Elizabethtown reminds us of some of the tragic events that have occurred in the Adirondack region. Here is a list of the ten we believe were most tragic:
October 2, 2005 – Ethan Allen Sinking Twenty-one people drown when the Lake George excursion boat Ethan Allen flips and sinks while turning against a wave.
1903 – Spier Falls Dam Ferry Capsizes Sixteen men and a young boy were drowned when a ferry carrying workers capsized on the Hudson River near the Spier Falls Dam (then under construction) in Moreau between Lake Luzerne and Mount McGregor. The ferry was overloaded when high water made a temporary bridge too dangerous to use.
November 19, 1969 – Crash of Mohawk Airlines Flight 411 A twin prop-jet commuter plane (a Fairchild-Hiller 227, a.k.a. Fokker F-27) flying from La Guardia Airport in NewYork to Glens Falls crashes on Pilot Knob killing all 14 onboard. The accident is blamed on downdrafts on the leeward side of of the mountain.
August 3, 1893 – Sinking of the Steamer Rachel The Lake George excursion steamer Rachel, chartered by more than twenty guests of the Fourteen Mile Island Hotel to take them to a dance at the Hundred Island House, is steered by an inexperienced Captain out of the channel and into an old dock south of the hotel. the old peir tears a large hole in the side of the boat below the water line and twelve were killed – many caught on the shade deck as the boat listed and almost immediately sinks.
July 30, 1856 – Burning of the John Jay The 140-feet long Lake George steamer John Jay, loaded with 70 passengers, catches fire near the Garfield House about ten miles south of Ticonderoga on Lake George. Five die trying to swim to shore to escape the flames. The fire is blamed on an overburdened soot-clogged smokestack – the crew had kept a large hot fire in the boiler in order to make up lost time.
June 3, 1927 – Chazy Lake School Picnic Drownings Five students, one quarter of the Dannemora High School senior class, drown when their rowboat is swamped in a squall on Chazy Lake during an interclass picnic. The only survivor is their teacher Emma Dunk, whose hand was caught in the boat keeping her above the cold water after she lost consciousness.
August 28, 2006 – Greyhound Interstate Bus Crash Five passengers are killed when a Greyhound Bus Company’s bus No. 4014, traveling from New York City to Montreal, and making midafternoon stops in Albany and Saratoga Springs, overturns on the Northway (I-87) just before Exit 31 near Elizabethtown.
1995-2005 – Drownings at the Starbuckville Dam A dangerous backflow whirlpool kills five swimmers at the Starbuckville Dam on the Schroon River over the course of ten years. The dam is finally rebuilt in 2005-2006.
August 12, 2003 – Split Rock Falls Drownings Four teenagers, all ages 18 and 19, drowned at Split Rock Falls near Elizabethtown while on their day off from their jobs as camp counselors for a Minerva camp. When one fell into the water the other three tried to rescue him.
February and September 2004 – Border Patrol Checkpoint Accidents In two separate accidents four are killed and more than 60 injured (four critically) when Canadian based buses fail to see a US Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 87 in Elizabethtown – poor signage is blamed.