"...it was a sad sound that came to my ears from the treetops above and the brook below, and the wind and the water seemed to unite to blow taps for the millions of acres of primeval forests that had gone, while at attention stood some of the few surviving veteran acres of the Grand Forest of the Adirondacks."
Robert Marshall, "Weekend Trips in the Cranberry Lake Region", 1923
It's an indescribable feeling to walk among veteran trees in this Adirondack Park. Their bark, girth, towering heights and roots emit such a sense of history, of strength, of majesty and yes...a sadness. Those of you have been there know what I mean.
Bob Marshall is one of those people I'll be looking for in the hereafter. He was born in NYC on January 2, 1901, to Florence and Louis Marshall. His dad was a prominent lawyer and a delegate to the NYS Constitutional Convention in 1894 -- which passed the Forever Wild amendment, setting aside 600,000 acres of state-owned forest land in the Adirondacks and the Catskills from development. As did many prosperous people in those days, the Marshalls spent their summers at the family "camp" called Knollwood on Lower Saranac Lake. So, with an ardent conservationist for a father, and wilderness outside the door of their summer home, Bob, his brother George and their family guide began to explore the mountains around them. Why is he so special to me? Here are a few of the highlights from his brief life:
Bob's passion for wilderness preservation had only just begun following his graduation from Syracuse's College of Forestry in 1924. His work took him to the Wind River Forest in the State of Washington, the Northern Rocky Mountain Forest along the Montana-Idaho border, the Flathead River country, now known as the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana and Alaska's Brooks Range. Everywhere there were stories of his long-distance hikes of thirty to forty miles a day in his Sears Roebuck shoes, wool socks, blue jeans and work shirt.
Road building in National Parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Great Smokies in the 1930's, including CCC truck trails through the Adirondacks, alarmed many wilderness enthusiasts, especially Marshall. Networking with friends in the newly organized Wilderness Society which he helped to organize and the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, Bob spearheaded a national awareness program.
James M. Glover in his wonderful book, A Wilderness Origional, states "Marshall was a humorist, writer, explorer, scientist, and social critic --a kind of da Vinci in high-top sneakers." p. 274. Bob died suddenly in his berth aboard a train bound for New York in November 1939. He was just shy of his 39th birthday.
Mt. Marshall (4,360) was officially named for Robert Marshall in 1942. In July, 1993, my hiking partner and I left the Calamity Brook Leanto after an early breakfast, and scrambled like rabbits up Herbert Brook, thru the blowdowns, over the slide area, into the col, southwest up the ridge to the summit. It was 9:30 AM. and we basked silently in the early morning sun for the longest time. I layed back on a rocky outcrop, and thought of Bob -- somehow, as long as this mountain is here, I thought, people will remember him. I have plans for January 2, 2001. I hope to be spending Bob's 100th birthday hiking, maybe skiing, maybe snowshoeing, looking for those primeval veterans of the Adirondack Forest. It's a whole lot harder to do now, but no less rewarding than back in Bob's day. 46er #3417
SNAKE-EYE - a name given to Alvah Dunning by Native Americans in the Adirondack Park. He had much in common with them: an economy of motion, strength and endurance, a tall, thin and long-armed body, and a communion with nature unparalled by most whitemen of his time.
Alvah Dunning was a guides guide, a real Adirondack prototype who’s hunting, fishing and trapping skills put him in a class of his own. Unlike John Cheney, Mitchell Sabattis and others who spent a great deal of time in the woods, he actually lived there - imitating the sounds of birds and animals with greater skill than any of his contemporaries.
His primitive lifestyle sustained him for nearly ninety years. Alvah was born in Lake Pleasant in 1816, learned to trap and hunt from his father - a ruthless Indian killer for hire. Apparently Alvah decided to give married life a try, by the absences of the trapper/hunter led the young wife to commit "faithless" deeds. Alvah’s revenge was so brutal that even his callous neighbors were shocked and sought his arrest. So began his first plunge into the wilderness where the solitude provided so much enjoyment that never again could he live in even the most backwoods community.
Some of the interesting events in his life follow:
William Freeman Fox was born in 1840 in Ballston Spa, NY. He graduated with a degree in engineering from Union College in 1860, was wounded three times while serving with a NY regiment during the Civil War, but returned to work in the family’s lumbering business. In 1885 when NY passed the nation’s first comprehensive environmental law, Article XIV - creating a Forest Commission to oversee the newly created Forest Preserve, Fox was appointed Assistant Secretary, later in 1891 - Superintendent of Forests. The Commission had the authority to appoint firewardens, but local communities were expected to pay their expenses and they worked only during fire emergencies. Finding competent people in sparsely populated areas and from towns with varying economic capabilities frustrated Fox - who annually appealed for a more permanent solution.
1899 turned out to be an extremely dry year - fires burned over 79,653 acres in the Forest Reserve. Governor Theodore Roosevelt urged the Commission to develop a plan with State funds guaranteeing payment for services. Fox’s proposal suggested "the organization of an adequate force of forest rangers who should be assigned to districts of a suitable area, which should be patrolled constantly and thoroughly." In addition he stated, "the firewarden’s work commences after the fire has started; the patrol, before. The best way to fight fires is to have no fire; and there will be very few fires in the woods that are thoroughly watched." The rangers would also guard against illegal timbering on state land and poaching and other violations of the fish and game laws.
Months trickled by, and the Legislature failed to act. Mother Nature kept fires in check for the next several years, but 1903 forest fires destroyed nearly 500,000 acres. Following hearings at which Fox testified, new legislation provided for patrols along the rail corridors and temporary assistants to be paid for in case of emergency. Public clamor following another dry year in 1908 when 605 forest fires destroyed 368,000 in NYS finally prompted then Governor Hughes to sign legislation providing for sweeping amendments to the Fish and Game Law. The Forest Reserve was divided into Four Districts, three in the Adirondacks, one in the Catskills, then subdivided and supervised by Patrolmen who would receive $75 per month plus expenses. Temporary help could be hired when needed for 15 cents an hour, but more importantly, six inspectors were appointed to work with the railroads to reduce fires, and provisions were also made for the establishment of forest fire observation stations - fire towers - with "modern" telephone lines to them.
Superintendent Fox died June 16, 1909 with his vision nearly complete. It wasn’t until 1912 when the position of fire patrolman was abolished and that of the forest ranger established and the fire superintendent name changed to District Fire Ranger, the duties of which remain today pretty much as Fox outlined in 1899. We, the residents and visitors to the Adirondack Park, owe this gentleman our gratitude and respect.
Jeanne Robert Foster's humble beginnings occurred in 1879 near one of my favorite places, Crane Mountain near Johnsburg, NY. Her beauty, talent and energy led her to the stage in New York, and into the literary circles of William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound but Jeanne never forgot or abandoned the wilderness people of her youth. It is through her vernacular poetry and narratives of mountain living people that we uncover the deeper beauty that she possessed. Her passion for living and her extraordinary eye for detail have left us with a poignant glimpse into the lives of Adirondack people at the turn of the century.
From her poem Into Dimness, she writes:
I heard the wild loon and the catbird cry Over Sagamore Lake, and knew that I Heard the ancient call of race Bidding me to my own place.
Then, the tale of MIS’ COLE, leaving her husband and five children:
She came walking up the road one morning In late summer, slowly, taking her time. She had on a blue calico wrapper, Which was all the clothes I knew her to have. Her face was still young, and her hair was tied back With a leather thong cut from a tanned hide.
"…I’m leaving George. I’m just walking away. Haying is done; they can’t say I left when the work was heavy."
"I was an orphan when I married George. I never had no one or nobody, not even myself. I have to find someone or something." She went out and I watched while she walked Up the long Wilson Hill.
I heard where she was down below but I said nothing. George and the children got on all right. It’s long ago, but I think of her and the leather strip in her yellow hair.
Among her closest friends was John Butler Yeats, father of William - the poet. Following his death in 1922, Jeanne had him buried in the Chestertown Rural Cemetary near the Foster family plot. John shared her interest in the Irish literary renaissance of the time. Jeanne’s grandfather was "black Irish" and she wrote once, "…all I have ever done I owe to his blood." Jeanne eventually settled in Schenectady where she worked to improve the living conditions of the elderly. Jeanne Robert Foster died in 1971 at the age of ninety-one.
I think you might enjoy Neighbors of Yesterday, originally published in 1916 and reprinted in 1963 by Riedinger and Reidinger Limited, Schenectady, 1963. Also Adirondack Portraits, published by the same in 1986.