From the Mountain They Call Thunder’s Nest: An Adirondack poet
Throughout our region author Sandra Weber appears in the summer to tell tales of Remarkable Women of the Adirondacks. One of the remarkable women she features is the “poet Jeanne Robert Foster.”
Eileen Mach has similarly studied and expertly performed Jeanne Robert Foster many times in our area, including her production of Voice of the Mountains: Jeanne Robert Foster, an Adirondack Legacy.
Noel Riedinger-Johnson edited Adirondack Portraits – A Piece of Time (1986, Syracuse University Press). The jacket cover reads:
“Adirondack Portraits: A Piece of Time is a moving poetic statement about America’s forgotten frontier in the vast Adirondack mountain region…The book is also about the remarkable Jeanne Robert Foster (1879-1970). Born in poverty in the Adirondacks, as a young woman she emerged in the center of the literary and artistic circles of her day, an associate of Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T.S. Elio, and the Yeates, father and son…. Jeanne Robert Foster’s poems and prose pieces are sensitive portraits of the plain people she knew in her early years.”
Around the time Adirondack Portraits emerged, I learned of Noel’s relationship with Adirondack wilderness preservation leader Paul Schaefer (1908-1996). Noel also edited Paul’s award-winning film The Adirondack – The Land Nobody Knows (1980) and his books, including Cabin Country (1993, also by Syracuse University Press).
There was also this serendipitous connection between Jeanne Robert Foster and Paul Schaefer. The Riedinger family and Jeanne precipitated it. Here’s how Paul Schaefer tells the story through his book Adirondack Cabin Country (1993 by Syracuse University Press) where he devotes a chapter to Jeanne.
“During our ten-year battle to save the Moose River Country from devastation by reservoirs that began in 1945, the Adirondack Moose River Committee received several small checks from a woman named Jeanne Robert Foster. With each check came a note saying that no acknowledgement was necessary and to keep up the good fight.”
Decades went by, and then in Schaefer’s mailbox came more $10 checks:
“In 1968, we were working to block the proposed Gooley dam on the upper Hudson River. This inundation would have destroyed 35 miles of forest in the geographical center of the Adirondack Park. This time, the Adirondack Hudson River Committee received a check from Jeanne Robert Foster with the same note on it.
Because she lived in Schenectady I called her to express my thanks for her numerous contributions and continued support. The conversation soon led to Crane Mountain. I explained to her that Crane was ‘my mountain’.
Jeanne responded that she had been guiding tourists up that mountain from the time she was ten years old and living at the Putnam Farm at the base of it.
“That was some years before you were born,” she said. I was dumbfounded. I had to know more about this woman.”
The close affinity Schaefer felt for Crane Mountain had been cemented in January 1931 when in his early 20s he decided to snowshoe up the mountain. As he writes in Cabin Country, it was a seven-mile tramp from Bakers Mills just to reach the base of Crane, and deep snow and frigid cold confronted him on the steep slopes ahead. Rev. Eliot Putnam hung a lantern for Paul at his farm below the mountain. Paul and Rev. Putnam believed Indians named the mountain, roughly translated, “Thunder’s Nest.”
Towards his farm a thousand feet below, Paul gave Rev. Putnam a “long, houndlike bay” to which Putnam responded, assuring each that the other was alive. Paul nearly froze that night on the mountain, but instead he warmed himself by climbing on snowshoes to the summit at 1 AM and, after surviving the rest of the night in an old ranger cabin, climbed again the next morning.
“Just before dawn, I awoke and went to the peak again. With infinite slowness, the sky to the east lightened. It was wonderfully clear…The Marcy Range loomed magnificently to the north, forming a ragged, peak-studded skyline. To see the sky in the east change color was a most wonderful sight. A line of dark clouds slowly became tinted with delicate shades of violet, rose, and amber. I climbed to the top rung of the ranger’s tower. While the steel trusses fairly hummed, I took pictures and waited for the coming of the sun.”
The mountain and Paul Schaefer were forever bonded by that experience. His chapter Conquest of Thunder’s Nest is in Adirondack Cabin Country.
Still, Paul had to admit that he had been put in his proper place by Jeanne Robert Foster. Jeanne had been hiking and guiding on Crane Mountain since she was ten in 1889. Clearly, she had the greater claim, that Crane was ‘her mountain.’
Once he had finally paid her a visit in Schenectady, Schaefer wrote:
“I found Jeanne to be a friendly, delightful, scholarly woman in her early 80s. He home was filled with books and art, plus memorabilia from some of the literary and artistic greats of the world…” Paul found out that when she was young “she had been farmed out to her uncle, Rev. Francis Putnam, Eliot Putnam’s father, and lived with his family for a couple of years on his farm several miles in the woods off the main road. It was from here she took touristers up the mountain for twenty-five cents, and in the process fell in love with this geologic massif.”
During the years from that initial meeting with her until her death in 1970, we corresponded fairly regularly. She was one of the few people who shared my spiritual relationship with Crane Mountain.
Jeanne dedicated more than $10 checks to Paul Schaefer’s causes. Editor Noel Riedinger-Johnson made sure that Jeanne’s poem dedicated to Paul Schaefer opens Adirondack Portraits: A Piece of Time:
Shepherd of the Wilderness
I salute you,
Preserver of the Wilderness,
Keeper of the waters –
Of the lakes, rivers and hidden sources,
Of the soil and the crested ranges,
The intervales and the high peaks,
The wild beauty, the vanishing life
Of the deep forests,
Of our magnificent heritage…
I salute you.
I, who in the shadow of Marcy
In childhood, saw Whiteface shine
Tipped with the sunrise,
Who knew the life of the old lumbercamps
And the shanty roads,
Who loved the ‘Indian Pipe’ in the shadow
Of the firs and the bright azaleas
Upon the swamplands,
I salute you.
You, who watch the flight of the eagle,
And hark the cry of the loon,
Aware that in the wilderness,
The spirit of man
Alone finds strength and renewal,
Your fellow men salute you.
Crane Mountain summit photo by Dave Gibson