Ed Kanze on his Adirondack property
Sooner or later every nature writer has something to say about the demise of the passenger pigeon, a story easily simplified: lots to none. There is even a new book about them by Joel Greenberg, A Feathered River across the Sky.
But of all the writing about these doomed birds, I found Edward Kanze's prize-winning essay, "In Search of Something Lost" far and away the most compelling. It appears in his book, Over the Mountains and Home Again.
Kanze talks his friend Bill Schoch into climbing a mountain in the Adirondacks to visit a summit where passenger pigeons once roosted by the thousands. And here is how this graceful essay continues: "Right from the start, I'm feeling like a Don Quixote who has pressed Bill into the precarious shoes of Sancho Panza. The idea for the hike borders on crazy. For three years, in all seasons, I gazed out across the wilderness from our house near Bloomingdale. Time and again, my eyes found greatest interest not on Whiteface Mountain, rising like a ziggurat on the eastern horizon, nor on Moose Mountain, nearer and wearing a landslide like a crooked necktie, but on a low, little-known peak, forested all the way to the top, named Pigeon Roost."
From there Kanze balances the story of their difficult bushwhack with the sad record of the birds that we wiped out in the early 20th century.
I doubt if many readers have ever heard of Ed Kanze and I seek in this column to introduce him to you. It is appropriate for me to do so at this time because Ed and his producer, Josh Clement, seek wider distribution of his brief weekly oral recitations titled simply, "All Things Natural". His recent postings include: "Out for a Lark" about horned larks, "Birches in Winter", "The Last Grosbeak" about evening grosbeaks and "At Dusk a Strange Beast in the Driveway" about porcupines. You can listen to these deeply informed talks at the Mountain Lake website and sign up there to receive them weekly by email.
I have never met Kanze, although we have corresponded; however, local entomologist Dr. Wayne Gall has. In fact, Wayne helped Ed survey the wildlife on his Adirondack property by identifying the various life forms in the section of the Saranac River that passes through it. Wayne speaks highly of his friend.
Just who is Ed Kanze. Publicity blurbs list him as "author, naturalist, photographer and Adirondack guide," but that falls far short of his vita for in each category he excels. His writing has won awards from the John Burroughs Association and the International Regional Magazine Association and among his six books is one about his travels with his wife Debbie through Australia and another about their travels in New Zealand. And he has written over 1300 newspaper columns.
As a naturalist Kanze served as a ranger and historian for the Gulf Islands National Seashore, for the National Park Service in Maine, Florida, Mississippi and South Dakota, and as a field instructor for the National Audubon Society.
His professional photography has appeared widely and today he continues to lead individuals and groups through the Adirondacks.
I spent a few pleasant hours recently reading Kanze's book, The World of John Burroughs, which he also illustrated with his photographs. I am especially glad that I did, because it is not only an outstanding book but it changed my attitude toward Burroughs.
Some years ago I set out to read some of Burroughs' writing. I got halfway though Wake-Robin, one of his first and most famous books -- and quit. I found his flowery, old style writing too much for me. I was put off by passages like: "The dandelion tells me when to look for the swallow, the dogtooth violet when to expect the wood-thrush," and so on.
But Kanze places Burroughs in a better perspective: as an extremely important contributor to the nascent conservation movement who captured the attention of the public of the early 20th century including seemingly everyone from schoolchildren to leaders like president Theodore Roosevelt, inventor Thomas Edison, financiers Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone and fellow conservationist John Muir.
Of course, Kanze quotes Burroughs in this book, where I find him easier to take in small doses; however, Kanze's own prose I far prefer.-- Gerry Rising