Backwoods Journal 1962

From “On Being Humble”

…Now, the trapping of wild animals is a cruel business even under the best of conditions, and the best of conditions do not usually prevail (at least, as far as the trapped animal is concerned). I will not detail here any accounts of broken, mangled, and lost limbs, or of slow tortuous deaths that my occupation inflicted on my brothers in nature. If you have ever done much trapping you will need no descriptions; if not your own imagination will scarce exaggerate…

…How can one put into words the feelings of the lone explorer of wild places? I cannot speak for others who may climb high mountains is search of fame and glory, or those who seek new sources of great wealth. I would rather climb a small nameless peak with no trail to its summit, and there look out upon the green wilderness that has no wealth to draw the destructive energies of man–for there I can find peace, and there the Spirit of Nature can find me. Alas, there no longer is any wilderness that cannot be turned into some kind of profit by modern man, so the only natural lands will be those protected by his own hands as parklands.

So, eventually, I realized that my real quest was not for fur but for spiritual experience; that the taking of fur animals was, in a sense, a form of bloody sacrifice. Still, one has to make some kind of living, and I kept at it for several years. In the days of high fur prices, the finding of a hidden colony of beavers was almost like finding a small pocket of gold. A discovery like this thrilled me greatly, and I ranged widely in search of beaver sign. The business of catching them after the find, however, instilled much less enthusiasm than the search.

One late winter’s day I got far back in the woods before sunrise, for the trail froze hard at night to make the early morning travel fast, and I could skim along on the hard snow without my snowshoes until the sun softened it up later in the day. I approached a wild beaver pond just as the sun appeared in sparkling brilliance to turn the meadow, forest and ridge into a wilderness fairyland. My spirits started to soar…but there was movement where I had a couple of traps at the lip of the dam where beaver and otter had been frequently crossing.

Always, the sight of an animal struggling desperately but futilely against the steel jaws filled me with pity, even though the traps were mine. And this was neither a beaver, nor an otter; it was a raccoon, unwanted at this time of year. He was in pitiful condition, three legs caught in the two large traps, bones broken, hide torn and bloody. He had to be killed to be put out of his misery.

In disgust, I took up all my traps at that place and went on down the brook and across the lake to another inlet. It was a beautiful, sunny day in the wilderness, but I felt like an invader and despoiler rather than one of the brotherhood, and the Spirit seemed to evade me.

I wandered up the little inlet to the most secluded beaver home on my route. One lone beaver, late in the fall, had built a tiny dam beside a rock ledge, and in the winter his little pool would be hardly noticed under the snow and ice if one didn’t look carefully. He had a lodge of sticks and sod (now also snow-covered) against the ledge, and always I had felt like an intruder at this hidden spot. On the ledge grew some large white pines, and now as I approached, the sun beat warmly on them and a soft wind sighed somewhat sadly through their boughs. Soon, spring would be here, and the lone beaver would be freed of his icy ceiling and come forth to sun himself and smell the scent of the warm earth, and search up and down the little stream in quest of new and succulent food. I knew from my experiences among them that all animals love the springtime just as I do, and they even get spring fever, too. I decided to take up this trap, too, and leave this one lone beaver in peace to enjoy another springtime on his wild little watershed. But when I pulled on the wire I felt a heavy weight–it was too late.

Somehow this pretty little vale seemed much more lonely with the beaver lying dead in the white snow. It had been his homestead; he was a backwoods settler the same as I. Now the water slipped quietly under the ice of his little pool and gurgled sadly over the little dam he had built. His ways were different from mine, yet much the same. He staked and flooded his claim, and built his own little cabin with the only tools he had–his teeth and feet. Now, I was peeling off his hide… for a few years the weathered dam and lodge would be his monument…a few paltry dollars would be my gain, but it was a form of murder. If it was absolutely necessary the laws of nature would sanction it, for there is no denial that one form of life exists on the death of another. But I would try to find another way.

There by the sunny pine ledge I decided to pull up my whole trapline. I knew it was a good decision because the Spirit of Nature filled my mind with peace. The wilderness I love was truly beautiful once more. The wind in the pines and the water in the brook still had a note of sadness for me because I could not forget the raccoon and the beaver, and the hundreds before them, but even as I made up my mind to be a fur hunter no more, the old feeling of oneness with Nature returned. Even as a trapper I had sought the solitudes in a humble way and had known the presence of the Spirit, but often I had been a cruel invader, perhaps needlessly. Since that day my traps have hung in the shed, unused. On certain occasions when an individual specimen of wildlife invades my own homestead to the point of causing undue damage in garden or timberland I reluctantly take measures in self defense, but I will never again be a fur hunter except through strict necessity.

– Bob Snyder

Robert and Marie Snyder homesteaded near Schroon Lake for 30 years in a house built and maintained using nothing but hand tools. They lived a half mile from the road, with just a winding trail leading to the hand built pond, garden and house. They had to leave their home in the forest in 1995 because of Bob’s serious health problems. When Marie died in 2011 she left Protect the Adirondacks! a significant bequest. Though Bob had hunted and trapped at the beginning of their life in the woods, by the end they were vegetarians who walked their trails every possible morning and afternoon, learning about and living in peace with all their wild brethren.