Thursday, December 30, 2010

Notable hermits: Alvah Dunning

Alvah Dunning (1816-1902) was known as the Hermit Guide of the Adirondacks. "He could lure the timid mink from its hole by imitative chippering."

My criteria for a Nature Hermit is simple: a person who appreciates nature so much that they are compelled to live in it. It doesn't matter if you are solitary or live with a family. Whether you grew up there or came later. Whether you stayed a lifetime or less than a year. If you lived IN nature by choice, because you weren't content only to visit in your free time, then you are a nature hermit.

That said, I read something recently by W.H.H. Murray
about guides in the Adirondacks in the 1800's. (It was in an anthology.) The "good" guides, as he described them, seemed to fit my bill:

"Born and bred as many of them were, in this wilderness, skilled in all the lore of woodcraft, handy with the rod, superb at the paddle, modest in demeanor and speech, honest to a proverb, they deserve and receive the admiration of all who make their acquaintance. Bronzed and hardy, fearless of danger, eager to please, uncontaminated with the vicious habits of civilized life, they are not unworthy of the magnificent surroundings amid which they dwell...The wilderness has unfolded to them its mysteries, and made them wise with a wisdom nowhere written in books. This wilderness is their home. Here they were born, here have they lived, and here it is that they expect to die. Their graves will be made under the pines where in childhood they played..."

Another Adirondack guide and his so-called "sport" (what they called the rich city fellows that hired them).

And then there was Alvah Dunning. He was moody and cantankerous, according to the Adirondack Museum's website (a profile worth reading). But he was also (according to a 1921 book by Afred Donaldson) "probably the most wily and resourceful hunter, fisher, and trapper the Adirondacks ever housed. He lived in the woods all of the time, and for the most part alone. The human voice was less familiar to him than the noises of birds and animals, and he often seemed able to understand and speak their language. He could lure the timid mink from its hole by imitative chippering, and trick a frightened deer back to the water's edge by deceptive bleating with his throat and splashing with his hands." (My Italics.)

Now that's a Nature Hermit!!!

I'm not saying he was perfect. He hated wolves and women, and maybe, just maybe, killed the last moose in the Adirondacks. But he also was a nature lover who "knew every tree, every flower, and every forest animal" according to those that knew him, and he disapproved of killing for sport alone. Quote the hermit: "In the old days I could kill a little meat when I needed it, but now they're a-savin' it for the city dudes with velvet suits and pop-guns, that can't hit a deer if they see it, and don't want it if they do hit it." He went to his grave eschewing modern technology, and firmly believing that the Earth was not round!

More Adirondack guides and their "sports".

All photos and info came from Wikipedia and the Adirondack Museum.
Here's some newspaper articles written about Alvah, and here's a whole bunch more info on other Adirondack guides in the Adirondacks, where I found this nice picture of a bark hut on Tupper Lake (1899):

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