Sunday, February 14, 2010

Introducing Colvin Harrison Serpico, our newest fur kid…

I’d like to welcome Colvin to our family, and introduce him to everyone.

He is a 5 month old Border Collie mix. As you may notice, in spite of being a fashion disaster with the white polka dot socks paired with his tuxedo styled coat, he is a handsome young man with a fierce look of determination. Sporting a well groomed brown beard and eyebrows, he is just a bow tie away from any formal occasion that he should be invited to.

I’ve been hit with some negative feedback on his name, so I thought I would also give a little info on his namesake and why it was chosen.

Some people choose typical pet names, others random people names, some objects or places. Other people have a continuous revolving door of oft castaway companions, therefore never spending any time coming up with a name worthy of a long term member of the family. We have a history of naming our animals after wild places, or gateways to those places. Caney after the Caney Creek Wilderness in Arkansas; Ande after the Andes Mountains in South America; and Jasper after Jasper, Arkansas, located in the Ozark National Forest, home of the Buffalo National River –America’s first national river!

Colvin is a mountain in the Adirondacks, but that mountain is named after a man.

(Mt Colvin is the peak left of the prominent V cleft in the above image)

Verplanck Colvin, native of Albany, New York, was an explorer, scholar, lawyer, woodsman, engineer, surveyor, topographer, inventor, writer, artist, wilderness conservationist, patriot, and skilled leader of men. In 1870 he made a sketch map of the mountains surrounding Gray’s Peak, Colorado in his spare time; it was the first such map of the area ever published, and by 1911 it still remained the most accurate map of the region. As a result of his surveying skills he was appointed the superintendent of both the Adirondack Land Survey and New York State Land Survey, and is in many ways responsible for the conservation movement in the United States.

"Unless the region be preserved essentially in its present wilderness condition, the ruthless burning and destruction of the forest will slowly, year after year, creep onward… and vast areas of naked rock, arid sand, and gravel will alone remain to receive the bounty of the clouds and be unable to retain it." –Verplanck Colvin

Colvin was president of the department of physical science at the Albany Institute, and held various presidencies including that of the New York State Mine and Engineers Association, and he was the first president of the Adirondack Guides' Association.

In spite of being a highly educated man, Colvin chose not to talk down to the woodsmen, rather he chose to elevate them to their rightful stature in his address to them:

“…Then you, who have learned to love, to venerate the gift of the mountains and forest and lakes, will retain the benefits of your labors and those of your ancestors. You will preserve the forest of New York state to a race loftier than that of the Scotish Highlands, more fortunate in your advantages in life and knowledge, with all the possibilities of the intellectual development of our race and the freedom which only belongs to Americans; that great heritage will be secured by constant battle.” –Verplanck Colvin

Verplanck Colvin’s greatest accomplishment is largely unknown to the visitors of the Adirondacks. Even to the thousands of hikers each year who summit the grand mountain that bears his name he remains an obscurity. You probably won’t find his name in a textbook, and he isn’t famous like other notable conservationist, because when he was a conservationist there was no such movement. In a sense, he was a pioneer of a movement that would not exist for many years. Fortunately for those hikers who are lucky enough to stand on that summit and look out into the wilderness, Colvin was the person who was largely responsible for the creation of New York State Forest Preserve, of which close to 4 million acres are publicly held wild lands to be kept “Forever Wild”; thus creating the largest intact wilderness east of the Rockies.

“The Lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by a corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.” -Article 14, New York State Constitution

The more widely known congressional Wilderness Act -of 1964- is very closely modeled after the “Forever Wild” clause of Article 14 of the New York State Constitution. Article 14, ratified in 1894, made the Adirondacks America’s first and most heavily protected wilderness. In fact, the best I can discern, the New York State Forest Preserve is the only constitutionally protected wilderness in the US. Since 1894 over 2,000 attempts have been made to alter Article 14, 28 of them have made it to voters and only 20 have been approved by the People. In comparison, adjustments to the Wilderness Act of 1964 are at the whims of congress and/or the president.

By ratifying Article 14 in 1894 and again in 1938, the people of the state of New York have shown they believe soundly enough in the movement Verplanck Colvin started in the 1860s.

Verplanck Colvin was chiefly responsible for the creation of the Forest Preserve, Article 14’s “Forever Wild”, and later “Adirondack Park” because of his 20 years of visionary dedication to the permanent protection of the Adirondacks. There is no doubt that without Colvin’s determination to complete the Adirondack Land Survey, his impassioned knowledge of the natural world, combined with his ability to eloquently explain it in his writing and art; the Adirondacks, New York, and America would be a vastly different place than we know today.

“..the Adirondack Preserve has been a good thing. It has been a model for the federal government and other states. It has given a tone to recreation, and esthetic and spiritual satisfaction to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. Whatever lies ahead, I shall be grateful to the Adirondack mountains, lakes and streams.” -Jim Marshall (brother of the famed mountaineer and conservationist Bob Marshall; son of Louis Marshall whom was instrumental in helping create the SUNY-ESF college for forestry)

And so will Colvin Harrison as we spend many years tramping together through those very same mountains and flowing down those very same streams, knowing the Adirondacks will be the one constant we have; ”Forever Wild”!

(two images above are taken 130 years apart on Hurricane Mountain from virtually the same location, not a lot has changed)

For more on Verplanck Colvin:

Nationally published articles and illustrations in Harpers Magazine (fee to view via Harpers)

Colvin’s renowned 7th report to the Legislature of the state of New York (free from Google)


  1. congrats on your new hiking partner!
    colvin is a great name...we were tossing it around for our new siamese cat.
    we went with louie instead (as in armstrong, to match our other siamese, ella, as in fitzgerald).

  2. Nice to see you guys have a new partner in crime! The name is definitely fitting for your family, and I think that's the only dog that can sport that name.
    The picture of the sunset on Keene Valley is just amazing. Immediately I'm reminded of the scene from LOTR; don't know if that's a good thing or not for you!
    The last photos showing the "differences" is great, I love those kinds of shots.

  3. Justin, I am delighted for you. I look forward to reading more of your adventures with Colvin Harrision!

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    He definitely does look like a Colvin. I had a few backups just in case, but for him it works. Besides picking names of wild places, I also like not ever meeting a same named dog on the trail. I doubt we'll ever cross paths will a Colvin!

    Don't mind the LOTR reference, I have a few shots that remind me of that. The reference shot just kinda hit me at the end, but it is amazing how shy of a few roads in the valleys the mountainscape is unchanged, and in some ways more wild.