Descriptive Bibliography: Canoes in the Adirondacks

Published in ODY Special Collections in 2018. The Tanner Fellow Award supported this creative fellowship.


What you’re about to read is descriptive bibliography is based on books written about canoes. Writing this bibliography, I got to flip through all kinds of old pages: some were fictional books that were falling apart, some were interesting manuals on how to build or paddle a canoe, some told you the necessities for camping, and some were yearbooks of rowing teams. Every book is about canoeing.

Another thing many of the books in this bibliography have in common is that they were written about the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Mountains are located in northern New York, a drive away from St. Lawrence University. The mountains have an interesting history regarding the formation of the Park, and I loved learning about the park in environmental studies classes. I also enjoyed hiking the various mountains, but before working on this bibliography this summer, I had never really considered canoeing along the clear waters of the Adirondacks.

My first experience canoeing was at Keuka Lake, with my friend and my brother. My brother sat in the middle and weighed us down, making it almost impossible to get anywhere with our paddles. When it started pouring rain while we were out there, my friend and I swam back, dragging the canoe with my lazy brother in it. He was yelling at us to hurry up the entire way.

Luckily, my family had a trip planned to come to the Adirondacks this summer. The day we arrived, I took out the canoe, and ever since, I’ve found myself yearning to go out every chance I get.

There’s something about floating in a canoe as the water bugs dance around you, forming patterns on the still water. The mountains never let you forget their presence, and every time you look up you’re reminded why this place has been the muse of so many artists. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll see a turtle as you drift slowly by the shore.

My cousin Rob and I got really lucky this afternoon on our trip. Rob noticed a bird and since he was sitting in the back of the canoe, he easily steered us in the direction of the animal. I happily paddled away in the front, busy looking at all the lily pads to see the bird in front of us.

“What is it?” my mom called from across the lake. Her voice was surprisingly clear.

“Think it’s a duck,” Rob replied from behind me. His voice was low, but our family members on the shore heard us effortlessly.

My mom quickly realized that the bird that was letting us paddle so close to it was a loon. We had seen it the day before when we were paddling and we startled the loon, because he flew away quickly and sloppily. This time the loon stayed in place, and as we got closer, I noticed his pure black head made him devilishly handsome, and he was a very large bird. He seemed to know he was beautiful, just like the mountains that are his home.

When we paddled just a bit too close to the loon, he showed off his talent when he dove beneath the water and held his breath for minutes with no trace as to where he was, not even a bubble on the surface of the water. Finally he would pop up somewhere across the lake, staring at us from his new location. He would tauntingly pace in the water, showing us his ability to easily duck under the water at any given moment. He knew it was all a game.

One time, we hesitated in our canoe, unable to keep up with the loon. He dove under and popped up, floating on the water even closer to us. We tried to paddle after him a few more times, but the distances were too far, and our arms were too tired and sore. I hope that when we leave, he finds some new paddlers to play with.

Reading this bibliography, you are the paddler. You can only get so far, you can only see so much. If you want to be the loon, you’ll have to read, or better yet see, the books in person.

Why Are Descriptive Bibliographies Important?

Descriptive bibliographies are important because they give us notes about the physical condition of the book that can provide relevant insights into past cultures. Think of books as cultural artifacts, and descriptive bibliographers document the information.

Furthermore, it showcases the unique collection a certain library holds—in this case, St. Lawrence University’s Special Collections in Owen D. Young Library. Special Collections is a room in the library that holds the most valuable or vulnerable books. You’re not supposed to have food or water near the books, and visitors have to be monitored in the room if they want to use the books. You can’t even go back yourself into the shelves of books unless you had special access. I felt cool being able to go back there.

The old book binders were often so beautifully decorated, and their displays were so interesting and unique. Sometimes the books were falling apart. The books had clearly been loved. They also provided valuable cultural information that might have otherwise been lost or overlooked.

Sample Bibliographic Entry

Paul Doty, my wonderful mentor in ODY Special Collections, and I couldn’t decide if yearbooks should be included in my bibliography. This special note made us believe there was no way we could exclude yearbooks. It also deepened my understanding of books as valuable artifacts in history.


Text. New York Canoe Club 50thAnniversary Yearbook.

Author. Timberman, O.J.

ODY Library Call Number. RBR/GV/781/.N49/1921

Title Page. 1871 Year Book 1921/New York Canoe Club/Issued in commemoration of our Fiftieth Anniversary and/containing a brief history of the Club from the date/of organization/also a copy of the Constitution,/By-Laws, and Club Roster./[N.Y.C.C. Burgee sy]/Incorporated 1893/CLUB HOUSE AND ANCHORAGE/Little Bay, Ft. Totten, Long Island, N.Y.

Collation/Contents. 11.5 x 17 cm; 38 leaves; P. 1: blank; P. 2: [front side] photograph, [back side] blank; P. 3: [front side] title page, [back side] photograph of club house and anchorage in Little Bay; P. 4-9: memoirs by W.P. Stephens; P. 10-11: photographs and summaries; P. 12-13: articles of incorporation; P. 14-19: club constitution and by-laws; P. 20-23: photographs and summaries; P. 24: entries for canoe regatta to be held in N.Y. bay; P. 25: international challenge cup; P. 26: international challenge cup rules; P. 27-28: photographs; P. 29: house rules; P. 30: boat house rules; P. 31: information for members; P. 32-36: list of members, officers, and committees; P. 37: [front side] photograph, [back side] explanation of symbols; p. 38: blank.

Paper. Made of plates.

Binding. Sewn signatures; calico-texture cloth, not embossed; gray-blue; [in gold near top of cover] New York Canoe Club/1871-1921.

Notes. Loose page in between cover and P.1 that describes an open regatta held by New York Canoe Club in 1881; note on P.1 written in ink that says “To LittleEvelyn—1929, whose mama was the first of her sex that ever spent a night in the old club house at Bensonhurst fronting the lower bay of New York—mama was then between ten and twelve years of age + she was adored of all the club members.” The note has leaked over to the inside cover and onto the back of P. 1; on P. 1 written in pencil “Paulene Bigelow”; on P. 1 written in red colored pencil “p. 38 + 42 + 63”; on P. 1 written in pencil “TRC Comstock”; on P. 3 the ODY Library Code is written in pencil; on P. 20 pink highlighter underlines “Captain John MacGregor”, “Mr. Poultney Bigelow”, and “years, the New York Canoe Club now”; on P. 22 pink highlighter underlines “Poultney Bigelow” and “Honorary Member Emeritus N.Y.C.C.”; binding is held together strongly; stains on back cover.

How Did This Fellowship Help Me?

Creating a descriptive bibliography was interesting and different from any writing I had ever done before. I always follow a formula for different types of writing, but in this case, the information that had to be included was so specific.

Also, the format has to be extremely consistent. I had the freedom to pick how I wanted to write the information, but after I made the initial decision, I had to stick to it for every entry. It increased my attention to detail exponentially. I made the decision on how to display my descriptive bibliography by reading tutorials, as well as other descriptive bibliographies. There’s no one right way to do it, but it is a very specific type of writing. You need to decide what conventions you want to follow, and which you want to break.

I had freedom and creativity in deciding which books and magazines I wanted to include in the bibliography. We decided to include every book relating to paddling, however we excluded all magazines. When it came to regional canoe yearbooks, instruction manuals, and textbooks, we decided to include them.

Not only did this fellowship greatly expand my writing skills, it also exposed me to more environmental knowledge. As half of my major, I was really interested in applying what I had learned from my previous environmental courses to further understand and learn from the books.

In learning about paddling in the Adirondacks, I learned about many legal issues regarding public property versus private land. A lot of the waterways in the Adirondacks are privatized, and paddlers have been sued for paddling on private water. Personally, I believe in protection of the commons: we all should have access to parks and beautiful land.

I also learned expanded my knowledge about environmental philosophy by reading books that were included in my fellowship. Overall, this fellowship contributed to my development as a writer, but also my knowledge and perspective as an environmentalist.

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