Meeting Mr. Lape

By Anita Sanchez

I want­ed to share with Arbore­tum fans a mem­o­ry of a long time back, almost forty years ago. It was the ear­ly eight­ies, and I had just start­ed work­ing at a nature cen­ter in Albany. My boss said that he’d got­ten a request for one of our nat­u­ral­ists to do a nature walk at a local Arbore­tum. It was way out in Esper­ance, and since I had just moved into the Ams­ter­dam area, I was elect­ed.

I had nev­er heard of the George Lan­dis Arbore­tum, but I took Route 20 head­ing west, and then fol­lowed a wind­ing and very bumpy road up to a white farm­house on a hill­top. Wait­ing for me in the dri­ve­way was an elder­ly lady who was head of the brand-new Edu­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, and she was the one who had request­ed the program.

She want­ed to know what kind of nature walk I might do at the Arbore­tum, and I pro­posed a wild­flower theme. Wild flow­ers?” she said dubi­ous­ly, glanc­ing at the huge peren­ni­al gar­den in front of the farmhouse.

​“Yes, all these sum­mer wild­flow­ers,” I said, indi­cat­ing the daisies and clover that lined the dirt road.
Those are weeds,” she said firm­ly.

But she even­tu­al­ly agreed to my choice of top­ic, and we sched­uled a wild­flower walk for lat­er that month. Then she said that Mr. Lape would like to thank me for doing the program.

I had assumed that the Arbore­tum must belong to a Mr. Lan­dis, so I had no idea who this Mr. Lape might be. She led me inside the big white farm­house. It was a lit­tle run-down but looked homey and lived-in. We went into one of the rooms – it seemed to be sort of an office, with arm­chairs and walls of book­shelves, and piles of books and papers on every sur­face.

A pale, white­haired gen­tle­man stood up as soon as I entered. He tow­ered over me, tall and very thin. He took my hand and bowed over it with an old-fash­ioned ele­gance. Court­ly was the word that came to mind as he thanked me for com­ing with an old-fash­ioned cour­tesy. Our meet­ing last­ed only a few min­utes, and I nev­er met him again — at least, not in person.

The walk was well attend­ed, although plain­ly the edu­ca­tion com­mit­tee lady still wasn’t quite on board with the top­ic — she gave the pro­gram the title Weeds Can Be Inter­est­ing.” Any­way, after­wards I went back to the nature cen­ter, and I didn’t return to the Arbore­tum for a long time.

It was many years lat­er that I came across a copy of Fred Lape’s mem­oirs. He had passed away in 1985, not long after I had met him. In our brief encounter I hadn’t got­ten to know him at all.But it’s amaz­ing how we can meet a per­son in the pages of a book, isn’t it?

As I read his rem­i­nis­cences, I was fas­ci­nat­ed with his warm and enthu­si­as­tic per­son­al­i­ty, and his vivid mem­o­ries of his youth. He told sto­ries of the town of Esper­ance, and how the wood­en bridge across the Schoharie was so noisy it sound­ed like a thun­der­storm when a horse-drawn wag­on went across the planks. He described the steep wind­ing road, and how a snow­fall would bury it in deep drifts, and how the white farm­house would be snow-bound for weeks at a time, much to his mother’s dis­gust. He remem­bered berry-pick­ing, and squir­rels, and sum­mer after­noons.

Most of all, I liked his tales of the great oak tree. As all Arbore­tum fans know, there was once a huge white oak, esti­mat­ed to be hun­dreds of years old, that stood on the knoll over­look­ing the val­ley. Before this land was called the Lan­dis Arbore­tum (named for George Lan­dis, a friend of Fred Lape) it was named Oak Nose Farm, for this giant tree that grew on a nose” of land jut­ting out from the hill­side. The oak’s mighty skele­ton is still there, with a hope­ful young sapling stand­ing beside it, and anoth­er big oak near­by. In Fred Lape’s child­hood, the Oak Nose” was one of his favorite spots. 

Next time you’re there on the Oak Nose, imag­ine a ten-year old boy laz­ing in the grass below the mag­nif­i­cent oak, look­ing out at the world that he would some­day trav­el, dream­ing of trees and flow­ers that he would plant on his lone­ly hilltop. 

Spring 2021

Volume 39 , Number 1

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