By Tracy Ormsbee
One of the Adirondack Park’s biggest boosters had never even visited before moving here almost 40 years ago. In fact, her only trip to the U.S. from her home in Nova Scotia before then was her family’s quick drive across the bridge to the U.S. side of Niagara Falls, just to say they’d been.
Now we know Joanne Kennedy from her photos featuring Adirondack wildlife and landscapes published in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondac magazine, her monthly column in the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, “Navigating Nature,” and her book, “Leave Only Footprints: A Walk on the Wild Side–Adirondack Style.” If you’re one of the lucky recipients of a handmade gift from Joanne, you’re familiar with her quilting, stained-glass work and her Adirondack pack basket weaving.
Energetic and compact, Kennedy travels the park with her lightweight canoe atop her Subaru, her camera and either her husband, a pack of friends or just her goldendoodle Bucky. In winter, she trades the boat for snowshoes or skis to do some of the same trails but with a totally different experience.
“If you have the right equipment in winter, it’s my favorite time,” she says.
She and her husband Bruce built their home themselves on family property in Peru—with the help of family and friends—using lumber from the land. Their son Casey and his wife, Michelle, also have a home on the family land.
Kennedy has always loved taking pictures, starting with the 35 mm film camera her father loaned her. She’s mostly self-taught and practiced as a stay-at-home mom taking photos of children Jenny and Casey. She expanded her subject matter 23 years ago when Bruce paddled in his first Adirondack Canoe Classic. It became an annual tradition for her to photograph the race.
Her favorite photography subjects are kids (she has two granddaughters, 1 and 3) and older people, wildlife, especially loons, eagles, osprey, turtles and Adirondack moose (she saw one driving to Long Lake during the 90-Miler).
She keeps a website and sells a few photo there but her main goal, she says, is to “share the beauty of nature with all. She shares her photos with the Adirondack Mountain Club for its magazine, happy to “give them a home with such a nature-loving audience. And if the Press-Republican is interested, she shares them there as well. Her monthly article inspires others to get outdoors, which she says “makes it all worthwhile.”
“It’s my way of giving back.”
Her “Nat-Geo” photography moment came after Hurricane Irene in 2011, she says. Ausable Point Campground was flooded and as she was paddling by some submerged picnic tables, she saw a mother beaver nursing her babies. One of the three was under water and Kennedy thought it had drowned, but the mother went down and brought it back up. Kennedy stayed for a couple hours taking photos.
Similarly, she spends a lot of time photographing loon nests.
“Once you know about (the nests), it’s easy to find them,” she says.
It was after Jenny and Casey went to college that Kennedy says she really began exploring the Adirondack outdoors. She and friend Luvie Tuller set out to hike the 46 High Peaks and buy pins from the Cascade Ski Center each time. They lost interest in the pins, but hiked the 46 more than once—three times for Kennedy.
“I have to say being out in nature, whether it be a High Peak, a walk in the woods or a paddle on a pond—getting outside truly is the best medicine. I am blessed with many friends who hike regularly so there is always someone to share the day with,” Kennedy says.
In 2008, she hiked Mount Kilimanjaro with her daughter (“I remember thinking as I was lying in my sleeping bag at base camp, ‘How lucky am I to be here with my daughter on one side and Kilimanjaro on the other?’”), and she says this of the experience: “If you can hike in the Adirondacks, you can easily do Mount Kilimanjaro.”
The Adirondack terrain is good training. You need stamina for Kilimanjaro, she says, but it’s nothing like, say, Saddleback Cliffs.
“I love Saddleback, the views from there, it’s like you can almost touch the mountains,” she says.
Wanting to give back to the mountains, she and friends Jean Ryan and Lori Clark adopted the Poke-O-Moonshine lean-to in 2006 through the Adirondack Mountain Club program. “Poke-O,” she says is her go-to mountain because it’s close to home, has great views and is a nice workout. Twice a year, they clean out trash, sweep and seal the logs.
Next, she’s working to complete the Waterfall Challenge.
Her lightweight Peeper canoe also has “opened a whole new world” of exploring remote ponds and lakes. Among her favorite water bodies are Boreas Ponds, Little Clear and the St. Regis Canoe Area. She bought a carbon-fiber kayak paddle that Jeff Allot customized with a favorite leafy quilt fabric. She likes to get out early in the morning, float and photograph loons.
In 2005, as she was nearing her 50th birthday, she came up with three goals: She wanted to publish a book; make and donate 50 children’s quilts to Ronald McDonald House in Vermont (for years, she and two friends created and donated quilts for the Adirondack Mountain Club to raffle); and get her U.S. citizenship. At this point, she had lived in the United States as long as she had lived in Canada. She got her dual citizenship, published the book and donated the 50 quilts.
These are the things that keep her young. “I have a saying that I love and put it on end of most of my emails: ‘You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.’ I plan on playing as long as I can!”
Place in the Adirondacks she wants others to know: Cascade Lakes
How many times had Joanne Kennedy driven by or stopped to photograph ice skaters or hockey players on Upper and Lower Cascade lakes? Still, she had never been on them herself before putting her lightweight canoe, a Peeper by GRB Newman Designs, into the water this May.
“Normally when I go by early, it’s like glass and the views are beautiful of the cascading waterfalls,” she said. Another bonus: Whenever I come down here, there’s nobody here. I don’t want hordes of people.”