Keene for camping: Teddy went a-birdin' at Pine Knot

Nestled in the woods near Keene is an unassuming clapboard cottage. Its unassuming appearance makes it surprising that this rustic abode was once a Presidential retreat. Back in the early part of the century, the little cabin served as a summer get-away spot for Theodore Roosevelt and his brood of six children. Certainly today there are fewer secret service men rustling around in the underbrush.
On May 31, 98 years after Edith Roosevelt first purchased Pine Knot for $208, biographer Edward Renehan will give a lecture on the site, commemorating the contributions of the 26th President to the conservation movement and the affinities for nature that he shared with John Burroughs, the great American naturalist and essayist.
Burroughs, a New York native like Roosevelt, first visited Pine Knot in 1908, on an invitation from the President to “help him name his birds.” It was a successful weekend– the two identified over 75 species in the woods around Pine Knot, but not without running themselves a bit ragged, according to Burroughs’ memoirs: “Afterwards he came to me and said: ‘Oom, John, that was no way to go after birds; we were in too much of a hurry.’ I replied, ‘No, Mr. President, that isn't the way I usually go a-birding.’”
Edward Renehan is the author of John Burroughs: An American Naturalist (1992), the first biography of Burroughs since 1925, and The Lion’s Pride (1998), an account of Roosevelt’s later years and his moving, if tragic, bonds with his children.
Roosevelt has long presented a conflicted picture as an environmentalist. A champion of conservation, he nevertheless relished a good safari. Reconciling his legacy of national preserves with his passion for trophy hunting is made easier by the forgiving passage of time.
John Burroughs, on the other hand, has an unsullied reputation as an environmentalist. Favorably compared to his contemporaries, Walt Whitman,  Emerson, and Thoreau, he was a passionate teacher and an Ecology Hall of Famer. Photographs of kindly, long-bearded Burroughs suggest a beatific grandfather– a turn of the century St. Francis, for whom a big stick was just a prop for meadow-trekking.
But perhaps even the gentlest soul could fall under the sway of the Rough Rider. One day on their rambles near North Garden, Burroughs spotted a nighthawk and encouraged TR to “drop his hat over that bird.”
Now, Mr. Burroughs, is that the way you usually go a-birding?

Edward J. Renehan Jr. speaks about TR and Burroughs and signs copies of The Lion’s Pride and John Burroughs: An American Naturalist at Pine Knot, 711 Coles Rolling Road, Keene. 4pm. 286-6054. Al proceeds from book sales go to the Pine Knot Foundation.