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Tim Tobin: a life learning the Adirondack ropes

October 5, 2011
By RANDY LEWIS - Special to the Enterprise , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The Adirondacks have a way of attracting people who become a part of the rich fabric of life here. Tim Tobin is a prime example. He is a man of many talents, not the least of which is the excellent homemade bread he is locally famous for baking.

For example, we called on Tim both when we needed help taking down a tree in the side yard and when we were building our house. He also makes an excellent cheesecake, often stopping by neighbors' houses with a sweet surprise. And there is no one more ready to say yes to a midwinter ski in the back woods than this Hamden, Conn. transplant.

Tim loves being an Adirondacker, and the skills he has learned in the more than 30 years he's lived here have made him a true man of the woods.

Article Photos

Tim Tobin on Father's Day at Camp Canaras with his children, Sady and Luke
(Photo — Mary Roscoe)

Married to local educator Mary Roscoe, Tim is father to Luke and Sady, now young adults living in New England. When asked how he came to the Adirondacks, Tim simply said, "I followed Mary up here. She had decided she wanted to go to Paul Smith's College. I had graduated from college, and was either going to go to law school or try out for pro baseball. My heart said, go with what you love - and that was Mary." The two had grown up across the street from one another in Hamden, and have known one another their entire lives.


Star athlete

Nothing in this athlete's background prepared him for Adirondack living. Second oldest in a family of six suburban kids, Tim always had someone to shoot hoops with, skate with or ride bikes with. He was a three season athlete in high school, and his wife Mary said, "All through high school he was in the newspaper as a star athlete. When he got to college he was an All-American in baseball, with pro scouts going to his games." He graduated from the University of New Haven in West Haven, Conn. with a degree in pre-law while playing baseball on scholarship.

When he arrived in the Adirondacks in 1976, he knew he was taking an unusual path, and relished the challenge. He had briefly lived in the mountains of Colorado while attending college in Boulder. "It was very remote, he said. "I knew as soon as I moved up into those mountains that I wanted to live in the woods. It was transformative."

The couple arrived on the Paul Smith's campus in a 1963 Valiant the day before Mary's first day of class. Tim wandered over to the gym, meeting people, while Mary registered for her classes. By the time she was finished, he had found them a place in Onchiota on the lake, for $50 a month. They had found their first home.


Learning the skills

Tim held a number of odd jobs while Mary earned her degree in ecology and environmental technology at PSC.

With each job he took, his Adirondack skill set grew. He sold Christmas trees in Florida, learned how to handle power tools, cut firewood, repaired docks, and became a handy person to have on a building job.

In 1980, Tim got a short-term job building a stone house on a small island in the Virgin Islands called Jost van Dyke. A remote spot, the island is about 4 miles long with about 140 inhabitants, but no town. Building on a high cliff overlooking the ocean, the crew enjoyed views of other Virgin Islands in the distance every day. All building materials had to be brought to the island from St. Johns or St. Thomas via motorboat across three miles of open ocean, including the cement and finished wood for the construction. With no roads and no electricity, "The natives thought we were crazy," Tim said. "We were the first two white people to build a house on that island."


Caretaker in training

When he returned to the Adirondacks, he learned about a caretaking opportunity at a private park, deep in the woods near Paul Smiths. Tim and Mary said yes to this chance, and have lived deep in those woods ever since. The best part of this job over the years, Tim says, has been knowing the people he's worked with.

"These folks enjoy the wilderness as much as I do," he said. "I constantly learn from them and from the natural world around me. The job is always varied and interesting, from being a fly fishing guide to running a chain saw to building a lean-to. I am always learning something. Like when I first came on, I was introduced to operating heavy equipment. In Connecticut, I'd never done anything like running a tractor before that was great." Step by step he was becoming a caretaker, a custodian of Adirondack skills, with a grand passion for the land.

"I had spent most of my life up to that point focused on sports and academics," he said. "Most folks don't know about the me I was before I got here. And I am still learning. I have always had a passion for music. I played first trumpet while I was in high school, and our band was chosen to play at the Washington D.C. mall during the Cherry Blossom festival. Now I'm trying to learn the guitar. It's a slow process. It's not like I've got it all down, not even close."

Tim played the flute with Helen Demong on guitar at his wedding in 1980, and has dabbled with recorder and flute over the years, continuing to keep his love of music alive.

He had never flyfished or hunted before becoming a caretaker, and now, after many years of watching and learning, he has become adept at two major Adirondack skills. Tim learned how to work a sugarbush in the spring, and how to prepare great meals from fresh fish and game and fresh vegetables, which he creates on an open fire.

"I learned to hunt deer, bear and rabbits after moving here. Our freezer can keep us comfortable with a lot of good game and garden stuff over the winter. My family learned to flyfish, and Luke has learned to handle a gun. Luke and Sady and Mary have all helped out in the sugarbush. Luke and Sady learned how to operate a motorboat, lead hikes, go camping, ski and snowboard. They can handle themselves on the water or in the mountains. I am glad for that."


On to the next generation

His kids inherited Tim's natural athletic ability, and were recruited to play soccer at the college level. Now the parents are watching each of their offspring teach others how to play through coaching and physical training.

Luke teaches English in New Hampshire, and coaches soccer and snowboarding. Sady is a senior at the University of Maine, completing her degree in kinesiology.

"Luke and Sady ended up melding the two worlds, both sports and academics like I did, alongside true Adirondack sports like snowboarding, wakeboarding, skiing, waterskiing and hiking," he said. "They have each learned one of life's valuable lessons: if you take care of your body, it will take care of you.

"Now I just do the sports that are in season. Summer is usually biking, canoeing, kayaking, sailing. I get into more mountain climbing in the fall, and hunting. Then when the snow comes I get very happy, because I can ski all winter, and snowboard and winter camp. Then when spring comes, I go back to canoeing, biking and kayaking. There is always something fun to do. "


A true woodsman

Instead of missing the more suburban life he came from, "The deeper in the woods I am, the better I feel, so living in a fairly remote area suits me," Tim said. "That doesn't mean I don't like to socialize, because I do. Being here does mean you have more control over socializing than you get in an urban or suburban area."

Tim is an outdoors guy, and has embraced great Adirondack activities throughout the years. He has learned from his life here.

"I can easily see Mary and I living here the rest of our lives," Tim said.

A hearty fellow, full of good cheer, Tim has a positive attitude. Had his life taken another direction, he might have become a major league baseball player, or an attorney wearing a suit to work. Instead, he chose our mountains for his home.

Any season of the year you will find him enjoying Adirondack living in some fashion, often with family and friends in tow. His best Adirondack experience?

"It was definitely marrying a beautiful woman, Mary, here in 1980, and raising our children in a fantastic community that fosters individualism, creativity and the arts," Tim answered. "It's a foundation our family has enjoyed together. Coaching at the kids' level, at college level, teaching at the college level and helping to run a political action group all have been very rewarding.

"But it's the people that have kept us here. They care about each other. With this incredible environment around us, it tends to grow on you, and teaches you a lot. I thought I'd be here two years. It's been 35. And I still have a lot to learn!"



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