Jim Hoit’s roots and branches

Jim Hoit in May 2008 (Photo provided — Susan Moody)

(Editor’s note: We originally published this Friends and Neighbors feature story in May 2008. At the writer’s request, we are reprinting it in memory of Jim Hoit, who died March 8 in Saranac Lake at age 67.)

Jim Hoit, born in Malone in 1951, has a family tree with deep roots in early America and the North Country. From the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the 1620s, Jim’s ancestors migrated north through Vermont. In the early 1800s, Jim’s great-great-great-grandfather settled in Chateaugay, New York, where he served as town supervisor, county clerk, assemblyman, soldier and spy.

Jim’s grandfather was a partner in Hoit & Haskell’s Haberdashery in Malone at the turn of the 20th century, and it was in Malone that Jim grew up, the second son of Edward and Mary. Life on Second Street was pretty carefree as Jim remembers it: “Kids were left pretty much to their own devices, and parents didn’t worry so much — because the community was an extended family. If we got out of line, somebody would set us straight. It was viewed as caring as opposed to interfering.”

For all of the freedom and lack of worry in his own life, Jim was aware that in society at large, all was not well.

“We were always encouraged to read and pay attention to current events, so it became apparent to me that there were some pretty serious problems out there,” he said. “I grew up with fallout shelters, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Mutual assured destruction was the undertone that was always present.”

These upheavals, the civil rights movement and the blooming of the counterculture caused Jim to question the norms of the day. Always a lover of literature and music, “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse, “The Dharma Bums” by Jack Kerouac and the music of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton informed his view of the world.

In August of 1969, Jim and four of his friends were drawn to attend what is still considered a defining moment of the youth culture of the ’60s — the “Aquarian Exposition” at White Lake, New York, better known as Woodstock. That year Jim came to Saranac Lake to attend North Country Community College, but soon left and spent the next six years of living without much direction, living in Rochester, Colorado and Maine before coming back to Malone in 1975.

“I had a lot of experiences in that time, some good and many not so,” he said. “I did learn something of the human condition, however. I’ve come to believe that much behavior is generated by fear, confusion and loneliness rather than a bad heart. And my response needed to be informed by self-awareness and compassion for others rather than judgment and condemnation.”

Upon returning to Malone, Jim went to work for the greater Malone Community Council and was involved in renovating the old Ballard Mill into the Ballard Mill Center for the Arts. In 1979, Jim met Marita Eschler, who was attending the NCCC Crafts Management Program at Ballard Mill, and the two were married in 1980. Soon thereafter, they bought 12 acres in Duane and purchased one of the old McColloms Cabins for $100, which they moved to their property and still live in today. The first winter was a bit rough, according to Jim.

“The cabin was not insulated, so even though we had a huge woodstove, if you got more that 10 feet from it, you could see your breath. Our house has been added onto since and is now quite cozy. The idea of recycling a building appeals to our desire to leave a small imprint on the environment.”

Jim and Marita have a large garden, from which they have fed their family of Anna, Gates, Noah and Samuel, as well as providing produce that Marita sells at local farmers markets.

“We have raised four kids in a house of 1,100 square feet and taught them that it isn’t what you have but what you do that matters,” Jim said.

About 10 years ago, Jim fell victim to whole-body dermatitis, which he believes was caused by overexposure to lacquer thinner that he was using in cabinet finishing. This painful, inflammatory condition did not respond to typical allopathic medicine. So Jim reawakened his dormant interest in alternative therapies and finally healed himself through fasting and his faith in what he calls “the power of the plant world.”

Knowing the benefit of these practices in his own life, Jim decided to return to school at age 48 and enrolled in the Finger Lakes School of Massage, graduating in 1999 and receiving his license in 2000. Since then he has been certified in reflexology and aromatherapy. Currently he is a student of the Ohashi Institute in New York City and practices at his studio Roots and Branches Bodyworks in Saranac Lake.

“As a part of my practice I was introduced to tai chi and qigong, which I now teach at Inner Quest Yoga and St. Joseph’s Rehab Center. I still do carpentry and tile work, but my calling is body work and qigong.”

Jim is involved in volunteer work, using his massage chair to raise money for a number of different organizations. He also serves on the town of Duane’s assessment review board and is a member of the National Ski Patrol.

“My relationship with Saranac Lake goes back to my youth when we would spend time with friends on the tent platforms on the Lower Lake. I’ve always loved the community and the people. Even though the town has had a struggle over the years, there is a diverse population and so many people with positive visions on how to improve things.” Jim believes “with thoughtfulness we can become healthy again. I would love the see the Community Store come to fruition and perhaps the encouragement of some green industries, which I understand is a possibility.”

Jim practices Taoism, a philosophy that is expressed in a quote from Chuang Tzu: “To regard the fundamental as the essence, to regard things as coarse, to regard accumulation as deficiency, and to dwell quietly alone with the spiritual and the intelligent — herein lie the techniques of Tao and the Ancients.”

“My belief is that there is good in all experiences, even those that we may see as a difficulty at first. When we look back with clarity we usually find a lesson of hope,” Jim said. “It’s ours to decide, do we want to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution?”