It’s strange where life takes you. Matt Foley, who I profiled today, runs a couple of hydro-power dams in the Adirondacks, in Wadhams in Essex County and St. Regis Falls in Franklin County.
He got his start as an artisanal glass blower back in the 1970s. When the energy crisis hit, he set out across the North Country looking for a cheap way to power his art.
That jumping off point led to a life of wrestling with North Country rivers and tangling with the politics of energy production in the US.
He prowled the backcountry, salvaging parts from abandoned hydro projects in Speculator, Saranac Inn, and the old Lake Placid Club.
His dams, which feed electricity to about 600 North Country homes, are part of a long history, a tradition where local hydro powered industries and whole communities. (Foley’s Wadhams plant powers most of the homes in Westport.)
His two dams survived last year’s spring floods and tropical storm Irene and Foley is clearly weary, as worn out and frustrated as many of the farmers and loggers who’ve struggled to make a go of it in our hardscrabble region.
Not an easy life, but a fascinating one, carved out of an American tradition of ingenuity and hard-work.
“When I got here I had a BA in psychology and I was the child of an office worker,” Foley told me.
“I was completely ignorant. What it comes down to is if you don’t know how to do something, just start. Make a start somewhere and if you’re doing it right, you’ll find that out. And if you’re doing it wrong, you’ll find that out, too.”
When I was visiting his power plant in Wadhams, I noticed these old pieces sitting on a shelf in a window. Foley, who’s 63 now, says he hasn’t blown glass for three decades.
But it all began with those shapes of melted glass.