Simple Pleasures: Coming home to the North Country

Last week my work took me on a brief, half-day foray into the wilds of Albany.  By “wilds” I mean tangled interstates, big crowds, vast stretches of samey-looking developments, with concrete and cars everywhere.

This is no great knock on our fair capital.  For the most part, Albany looks pretty much like America.  And I know there are a lot of folks who like that sort of thing.  The convenience of strip malls.  The fast-and-loose industry of business loop style development.

I’ve always been a small town northerner, from the time that my folks first dragged me as a ten year old to an island village in Alaska.  Life in a northern town can be just as rough as city life, to be sure, and our architecture isn’t all rustic cabins and Adirondack chairs.

But there’s still something liberating about that moment when you slip past Saratoga Springs on the Northway and feel the traffic start to ease.  Then comes Glens Falls and West Mountain and the sign that tells you you’re entering the Park.

Mile by mile, the center of gravity shifts.  Even along the interstate, there are wide open vistas, bogs, winding rivers.  You get the sense that your place in the world — Man’s place in the world — has been downshifted just the right degree.

Sometimes on the drive home, I’ll pull off at a trailhead and just go for a little walk, a half mile or so into the woods.  Or I’ll stop and have a cup of coffee at a diner in Elizabethtown or a corner eatery in Keene.

Just having my boots back on this ground feels good.  Sitting and reading a day-old edition of the Post-Star or the Press-Republican.  Feeling the pace ease.

Like any home ground, the North Country has plenty of problems, all kinds of conflict and need.  When I spend too long here without a break, that stuff can feel overwhelming, like it defines the place.

Which is why I love that hour or two that comes with re-entry, the sense of arrival and return.  For just a bit, I’m able to see the North Country the way I did fourteen years ago, when I caught my first glimpse of these mountains.

I knew at once, when I came to the Adirondacks, that this country matched my disposition, my fondness for rugged terrain, dodgy weather, intense seasons, and people who like to connect one-on-one.

More than anything else, it was unique.  I sensed that there was just no way that the dreary sameness that has swallowed so much of America could ever digest this vast region, could never turn these villages into another anonymous place.

How about you?  When you’re away from the Adirondacks, the Champlain Valley, the St. Lawrence Valley, do you miss this corner of the world?  Do you feel it in your bones when you come back?

Or maybe you feel just the opposite?  Maybe you’re stuck here and wonder what all the fuss is about.  Whatever your take, comments welcome.

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7 Responses to “Simple Pleasures: Coming home to the North Country”

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  1. Larry says:

    Nothing ever happens downstate that the ride North can’t fix.

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  2. laurie says:

    For me “that spot” is after you pass Lake George Village, just before you reach Warrensburg. There’s an old farmhouse on its own, on the southbound side of the Northway, that has signaled my arrival in the Adirondacks for as long as I can remember. Its there that the smell of pine starts to permeate the air, the traffic dwindles to nothing, and I breathe deep and think “Ahhh, I’m here.” Sadly, it’s “here” and not “home”, but hopefully one day…

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  3. jill vaughan says:

    I know exactly which house you mean.

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  4. Will Doolittle says:

    Yes, it’s nice. It’s beautiful actually. But, how else do people connect other than “one on one”? When I get to know someone in Manhattan, it’s still one on one, or maybe one on two if it’s a couple I’m getting to know, or two on one if I’m with my wife, or two on two if we’re getting to know a couple. But, it’s almost never anything else, unless we’re with our kids, in which case it could be three on one, or three on two, or four on one or two. But that’s it, unless they have kids, in which case … Well, you see what I mean, don’t you?

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  5. Larry says:

    Yeah Will, I do see what you mean: another one of your examples of how North Country people need everything explained to us by you.

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  6. Will Doolittle says:

    Geez, Larry, I started out serious but then I was fooling around as I went on with the two on one, etc. Guess I’d better go and find an empty chair to talk to.

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  7. CJ says:

    I often return to the region from Buffalo/Rochester/Syracuse so the spot for me is the Ft. Drum exit on 81. After that I can often count the vehicles I see on one hand until Alex Bay. Then the great St. Lawrence as seen from Route 12 and Route 37.

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