Life in the North Country? Yup, it’s hard.


"Singin' in the Rain" movie poster (detail)

“Singin’ in the Rain” movie poster (detail)

I think it’s important to acknowledge every once in a while — group hug time — that sometimes this place is just hard.

Saturday morning, I drove through the eastern Adirondacks and the Champlain Valley and everywhere I went people were trying their darndest to, you know, have a nice day.

They were holding track meets and cool little mountain climbing festivals.  Visitors were touristing and locals were going about their Saturday Memorial Weekend bustly business.

But let’s be honest.  The day was bleak.  Like Dickensian bleak.

I dropped by the sectionals high school track meet in Plattsburgh, where my son Nicholas was competing, and people were bundled up to their eyeballs.

Umbrellas were turning inside-out as a raw wind buffeted.

People muttered stoically to each other about the forecast of snow.  The kids in their shorts and tank-tops looked like transplants from another continent, another culture, another season.

My point here isn’t just that this is a crummy bummer of a Memorial Day weekend.  My point is that we should remind ourselves sometimes that we really do have to try harder and put up with more.

I think North Country folks tend to be a little baffled by our struggles.  Why isn’t the economy better?  Why don’t more people to choose to live here?  Why don’t more of our efforts pan out?

Sometimes we get to the place where we start pointing fingers at each other.  That group or faction just isn’t positive enough.  Those folks over there aren’t getting on board with The Next Big Idea.  That scheme must have been dumb from the outset.

Or we blame local government.  Or the environmentalists.  Or the seasonals.  Or the locals.  Taxes are to blame.  Or the lack of services.

But the truth is — and we forget this fact — a lot of the headwinds we face are nobody’s fault.  We just live in a tough-love part of the world.

We’re all trying to make a go of it in a place where there are snow storms and frost advisories in late May, where mud and black flies are (let’s be honest) as much a reality as spotted trout and stunning vistas.

What’s more, we are the stubborn, marching-in-the-wrong-direction few.

Most of America decided decades ago that they prefer California to Michigan and Florida to New York, for no other reason than you don’t have to scrape your windshields.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think those people are nuts.  I’m more than happy to put up with a face full of sleet on Memorial Day weekend.  The pay-offs for these hard days are magnificent.

A week from now I’ll be sitting in my garden with a gin and tonic and all this will be forgotten.

As the entire population of Florida and North Carolina climb inside their collective, crowded sauna, I’ll be going for mid-day swims in mountain ponds and sleeping with the windows open.

But I still want to tip my hat at the challenge, the frustration, the sheer hardness of the North Country.

To all those folks who laid the groundwork for their tourism business, hoping for a banner Memorial Day weekend.

To the farmers who needed to get a muddy field brush-hogged, or to the gardeners who already put their tomato plants in the ground.

To the folks who planned a big first camping trip, or had a house full of guests with no place dry to go.

To those stalwart souls who stubbornly set off on their road bikes despite the howling north wind.

To all of you, I say grit your teeth and take a bow.  This place is worth it.  Living here is a great blessing.  But sometimes it’s just hard.

10 Comments on “Life in the North Country? Yup, it’s hard.”

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  1. Jim Bullard says:

    It may not be in your mind a week from now while sipping that G&T but trust me, these experiences are the ones you will remember. While climbing the 46 High Peaks, it was those trips where I faced the worst conditions that later stand out in my memory, dare I say with fondness. It’s something to do with that marching in the wrong direction you mentioned, a kind of stubborn pride in succeeding against the tide. And it is those memories that make the warm sunny days sipping your G&T all the sweeter.

  2. Brian Mann says:

    Fair enough. But I do take a stubborn pride in my G&Ts. Is that wrong? :)

    –Brian, NCPR

  3. Walker says:

    And then there’s today’s weather! (Though the blackflies will be warming up with the sun.)

    Besides, we had nine absolutely incredible days earlier in the month– warm temps, light winds and almost no bugs. Nearly wore my wife and me out, paddling and hiking.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    I like the Adirondacks for all the reasons most people don’t want to live here.
    I’m already looking forward to September. I put up with summer. Not only would I not want to live south of the Mason Dixon Line, I wouldn’t even want to visit south of NYC.

  5. JDM says:

    Amen. Here’s to us!

  6. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    We are on to you Brian Mann, your talk of gin and tonics is just a clever means of promoting one of your NCPR underwriters, Lake Placid Spirits and their Blue Line gin. Probably some Stewarts money too for mentioning delicious and nutritious tonic water which Stewarts makes using real quinine! No malaria for you as the Mosquitos drain your blood like the APA drains the blood of true Adirondackers.

    What is with you people there at NCPR? Are you in the pocket of the liquor lobby? I have heard Radio Bob mention many times his love of Davidson’s Brewery and their creamy headed malt and hops offerings that compliment every sort of Adirondack weather. You can’t fool us; we are on to you.

  7. Two Cents says:

    ..nobody trusts a tea-totter, and I’ve heard the gin in quinine is good for black flies…

  8. Pete Klein says:

    Straight booze and some garlic is the best defense against black flies.

  9. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Straight booze and garlic? I dont know about the black flies but that would be a good name for a roadhouse/bbq joint and the house band.

  10. Kathy says:

    I’ve often said we’re some of the most resilient people because of it!

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