When I started writing, I intended the emphasis to be on “loving hands” but, now, almost 18 months later, I’m amazed at how often I focus on the “at home” part of my title.
By sharing some information and impressions with you, I’ve realized that I have more affection for my home region than I ever knew!
People hear “New York” and they think “Big Apple,” Empire State Building, Broadway. My New York, the “North Country,” couldn’t be more different.
My home is in upstate New York, about 60 miles south of Montreal, Quebec, and 45 miles east of Lake Placid, where the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games were held. The nearby town is Plattsburgh, represented by the back dot in the map. I have to drive due south for over 5 hours to get to New York City, which is at the bottom right here!
The lake is in a valley between the mellow, old Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont, which are part of the Appalachian Chain.
Our combination of water and mountains, rural farmlands and small towns, makes this part of New York feel much more like New England than like the New York that pops into most minds.
This is a land of sugar maples, oaks, birches, and pine trees, which give us our fall colors, the fragrant litter of pine needles in the sun, and the “tock, tock” of acorns on the roof.
This is a world where French-Canadian roots run deep and the map is littered with place names like Point au Roche and the Boquet River (although the latter, strangely, is pronounced “Bow-ket.” I’m told the old-timers called it the Bow-qwet.) One’s friends have names like Benoit Lafave and Andre Delorme and, when they swear, they say “Sacré bleu!” or, even better, “Jeezum crow!”
Similarly, one can never forget the Native American inhabitants, the Ganienkeh, the Awkwesasne, the Abenaki. Words from their languages name mountains, rivers, and towns. Even “Adirondack” is supposedly a Mohawk word used to insult the Algonquins. The word translates as “bark eater” or “eater of trees,” and was an insult to suggest the Algonquins were not very good hunters!
The history of European settlement of this region is very old, by American standards. Samuel de Champlain reached the Champlain Valley in 1609. The region was under French rule, then British rule, and then played a role in the outcome of the Revolutionary War.
My people came here in the late 1700s and carved a farm from the rocky soil on a big hill overlooking the lake. They fought in the American Revolution and watched from the hill as the Battle of Plattsburgh, in the War of 1812, unfolded in the valley below. The photo at the top of the post shows my family, when we were still living on the farm, with that valley and Lake Champlain behind us.
War and national defense have always figured prominently here. When I was a kid, Plattsburgh was home to a Strategic Air Command base of the US Air Force. Fighter bombers and huge cargo planes were so commonly above our heads that we simply no longer heard the infernal noise they made.
I moved away from this area when I was in my early 20s, to go to grad school and to teach college elsewhere.
But I never really left. The lake and the mountains and my family always drew me back. Every summer of my adult life has been spent here, on Lake Champlain, at “camp.”
And now “camp” is home.
It was odd to come back here full time, after so many years. I’m forever meeting people who worked with my father or had my mother as a teacher in first grade. My favorite story came from a woman who lives down the road. When she heard my name, she told me that her father and my grandfather shared tractor tires during the Great Depression. Tires were expensive! So, even though the farms were about 12 miles apart, they alternated the tires between the two tractors and made do.
I love that story. I love feeling connected to a place, knowing the short cuts to get anywhere, recognizing names, and being able to say, “that’s where I lived,” “I learned to ski there,” “I think we went to high school together.”
I’m honestly not sure how much of this I would ever have pondered, if I wasn’t writing to you. Writing about where I live, telling you about it, makes me appreciate it more.
Thank you for that.
What makes your home special? Have you written about it? Can you leave me a link to your post?