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Totally Incompatible

In Champlain Valley, Memoir, What's Rosslyn?, What's the story? on October 3, 2011 at 10:30 am
Carriage house and ice house

Image by virtualDavis via Flickr

My fixer-upper forays with Bruce and other local realtors evolved when Susan joined the search.

She shared my dream of an old farmhouse surrounded by open meadows with views and sunlight. She liked barns and was even receptive to my occasional flights of fancy about converting an old barn into a home.

But our notions of size and simplicity were less aligned. And Susan was particularly keen on finding a Lake Champlain waterfront property. “What’s the point of having a place that’s not on the lake?” she asked repeatedly as if the answer were self evident.

The odds of finding an old farm on Lake Champlain were slim enough, but the prospect of finding a simple, inexpensive property on the lake was totally implausible unless we shifted our thinking toward seasonal camps. South of Westport and north of Essex there were many small properties tucked along the lakeshore that Bruce insisted on showing us despite repeatedly explaining that they were not what we had in mind.

We also looked at inland farms and interesting old homes in small towns and hamlets, “Just so you can see what’s out there…”

We enjoyed looking and brainstorming, but we were growing frustrated with the increasingly diffuse range of properties we were seeing. We had lost our focus.

Bruce was trying to show us all of the options available which in equal turns dilated and frustrated our search. But there was an even more fundamental problem: Susan and my interests were not perfectly in sync.

Although a farm on the lake was proving an impossible ambition, our imaginations were piqued on several occasions by totally dissimilar and totally unlikely properties.

An old “Great Camps” style summer house in Westport overlooking Lake Champlain’s Northwest Bay intrigued me until I realized that this pedigreed manse adjoined the town’s sewage treatment plant.

A slate roofed barn, still square after a century or more standing at the crest of an immense field just south of Westport, also kidnapped my daydreams for a few days. I imagined a lofty open plan; exposed, rough hewn beams; magnificent views in all directions. But the seller was unable or unwilling to subdivide the field and barn from a much larger farm which included additional fields, an immense dairy barn, various other building for hay and equipment storage, a “pond” for storing cow manure and a large square farmhouse with cupola.

And then there was Rosslyn, a Merchant-Ivory film set for The Great Gatsby’s Adirondack prequel. A century earlier. Located on the lake in Essex, it included a boathouse I’d loved since I was a child, a carriage barn, an ice house, and plenty of stone walls. But there were no fields and too many buildings. And the house was too big. And too run down. Way too run down. And the price tag was beyond unrealistic.

During our first visit Susan and I had both known immediately, instinctively, conclusively that it was not for us. Purchasing this once stately but now desperately dilapidated property was a bad idea. A really, really bad idea.

The expense alone. There was no conceivable short term return on investment. None.

And the amount of time it’d take to understand all of the property’s problems, let alone begin to fix them, to build her back to her former glory? It was incomprehensible.

But money, scope, logistics, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Long deferred maintenance, decades overdue; a gutted rear wing with failing floors suspended from cables that stretched through the middle of rooms; crumbling foundations; faulty electric, plumbing and heating; a boathouse that was one ice flow away from a watery grave; an ice house with corn cribbing walls and a collapsed roof. The current owner had dedicated the better part of four decades of his life, four decades — full time — to renovating Rosslyn and yet it was disintegrating around him.

Buying Rosslyn was totally incompatible with our means, our lives and our plans. And yet Rosslyn seduced us. Susan and I visited and then, months later, revisited the property, each time musing about its potential despite knowing that we shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t ever own it.

Our increasingly unfocused search — Susan and my notions of the perfect fixer-upper diverging and converging unpredictably — must have vexed Bruce despite his perennial good humor and patience. Though we did periodically visit properties when Bruce called with new listings that he thought might appeal to us, our enthusiasm gradually waned.

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Serene, Patinaed Fantasy

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's the story? on September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am
Apartment buildings lining the south side of E...

East 57th Street between First and Sutton (via Wikipedia)

Accustomed to living out of a suitcase, I pendulumed back and forth between Manhattan where Susan was wrapping up a degree in interior design following a decade-long career in video production, and Westport, New York, where both of our parents owned homes and where we’d met a couple of years prior.

Susan had recently refinished a one bedroom apartment in The Galleria, and she was itching to sell it and start a new project. I was intrigued by the prospect of collaborating on a project and plugging my recent Paris experience into a tired but dignified New York apartment, but the Adirondacks were pulling me. After almost half a lifetime living in cities, I yearned to return to the rhythms and pleasures of rural life.

My idealized notion of a country house had its roots in a small farm that my parents had bought in Washington County while still living in New York City in the 1970s. Initially a getaway for my recently married parents trying to balance life and careers in New York City and later, albeit briefly, a full time residence, The Farm underpins my love for countryside and provides my earliest childhood memories.

The perfect place, I explained to Bruce, the friend and realtor who shuttled me from property to property, would be a small, simple farmhouse in the middle of fields with a sturdy barn and some acreage, maybe a stream or a pond or access to a river. Barns, in particular, pulled me. Secluded places with good light and views, forgotten places with stories still vaguely audible if you slowed down long enough to hear the voices. No loud traffic. An old overgrown orchard, perhaps. Asparagus and rhubarb gone feral near the barn. Stone walls, lots of stone walls and maybe an old stone foundation from a building long ago abandoned, the cellar hole full to bursting with day lilies. A couple of old chimneys in the farmhouse with fireplaces. A simple but spacious kitchen. A bedroom with plenty of windows. A room to read and write and collage the walls with notes, lists, photos, drawings and scraps. Someplace I could tinker at myself, gradually restoring the walls and plaster and roof. Timeworn wide plank floorboards of varying widths that I would sand by hand to avoid erasing the footpaths and dings and cupping from a burst pipe years before.

Although I’d painted the picture often enough, my budget and unwillingness to abandon the serene, patinaed fantasy resulted in a few false starts but mostly a very clear idea of what I was not interested in buying. On the upside, I came around and helped Susan select and renovate a coop in a 1926 McKim, Mead and White prewar located on 57th Street just off Sutton Place. An elegant apartment in a handsome building. Great bones, view and sunlight enhanced with a top-to-bottom environmentally responsible, non-toxic renovation. A success!

Though there were occasional fireworks when our aesthetics and convictions clashed, we enjoyed working together and decided to look for a North Country property that would suit both of our interests…

Paris Renovation Bug

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation on September 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm
Paris Exposition: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France,...

Image by Brooklyn Museum via Flickr

Starting in about 2003 I initiated an unfocused real estate hunt for a “fixer-upper” in the AdirondacksChamplain Valley. I’d returned from four years in Europe with enough savings to justify some idle time, a reprieve I hoped to plough into a long languishing novel while tinkering with the vestiges of a web-based business I’d launched in Paris a few years before.

But I couldn’t shake the renovation bug that had bitten me quite unexpectedly while bringing a luxury vacation rental to market in Paris’ Faubourg St. Germaine.

I’d made it into my early thirties without owning a home due to my intentionally peripatetic lifestyle, and despite an aesthete’s appetite for buildings and furnishing and gardens, I hadn’t the least interest in settling down. No biological clock ticking. No nesting instinct. No yen for taxes and maintenance and burst pipes and snow shoveling. No desire whatsoever for the trappings of a settled, domestic life. I understood why it appealed to others, but for me the commitments and encumbrances far outweighed the pride and financial wisdom of home ownership.

Until recently.

Something had changed, and I couldn’t quite figure out how or why.

I’d spent the better part of a year and a half immersed in the acquisition, renovation and marketing of a grand Haussmannian property that promised tourists an opportunity to enjoy Paris à la Parisienne. My business partner and I joked that it was “Versailles in the heart of Paris”, which was a gross exaggeration, but fifteen foot ceilings, 3,200+ square feet of living space including three master suites, a grande salon, a petite salon and a formal dining room invited exaggeration. Magnificent marble fireplaces, intricate plaster moldings, hardwood floors and meticulous finish details exuded Parisian elegance by the time we started booking the accommodation, but it hadn’t always looked so inviting.

The property underwent a top-to-bottom transformation between the day we received the key and the day we shot the photographs for our brochures and website. Half of the property had been gutted and rebuilt from scratch. One bathroom was remodeled and two new bathrooms were created from scratch. Walls were moved, electrical systems were rewired. Carpets were ripped out and herringbone hardwood floors were hand sanded and resealed. Magnificent crown moldings were painstakingly restored, and sconces, chandeliers, and period hardware were refinished.

No architect. No designer. No engineer. Just outsized self confidence and a hepped up learning curve. I scribbled construction drawings on walls and fumbled through French and Portuguese until contractors seemed to understand what I wanted. With the Lebanese contractors I gesticulated, made funny sound effects and scribbled some more. That we completed the project at all was a miracle. That the results were exquisite, a mystery that still awes me. Though I’d grown up assisting my parents with a couple of renovation projects, I’d never before undertaken anything so ambitious or complex. Or so rewarding.

Although our business plan involved duplicating the process in Italy and in Spain, the woman I’d been dating for two years lived in New York City, and after two years of cycling through Paris, Rome and Manhattan on a roughly two week cycle, I opted to trade the business for the woman I loved. I dissolved my interest in the business, packed up my apartments in Paris and Rome, and moved back to the United States.

[To be continued…]

Recovering from Irene

In Boathouse, Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain on September 25, 2011 at 10:32 am
Rosslyn boathouse after Hurricane Irene

Rosslyn boathouse after Hurricane Irene

Much of the North Country is still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. Four weeks on, I return to the notes I jotted during and shortly after Irene passed through Essex, New York.

A sheet of water cascades in front of the parlor windows. I’ve sunk into an armchair to watch the white caps rolling into our stone seawall. Into the dock beneath Rosslyn boathouse. Wind surges, thrashing and straining the leafy limbs of the gnarled old maple tree on the front lawn, violently snapping the boathouse flag.

Hurricane Irene has been delivering a less devastating blow to the Northeast than originally anticipated, and yet our lawn is littered with branches, entire tree limbs and even the top half of an Aspen which snapped off next to the carriage barn. Lake Champlain‘s water level has risen dramatically, gobbling up the sand beach and lapping at the stone seawalls currently being rebuilt north of our boat dock.

I initiated this post during the worst of Irene’s wind and water, however I quickly abbreviated my commentary. My mind flashed back to Lake Champlain’s destructive spring flood. I grew superstitious, my premature relief that Irene had taken it easy on us replaced by dread that I was underestimating her impact.

The next day I continued my observations after a demoralizing round trip to Plattsburgh. My suspicions had been confirmed. We were lucky; others unlucky…

The day started well enough. Clearing skies. Sunshine. Only a light breeze, virtually imperceptible after yesterday’s 65mph gusts.

I checked the waterfront, noted the dramatic rise in water level then celebrated the absence of damage to the boat house. I walked the lawn and counted about a dozen broken limbs strewn over the grass. The top third of an aspen tree had snapped off and lay crushed to the south of the carriage barn. But no serious, unrecoverable damage.

My sunny disposition clouded briefly upon finding 27 bags of ready-mix concrete that had been left uncovered by the fellow rebuilding the stone seawall. All had been soaked and were now petrified, unusable.

Nevertheless, I departed for Plattsburgh relieved that we’d escaped virtually unharmed.

This is where my notes end. The day would force me to recalculate my earlier conclusions. Yes, Susan and I had been fortunate. Rosslyn had been virtually unscathed by Irene. But many of our neighbors in Whallonsburg, Willsboro and Wadhams and throughout the Champlain Valley were underwater.

Normally I’d drive through Willsboro, up and over Willsboro Mountain and then pick up “The Northway” (NYS Route 87) north to Plattsburgh. But I’d already heard that roads were closed beyond Willsboro, so I turned south toward the ferry dock to try another route. Our Town Supervisor was directing traffic at a road block, so I stopped and rolled down my window.

“What a mess. Roads are closed everywhere.”

“Can I get to Plattsburgh?”

“Route 12 is the only access to The Northway.”

“Toward Lewis? That’s fine.”

“Would you show those folks how to get to Meadowmount?” she asked, pointing at a car with out-of-state tags that was parked across from the Masonic Hall.

“Sure.”

“Good luck!”

I pulled in front of the car and parked. I introduced myself to the driver and explained that they could follow me to Meadowmount. They were grateful.

With 20/20 hindsight I should have realized that I would need to take Route 12 to the Lewis exit on the Northway and then cross over and lead them into Meadowmount from Betty Beavers Truck Stop. But there are a half dozen local routes between Essex and Lewis that would be quicker. It never occurred to me that all of them could be flooded.

They were. And over the next thirty minutes I tried every one only to be stopped at road blocks or unmarked, submerged roads. Staggering. But most heart breaking of all was Whallonsburg, a hamlet of Essex a couple of miles inland from Lake Champlain. The Boquet River flows directly through the middle of Whallonsburg and it had flooded so high that five or six houses along the river were totally inundated. A couple of homes had water up the the second story windows! Emergency services had been set up at The Whallonsburg Grange, and volunteers were directing traffic and assisting displaced residents.

I would revisit this heartbreaking scene the following day during a bicycle ride assessing the damage all along the Boquet River corridor. By then the water had retreated and residents were dragging furniture and carpets and clothing and books and appliances out onto their yards. Over the next couple of days enormous dumpsters were filled with the destroyed possessions. During my most recent conversation with a friend who lives in Whallonsburg I learned that at least one and maybe more of the homes were condemned. Despite the devastation, it’s been heartening to experience the community spirit and volunteerism that have resulted. The community has pulled together to help the residents effected by Irene with a fundraiser (Good Night, Irene) and countless hours of volunteerism.

Still trying to absorb the depressing situation in Whallonsburg I proceeded to attempt one road after another. And it seemed that with each “dead end” our entourage collected another vehicle. In due course our entire caravan made it out to The Northway, hopefully in time for one of the cars to make it to the airport without missing their flight. At Betty Beavers I got out and explained to the first car how to get to Meadowmount and offered them my card in case they got stuck. Only a few days later I received a gracious email from them explaining that they made it safely to the music school where their son had studied some years prior.

I mention this detail for the same reason I explained the community recovery efforts in Whallonsburg. Irene’s proverbial silver lining may be the humanizing influence. People connecting and helping one another. This was also the case last spring when Lake Champlain flooded its banks for weeks on end. In both natural disasters the disruption and destruction were catastrophic, but in both cases effected communities rallied and supported one another. This civic responsibility, this community spirit underpins the attractive North Country lifestyle that has embraced us since moving from New York City to Essex in 2006.

In closing, the photograph at the top of this post was taken after Lake Champlain’s water level rapidly rose due to the runoff from Irene. Although it pales in comparison to the water levels last spring, it was surreal to watch our beach disappear as water levels returned to typical spring levels.

Rosslyn Roundup, June 27

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, History & Heritage on June 27, 2011 at 5:43 pm
Adirondack chairs

Adirondack chairs (photo courtesy of albanykid.com)

It’s time for another Rosslyn Roundup to share everything Rosslyn-related that I didn’t get a chance to post this past week. Summer in the Champlain Valley has a way of inching along slowly, slowly, slowly and then suddenly galloping off! This summer was not exception, but the transition was even more apparent because of protracted Lake Champlain flooding. With almost two months a record breaking high water, the flood delayed the normal spring/summer transition. And once the water did finally drop, everyone hustled double-time to catch up!

This has been especially evident in our fair hamlet by the lake. Essex is undergoing a veritable renaissance! Despite early concerns that The Old Dock Restaurant and the Essex Shipyard and Rudder Club might be unable to open for the season due to severe flood damage, both are racing a July 1 opening date. And that’s only part of the Essex renaissance. Nary a storefront in the village is empty, and the offerings are exceptional. In fact, there’s so much activity that a new website has been born to tell the Essex story called Essex on Lake Champlain; it will serve as a digital bulletin board and community blog for Essex, New York. I’ve included a parade of blog posts from the website in my roundup below, so I hope you’ll take a moment to discover why Essex is such a grand place to live and visit.

In addition to the Essex stories, I’m starting with a post about the now ubiquitous Adirondack chair courtesy of Wanda Shapiro (@WandaShapiro), the author of Sometimes That Happens With Chicken. Although this chair proudly announces its Adirondack heritage wherever it is enjoyed, not many know that it was actually invented in Westport, the next town south of Essex. You may be surprised about its history!

Without further ado, I offer you the June 27 Rosslyn Roundup:

  • The Adirondack, Burnell, Westport or Muskoka Chair: Westport Chair was the original name for the Adirondack Chair… There is in fact a small town populated by about 1500 people called Westport, New York, on the western shores of Lake Champlain. It is on the very eastern edge of the Adirondack Park, and is quite a picturesque vacation destination. In1903 one Mr Thomas Lee set about to build the perfect chair for such a spot, as all his relations had taken up those in his mountainside cabin.
  • Travel Writing Contest Hosted by Champlain Area Trails: Get your pencils sharpened, your laptops powered, and your cameras ready, Champlain Area Trails (CATS) will soon launch its first Travel Writing Contest. It’s your chance to write about your travels in New York’s central Champlain Valley—to share your favorite experiences on the Champlain Area Trails–whether it’s hiking, walking, skiing, snowshoeing, birding, tracking, picnicking, or a little bit of each…
  • Provisions and Paparazzi in Essex, NY: “Essex is alive with both new and well-established businesses, opening up, dusting off and getting ready for the season…” So opens Sue Cameron’s “Provisions and Papparazzi” post on LakePlacid.com on June 14. Essex is alive! It’s incredible how much is going on in Essex these last couple of weeks. Essex businesses have proven that even a record breaking flood can’t drown the Essex spirit. Residents, businesses and friends of both are pulling together for what is shaping up to be the best summer in decades.
  • Longtime Residents Recall Essex Inn Years Ago: Last Sunday Alvin Reiner at the Press-Republican ran a fascinating story about the Essex Inn and the fusion of past and future in this historic landmark recently renovated by the Daltons and now open to the public. “We are reaching out to bridge the gap, as there is often a lot of knowledge that gets lost,” she said. (via Press-Republican.) Essex has long represented an important bridge back into history, but the Dalton’s Essex Inn revitalization is one of many new bridges forward toward a bright and shiny future.
  • Summer Arrives in Essex on Lake Champlain: Kim Rielly posted an enthusiastic blog post about summer in Essex celebrating flood recovery, exciting new businesses and the timeless charm that has drawn visitors and residents for decades. She asks, “could it possibly be true that the recently-submerged businesses were planning to open THIS summer? It’s true. In fact, the community is not only ready to welcome visitors for the summer – it is veritably BUZZING with activity.”
  • The Neighborhood Nest: A Gathering of Art, Nature and Antiques: Now in its 16th season, The Neighborhood Nest is one of the oldest businesses in Essex, NY but remains forever surprising! Open daily between 11:00 am and 5:00 pm, The Nest features a treasure hunt experience that spills into a wildly beautiful garden.
  • Pantouf’s Celebrates Summer with Beautiful Glassware: Yesterday I visited Helen Goetz at Pantouf’s in Essex. If you’ve never seen her beautiful glass work, now’s the perfect time to swing by before she gets swarmed with visitors… In addition to showing me her colorful glass serving platters and pitchers, Helen graciously toured me through the home, explaining how it had been configured and functioned when occupied by the Essex town doctor.
  • Live Well in the Champlain Valley: Another new addition to the Essex wellness scene is blooming on Main Street with the opening of Live Well. The beautifully remodeled space offers a wide range of health and healing services, and represents the collaborative genius of three Champlain Valley holistic health and wellness practitioners…
  • Full and By Farm, June 23, 2011: We took advantage of the beautifully sunny weather spell to make hay. We cut about 22 acres starting last week, and successfully baled 19 of it. The rain caught us in the middle of raking the last small field and we had to abandon the project. Once the grass and clover is cut rain begins to leach away the nutrients. Four straight days of rain is enough to ruin the hay as winter feed. It’s always a sad defeat, but part of making hay with an ever changing weather forecast.
  • The Old Dock Restaurant: The Old Dock Restaurant is a seasonal restaurant and bar located in the Historic Hamlet of Essex, New York. Guests arrive by automobile, private boat or on the Charlotte-Essex… Slips are available for our guests who arrive by boat. Passengers on the Charlotte-Essex ferry have the option to leave their automobiles in the free parking lot at Charlotte and when they arrive in Essex stroll a few feet to the Old Dock.

Haying with Draft Horses at Full and By Farm

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Historic Essex, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on June 22, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Another spectacular day in Essex! Perfect summer days mean great gardens, and soon enough I’ll be posting a garden update to show you how well the tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and Brussels sprouts are doing. But first I’d like to introduce you to one of the lifestyle luxuries we’re able to enjoy as Essex residents. Please meet Sara Kurak and James Graves of Full and By Farm.

We pick up our farm share every Thursday evening, and Sara emails the farm members in the morning to let us know what to expect. I’m including last week’s note in its earthy entirety below, and the video tells a little piece of the haying story described in in her note. I hope you enjoy both! Here’s the Full and By Farm note for June 17, 2011.

We are trucking right along this week—moving animals, planting crops, harvesting, weeding, cutting hay, cutting soap, building wagons, enjoying the moderately warm sunshine. This is our first year cutting our own hay and the learning and preparation curves have been steep. Given the uncertain weather predictions for the week and all of our new-to-us equipment we decided to cut one small field on Tuesday and get the process down before going for it whole hog. We took Abby and Lightning out on the horse-drawn mower, selecting the smallest field, but coincidentally the steepest and least rectangular. They took it on like champs, despite several problems with the mower, and the sneaking suspicion that lots of sharp scissors are following right at one’s heels. James is out now tedding the field, we plan to rake, bale, pick-up and unload all TODAY. Hay wagon building has largely been a late night activity. If we seem a little shell-shocked at pick-up tonight, please be nice, it’s been a long day and week.

The vegetables are perking up and getting green out in the fields. Our current harvests however are still being hampered by the earlier mud season issues of poor germination and cloudy skies, followed by the really hot week which caused the soggy, stressed out plants to bolt. All this to say that we are starting to harvest a little bit of a lot of things. Great news on the variety front, but hard to divide up 40 ways. We’re getting creative though and offering up some fun stuff at the share tonight and as well as sweet things to nibble on while picking them up.

Three important things to know today:

1) We are having our spring farm tour and member dinner two weeks from tonight, on Thursday June 30th at 6pm. We’ll provide a farm-fresh dinner and solid wagon ride. You all bring the desserts, a place setting and drinks to share. Please rsvp by email or the list in the csa room. I’ve put in the rainbow request already, but they won’t guarantee a thing this far out.

2) We are officially rolling out the Full and By Farm “Go Whole Hog” challenge tonight!!! The rules are simple: fill out a card for your household, this will live at the farm. Check off the boxes after you’ve used each of the cuts on the list**. When your card is completed you will get a hand printed “Go Whole Hog” shirt or grocery bag. **And don’t worry, we’ll help you out with some of the more challenging ones.

3) Our last spring calf was born on Monday into a muddy puddle. It was a rough entry, but his long legs helped him out. We had originally named him Gus after the legendary Texas Ranger Augustus McCrae. But after getting to know him a little the name just doesn’t seem right, mostly due to his challenge with direction (i.e. his tendency to walk the opposite way when we move the cow herd). We’re considering Gonzo and Gulliver. Bring your vote tonight, write in’s are welcome.

In the veggie share: lettuce, lettuce, lettuce, spicy lettuce mix, braising mix, stir-fry add-ins, spring onions, spinach, nettles (by popular demand) potatoes, celeriac, black and white beans. coming soon: garlic scapes, baby turnips and radishes.

In the meat share: pork, chicken and ground beef, lard and leaf lard, lavender soap.

See you all tonight between 4 and 6,
Sara

We could live at Rosslyn

In Champlain Valley, Memoir, What's the story? on June 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm
We could live at Rosslyn

We could live at Rosslyn

“We could live at Rosslyn,” I said.

“What?” Susan sounded startled. “You mean buy Rosslyn and live there?”

“Why not? If we lived here, if it were going to be our home instead of just an investment, maybe we could justify buying it.”

We had joked about how much time and money it would take to make Rosslyn habitable, categorically dismissing it as an investment. And yet it clearly had captured our hearts. If it were our home and not a short term investment, then maybe the criteria were different. Maybe the potential was different. Maybe the risk was different.

“Will you be relocating here full-time?” a realtor had asked a month or two ago while showing us a house.

“Uh, maybe, yes, we’d like to,” Susan had lied, glancing at me awkwardly. Some locals disliked out-of-towners buying, renovating and reselling, so we kept quiet about our plans to do so. Our hearts sank.

“Are you serious? Would you really want to live at Rosslyn?” Susan persisted.

I was unclear whether she was horrified or excited. I had made the suggestion spontaneously, without forethought, and now I felt embarrassed. I knew the idea was absurd. We both knew it made no sense at all. And yet we had returned to see the house again that morning. A second visit to a house we had already decided not to buy. Why? It exerted an inexplicable pull on both of us. It had awakened our imaginations, our fantasies, our hopes.

“No. And yes,” I said, hedging. “No, I’m not really serious. I just suggested it off the cuff. It’s probably the stupidest idea ever, or at least the least serious idea ever. But yes, there is a side of me that would love to live at Rosslyn. I’ve felt it each time we’ve visited the house. I’m not sure I can explain it…”

“You don’t need to,” Susan said. She was beaming. “I agree.” She rose out of the bath and wrapped a towel around her broad shoulders. “What a dream it would be, to live in that grand old home!”

“Really?” A wave of relief and excitement rushed over me. What a dream indeed. I stood and wrapped my arms around Susan as we drowned each other out, pent up monologues bursting out. We sounded manic as we catalogued our dreams. Waterskiing from Rosslyn’s pier still visible in photographs from the mid-1980’s. Awakening in the yellow bedroom brimming with sunlight. Entertaining our families in the evening amidst mingling aromas of arborvitae and grilling hamburgers. Eating cheese fondue next to a crackling fireplace with friends after a day of downhill skiing. Watching the Fourth of July parade from the front steps with our nephews, still fascinated with fire engines, antique tractors and costumed clowns. Recalibrating our urban rhythm to the comings and goings of the Essex-Charlotte ferry. A pair of effervescent hummingbirds flitting from blossom to blossom in the flowerbeds that we would coax back to life. Puttering around in the carriage barn on Sunday afternoons. Tossing bocce balls in the side yard while nursing gin and tonics and watching Vermont’s Green Mountains slide into pastels, then monochromes, then memories.

Rosslyn Roundup, June 6

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on June 6, 2011 at 11:30 am
Steven Kellogg and Bill McKibben at Champlain Area Trails event in Essex, NY.

Steven Kellogg and Bill McKibben at Champlain Area Trails event in Essex, NY.

Monday morning media mashup? From Champlain Area Trails (CATS) to Old Adirondack, there are so many local news updates directly related to Rosslyn that I’ve collected the half dozen most relevant links for you. The titles are clickable links to the primary content, so once you’ve read each blurb (in most cases excerpted directly from the article/post/site) you can easily access the full story by clicking the link. Easy! In most cases the Rosslyn connection will be pretty obvious, but one or two might need some additional information. Feel free to ask me for clarification via comments on the bottom of this blog post, Twitter (@rosslynredux) or Facebook. Thanks!

Champlain Area Trails Hosts Author McKibben I spent the loveliest Saturday afternoon of 2011 at the home of acclaimed illustrator and author, Steven Kellogg. Kellogg hosted a lively and family-friendly fundraiser for Champlain Area Trails (“CATS”) at his historic Blockhouse Farm in Essex, New York. 70 degrees in a clear blue sky, a light breeze, and the sweeping grounds organically manicured sloping to an immense vista of Lake Champlain – exactly what you dream of when you think “summer day” in the Adirondacks. The postcard-perfect weather and view seemed to join us in celebrating CATS’ mission to link communities and connect people with nature. The focal point of the festivities was author and educator, Bill McKibben. (LakePlacid.com)

USGS real-time water data for Lake Champlain: 101.87 feet Despite growing superstitions about acknowledging falling water levels on Lake Champlain, I must celebrate the good news. Our majestic lake has finally fallen beneath 102 feet. The last week has been marked by a rapidly dropping water level, and despite threats of a torrential downpour later this week, my optimism is rekindled. I only hope that progress is made quickly enough for local marinas, waterside restaurants and other businesses compromised by Lake Champlain flooding to recover. (USGS)

Essex County asks for emergency reassessments It would take an act of the State Legislature to adjust the tax assessments of people with severe flood damage from recent storms… [according to] Essex County Real Property Tax Service Director Charli Lewis… The committee promptly voted unanimously to ask the State Legislature to give local assessors the power to devalue properties that were walloped by the severe storms of late April and because of continued flooding. (Press Republican)

Lake Champlain marinas assess damage As the water level slowly begins to recede on Lake Champlain, marina owners and managers are beginning to assess the damage. According to Mike Winslow, a staff scientist with the Lake Champlain Committee, at this time of year, the average lake level is 95 feet… “We average approximately one week for the lake to drop 1 foot under ideal weather conditions,” he said. “The flooding has affected marinas, restaurants and any other facilities close to the lake. There’s a severe economic toll that this flooding is causing. That effect has also drastically affected Canadian patronage due to level of the Richlieu (River) as well.” As recently as mid-week, the lake leveled hovered near 103 feet, still well above its all-time record high. (Press Republican)

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights On Friday afternoons Adirondack Almanack compiles a collection of the week’s top weblinks. Rosslyn Redux was featured this past Friday as one of ten intriguing Adirondack stories. Check them all out and get a taste of the Adirondack experience!

Willsboro Adirondack furniture maker closes Adirondack chairs may be riding a continuing wave of popularity, but one of the Adirondack Park’s most important furniture makes is closing it’s doors after a four year struggle to maintain its place in the market. Old Adirondack, located in Willsboro will lay off eleven full time employees… “The recession has done its damage and we just couldn’t last out the long hard slog any longer,” Maselli said. (North Country Public Radio)

Make Way for Ducklings

In Champlain Valley, Daily Munge, Lake Champlain, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on June 4, 2011 at 5:08 am

As a child, one of my favorite picture books was Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. Really… Okay, am I giving away too much? Probably. The way of the storyteller!

There was something about those illustrations — simple unselfconscious line drawings halfway between representational sketches and cartoons — that captivated me, that compelled me to try and draw ducklings wandering and swimming. And the tidy little tale about a family of country mallards unfortunately (serendipitously?) hatching and growing up in obviously inhospitable urban Boston. A quirky story with a dark edge and a lighthearted plot.

Cover of "Make Way for Ducklings (Viking ...

Make Way for Ducklings cover via Amazon

So yesterday when Lorri and Carmen — lovely local ladies planting lilies behind Rosslyn’s carriage barn — called to me, I came running with my camera. I had to witness the mother mallard and her entourage of well behaved ducklings, Lorri urged. “Come quickly. They’re almost down to the driveway.”

The duck family (absent father) had appeared suddenly in the meadow near them, and were heading toward the house. I set out to intercept them on the driveway to see if I could shoot a short bit of video before they startled and deviated course. Sure enough, as I walked up the shaded back driveway I saw the parade bound directly toward me. I turned on the camera and waited, wondering how close they would come before getting nervous and retreating. But this beautiful, proud and totally undaunted momma duck walked right up to me with her parade of ten fuzzy ducklings. Then right past and on toward Lake Champlain. I followed and played crossing guard to make sure that all eleven made it across NYS Route 22, and before long they were all paddling away on the still flooded lake!

That matriarch had promised her brood a swim in the lake, and she was going to deliver on that promise come flood, gawking homeowner or speeding pickup trucks. And deliver she did. My rough video footage, “Ducklings on Parade” only hints at the confidence and determination of the momma mallard.

Cute. Darling. Nostalgic. Right? Wrong! Well, at least partly wrong. Sure, I’m human, and these fuzzy peeps did instantly soften the edges of an otherwise rough week. But cute, darling and nostalgic is only part of the equation. What, there’s more? Oh, yes, there’s more. There’s irony!

You see, over the last year or two I’ve gotten excited about the idea of raising ducks. I did some research, found a catalog, ogled the pictures, read the descriptions, circled my favorites and told me wife. Emergency brake! “What? Raise ducklings so the coyotes and foxes can eat them? Are you crazy?”

Needless to say, she’s not too keen on the idea. There’ve been a couple of heated conversations. I’ve demurred but repressed the desire. At least for now.

So my first thought as these eager swimmers paraded off to Lake Champlain was, my ducklings! Funny how things work out…

The Farm

In Champlain Valley, Memoir, What's the story? on May 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm
Rock Harbor Rhubarb

Rock Harbor Rhubarb

We walked down the road from the tennis court and stopped off at my parents’ house, still closed up for the winter. It would be several weeks before my parents arrived in Rock Harbor for the summer, and by then the asparagus would have gone to seed, so we picked enough for dinner and enough extra to bring back to the city for another meal.

I also picked a fistful of rhubarb to sauté with maple syrup for dessert. Susan disliked rhubarb, but I loved the lip puckering tartness. The taste transports me instantly to The Farm.

My parents, living and working in New York City, had purchased an 1840s farmhouse on 85 acres in Greenwich, New York five months after getting married. I was born less than two years later.

Although The Farm served primarily as a weekend getaway for the next five years, it dominates the geography of my earliest childhood. A stream of nostalgia gilded memories flow from this pastoral source: exploring the time-worn barns, absent livestock except for those conjured up by my energetic imagination and the swallows which darted in and out, building nests in the rafters, gliding like darts through dusty sunbeams; vegetable gardening with my mother; tending apple, pear and quince trees with my father; eating fresh rhubarb, strawberries and blackberries; discovering deer and raccoons and snakes and even a snapping turtle.

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