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Posts Tagged ‘North Country New York’

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…

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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.

See you at Depot Theatre Tommorrow

In Daily Munge, Monologues, What's the story? on August 2, 2011 at 8:52 am
Rosslyn boathouse, Essex, NY

Rosslyn boathouse, Essex, NY

Adirondack storyteller and writer, George Davis, needs you to help him kill a few stories on Wednesday, August 3 at The Depot Theatre in Westport, NY. Prepare for a pell-mell parade of vignettes, monologues and readings ranging from a wader-wearing Amazon named Rosslyn to a perennially pickled bathtub yachtsman… This solo performance pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies (and absurdities) of renovation, marriage and North Country life while inviting the audience to participate in editing a memoir… “Along the way I collected too many stories to fit in one book. The audience will help me decide which stories live. And which stories die. Basically, I’m asking otherwise compassionate, peaceful people to commit story-cide… It’s quite a unique opportunity!” (Adirondack Almanack)

I’m almost ready to redact Rosslyn Redux tomorrow night in Westport. Still playing with timing, transitions, and trimming. Always room to cut it shorter, shorter, shorter. If you come, you can help by “gong” editing… What? I guess you’ll have to come to see what I mean…

When I step onto the boards at the Depot Theatre tomorrow night, it will mark the first time that I’ve shared any of the material from the Rosslyn Redux manuscript, much less asked my readers to help me figure out what direction the final draft should take. Of course, much of what I’m reading will not make it into the final draft, and some of the vignettes aren’t even in the manuscript, instead created specifically for the performance. Suffice to say, this is an experiment, inviting readers and audience into the creative process, into the revision and redaction process. It could get very messy… Or it could be wildly successful. I’m gambling on the latter. In either case, I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

An exuberant Adirondack bear hug to the good folks at Adirondack Almanack for posting “Storyteller, Writer George Davis at Depot Theatre August 3“.

Update: I’ve just received some dapper Rosslyn Redux embroidered caps that will find their way onto the pates of some participants, and a stack of gift certificates to the finest dining establishments in Essex sit on my desk beside me. Participants will be entered into a drawing for caps, gift certificates and one-day-some-day books!

North Country Farm Stands

In Daily Munge, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on July 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm


Farm Stand In Vermont

The good folks at Cooking Up a Story featured this slice of North Country summer living, and I couldn’t resist contacting them to find out where the farm stand is located. They responded quickly:

They are in Alburgh, VT – which is in the northwest corner of the state – nestled against NY and Canada, along Route 2. Drive up and check them out sometime. Really nice people!

Close enough for a visit, but not swing-by-and-grab-some-sweet-corn close. Too bad! Nevertheless, it’s an inspirational story. We used to have a similar farm stand near us in Essex, New York that was run by the Sayward family for many, many years, but it closed up a few summers ago. Still miss it!

We’ve belonged to two CSAs since moving full-time to Essex, Essex Farm and Full and By Farm, and we grow a large vegetable garden and quite a few types of fruit. So I’m not complaining, but I do love the experience of visiting a neighborhood farm stand. It’s nice to meet the growers, hear their stories, learn new ways to prepare the fresh produce.

 

Totally, unabashedly, irreversibly seduced

In Adirondacks, Boathouse, Carriage Barn, Daily Munge, Historic Essex, House, Ice House, Lake Champlain, Renovation & Rehabilitation on July 19, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Today’s question from Al Katkowsky‘s Question of the Day book was the perfect invitation to reflect on Rosslyn Redux, the “big picture”!

What should you definitely not have done that turned out okay anyway?

In the summer of 2006 I definitely should not have purchased a dilapidated, almost two hundred year old house in Essex, New York. Definitely not. Not if I wanted to stay sane, solvent or married. Not if I wanted to do anything else in my life except for renovating, babysitting contractors, and nurturing this handsome old house back to life…

But I was totally, unabashedly, irreversibly seduced by Rosslyn, a sagging-but-still-stately, almost two century year old property on the Adirondack shores of Lake Champlain. My new bride and I swapped Manhattan for North Country bliss.

Our plan? Renovate a home. Grow a garden. Plant an orchard. Raise a dog. Swim, sail, ski, hike, bike and live happily ever after.

Or not…

Over a hundred carpenters, tradesmen and artisans later; over four times our budget and planned timeline later; and over countless marriage-testing misadventures later we finally finished our renovation. In time for the biggest flood in over two centuries to swamp our boathouse and waterfront for two months…

We should definitely not have undertaken this wildly ambitious project. But we did. And it turned out okay anyway. So far!

Check out RosslynRedux.com for a vicarious plunge into the idiosyncrasies (and absurdities) of our renovation, marriage and North Country life.

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