Posts Tagged ‘North Country’

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…


Kids, Friends and MSG

In Memoir, What's the story? on June 7, 2011 at 11:04 am
Iris bed (with a touch of monosodium glutamate)

Iris bed (with a touch of monosodium glutamate)

“You’re right. We both could have careers,” she said. I nodded. “But could we really live full time in the boonies? Where the closest healthy supermarket is in Vermont, a ferry ride away?”

“I could. I have.”

“Maybe I could… Our friends here lead great lives, right?”


“They have so much more to talk about than work and kids,” Susan said. She described conversations with our friends in the city and suburbs inevitably veering onto the strains, calamities and milestones of parenting. “Nannies, babysitters, nutrition, education, play dates… I mean, I do love our friends’ kids. I love seeing their personalities and their interests and their abilities changing, but I’m so tired of the perpetual kid chatter. I’m sick of everyone griping that their lifestyles have been kidnapped by childbearing and then – in the same breadth – imploring us to have children, assuring us that it’s the best decision they ever made.”

We enjoyed spending time with children. I had taught middle school and high school students for a half dozen years and genuinely missed the daily interaction with teenagers. But long before we were even married Susan and I had decided that we would not have any children. Our insatiable appetites for wandering the globe and our tendency to hyper fixate on each new personal and professional endeavor, comprised less than ideal ingredients for child rearing.

“Our friends here are different.” Susan had the spirit now. “Even the ones who have children have so much more to talk about…” Her words came fast and excited. I turned on the hot water to warm up the tub. “They’re passionate about politics, the environment, the health and viability of the community. They’re enthusiastic about improving the world around them. They’re so much less concerned about financial success, about how big their homes are, how green their lawns are, how stylish their wardrobes are. They’re cultured. They’re well educated. They’re well informed. They love animals. They’re athletic. They’re outdoorsy… Can you turn that off? It’s burning my leg.” I turned off the hot water, and Susan resumed her monologue about the merits of our North Country friends and their lifestyles. Smaller communities resulted in greater civic involvement, she opined. “They join the boards of local non-profits. Or they start their own organizations. They participate in local government…”


“They’re environmentalists, writers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, artists, realtors, yoga instructors. They’re entrepreneurs and architects, camp directors and farmers…”

“Susan, I’m with you. I understand. I agree.” She stopped talking and smiled. “You don’t need to lecture me on why we admire our friends’ passion or their choices to live intentionally. Or their abilities to balance meaningful work with quality of life. I’m on board. It’s admirable. We’re on the same page.”

“It’s just, the more I think about it, the more I realize I’d love to move here.”

“And the more you talk about it, the more I worry that your perspective’s a wee bit idealistic. No? A little too saccharine? A little too much MSG?”

Susan laughed. “Maybe.”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love the North Country tableau you’re describing, but I don’t want to…”

“I know.”

“You do? What?”

“You don’t want me to be disappointed if it doesn’t measure up.”

“Partly, and I… Listen, I really do like the idea of living up here, for a while, at least. But I don’t want you later to feel like you did it for me, like I talked you into it, like I misrepresented it or something. Does that make any sense?”

Vintage Adirondack

In Adirondacks, Daily Munge, History & Heritage, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 24, 2011 at 11:11 am

My bride and I credit the Adirondack lifestyle for luring us away from Manhattan in 2006 to become North Country full-timers. But what exactly is the Adirondack lifestyle?

Actually it’s not so easily defined, perhaps because there are so many different perspectives on what makes living (or even vacationing) in the Adirondacks desirable. High Peaks, Great Camps, cozy little lodges, Champlain Valley, agriculture, hunting, fly fishing, ice fishing, back country adventures, extreme sports, and the list goes on. Although a portrait of our Adirondack experience will evolve out of these blog posts, I won’t attempt to define the Adirondack lifestyle. Though often attempted, any single face of of the Adirondacks is an abstraction. The real Adirondack experience is vast, rich and dynamic. It is precisely this richness and diversity which appeals to us. It is precisely this evolving character which inspires us to get involved with the people and organizations that have welcomed us.

Griffin by Lake Champlain

Image by virtualDavis via Flickr

The video above, the first in a series of three, is called Land of My Dreams and it was apparently created by Joseph J. Harley in the late 1940’s. It captures a nostalgic (if extremely dated) caricature of Adirondack rustic “camp” lifestyle during the mid 1900s.

The story takes place on Bluff Island in the Adirondacks, Saranac Lake, New York. My great grandparents had a house that Joe built himself from scratch. The DEC took the house down after a law was made that people could only camp on certified islands in the lake. Joseph J. Harley was an amateur film maker who made many other movies and won awards for them. (

Douglas Yu (@tourpro) over at Adirondack Base Camp put me onto this quirky vintage short, but he wasn’t able to share much more about the film or Harley.

I couldn’t find much information about the filmographer, but at one point he was President of the American Cinema League.

Many of the artifacts that I’ve collected since purchasing Rosslyn fall into this hazy no-man’s land of vintage collectibles (postcards, magazine advertisements, newspaper articles, brochures, videos, etc.) It’s challenging or impossible to determine the background for many of the artifacts, and they occasionally include dated or peculiar elements such as the “black face” character in the the second video. And yet, taken together they provide a context for the quirky tale I have to tell. I’ve decided that this blog is the perfect way to preserve and share these artifacts, characters and stories which don’t find their way into my Rosslyn Redux memoir or the Redacting Rosslyn monologues.

By collecting these artifacts into a “digital museum” I hope to showcase some of the esoteric ingredients of the Adirondack lifestyle which seduced us, aggravates us, intrigues us, perplexes us and inspires us in this new chapter of our lives.

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