June 23, 2015
The State Of New York
“Blah blah blah?”
It was a slow day at work. I had been wiping down the same 10 square feet of counter space for the last two hours, half listening to my co-workers discussing plans for the weekend. It was not until I heard “blah blah Adirondack-” that I started paying attention. I whipped around like a dog who has just heard the word “walk,” every atom now attuned to their conversation. One of them had just mentioned his plans to build a couple of Adirondack chairs over the weekend.
“Adirondacks! That's where I'm from!” I yelled in excitement, my voice echoing in the large, empty paint store. My co-workers paused and looked at me like I was a crazy person. “You're from New York,” one of them explained to me slowly. “Adirondack chairs are from like, the mountains.”
“I'm not from New York City!” I groaned for the millionth time. No matter how many times I showed my new Oregon acquaintances a map of New York State, they did not understand that New York encompassed the whole magical kingdom of the Adirondacks. “I'm from Saranac Lake,” I told them again.
Under The Sea
I had moved to Portland, Oregon in 2013 just to see what the other side was like. Though I loved my hometown, I felt dangerously close to settling down, and I wanted to make sure I tried living somewhere else first. I had a few friends living in Portland, so I flew there and found myself a job before returning home for one last Winter Carnival. Perhaps because I knew it might be my last, I savored that carnival like no other before it. The theme that year was Under the Sea, and when I close my eyes I can still envision the colorful otherworldly fish and underwater plants the decorated the town windows for those ten days. I can hear the sounds of the Blind Owl Band performing at the Waterhole after the parade, as I stood in front of the stage, surrounded by familiar faces all dancing, whirling and singing along, caught up in the exhilaration of the carnival. And I can feel the cold air stinging my cheeks as I stopped at the Ice Palace at 5:30 in the morning, my car all packed, ready to start my drive across the country but needing one last moment alone with my town. Wandering alone among silent ice sculptures gave me the eerie feeling that I had been transported to the court of the mermaids, where time had stopped, leaving them all frozen. I remember taking off my glove and laying a hand on the ice wall, wondering if I would ever find a place with this amazing power, the ability to transport me to new places in my own imagination.
Back Home in Saranac Lake
I like to think I gave Portland my best effort, but that is just a story I tell myself. I went to work, I went on long walks, I rode the max around downtown. I went to the zoo, the flower gardens, a soccer tournament. I did the touristy things, and I went to a secret word of mouth invite-only poetry slam. It was all to no avail. Nothing won my heart. I found myself constantly talking about my hometown to the people I met.
“Where do you swim around here?” I asked.
“There's a pool-”
“No, where do you swim outside?” I begged, thinking longingly of my favorite swimming spots at home. There was Lake Clear Beach, the sandy beach of my happy childhood, with a secret cove where the turtles lived. Or the rock at Duso's Crescent Bay, perfect for a quick dip after work. And all the little hidden secret coves, beaches, and rocks I had explored with my friends. The kind of places you would never know existed if you hadn't been tipped off by the friendly locals. Little pull offs on the side of the road, big enough for one, maybe two cars, with no signs. I don't know who these secret spots belong to, but I like to think it's all state land, and that the Adirondacks simply have too many treasures to mark them all.
“You can drive to the coast,” they suggested.
“Back home in Saranac Lake-,” I began. All of my stories seemed to start this way.
You Just Can't Replace This
Determined to convert me, my friends tried to find replacements for all of my favorite things at home. One friend concentrated on food and drink, and once a week we went out on a pizza tasting. No matter where we went, I couldn't get a slice that I like better than Little Italy at home. Even at the New York Style pizzeria, I was disappointed- they didn't sell ranch dressing! We visited famous bars and pubs with all manner of specialty drinks, but I pined for the Waterhole. It's not even the drinks that make it special. I missed walking in to a chorus of “hey Grasshopper!” Cheers got it right- there is nothing like going to a place where everybody knows your name. Whether it is going to work, to the bar, or to the grocery store, I love knowing people when I walk in.
I confided in another friend that I missed Soma Beats and Waluba Drum, the African dance and drumming group that I performed with at home. He brought me to a class in Portland, arguing that I could find that anywhere. But the class was huge, packed with enthusiastic dancers who had already established their own hierarchy. I got pushed to the back, where I couldn't see the instructors, and I spent the hour longing for the comfy studio at the LPCA where I used to dance with some of the most inspiring women I had ever met.
Yet another brought me to Crater Lake, and Multnomah Falls, so I could enjoy some wilderness similar to what I had left behind. But the trails were wide, safely guarded with railings, and filled with people. I felt like there was no where I could go to be totally alone. I thought of my parents' backyard, 14 acres of woods where they make maple syrup, with a little winding trail that was not paved, but gently carved into the undergrowth by the passage of our feet over the years. At the back of the property was a round boulder covered with moss where I used to play with my brothers. Now, I am not very good at sitting still. I never have been. But in seventh grade our science teacher had given us the assignment writing in an observation journal once a week, and I can remember sitting still on that boulder trying to be quiet enough to gather some observations. It was beautiful, quiet, a little lonely, and devastatingly peaceful. Much too calm for my restless little soul. At the time it had seemed like quite a chore to sit alone, but navigating around the tourists on the paved trail to Crater Lake, I wished desperately to be back in that moment.
Keep Your Weirdos, I Like Mine Best
Lastly my friends tried to take me people watching. With a slogan like “keep Portland weird,” I thought it would be easy to find the characters that make Portland unique. The problem I encountered is that to me it was an inaccessible sort of weirdness. The people you saw dressed in a way that made them stand out or dancing to their own music were plentiful, but they weren't approachable, and I hardly ever saw the same character twice. I missed Saranac Lake, with the local celebrities that I had come to know and love. I went to a Superhero Pub Crawl, but found myself surrounded by groups of oddly dressed friends who were busy with their own conversations, in bars too crowded to get the attention of the bartender. I wanted to be back home, surrounded by my own friends, weirdly dressed for Halloween, or Carnival, or an odd themed party.
In All Honesty
I'm sure Portland is actually an awesome place to live, if you like city living. Probably I could have gotten to know people if I had tried a little harder, and found cool secret spots. Maybe you can find those in any small town or city in the world. The truth is I never wanted to. For me, there will never be a place quite as magical as home. Without a single regret, I walked away from my co-workers in Portland talking about Adirondack chairs and called my boss at my old job in Saranac Lake to see if they would take me back (they did!). I packed my car and made it home just in time for Hobofest, where I easily made my way to the front of the stage and surrounded myself with happy, whirling, familiar faces of people who were a little oddly dressed.
So, did I talk you into visiting yet? Saranac Lake really is the coolest place in the Adirondacks - and we'll happily welcome you (and maybe even share a few local secrets with you) on your next visit to the Adirondacks. Tell them "Grasshopper" sent you!