Illustration by Brucie Rosch
When home is six million acres
Yesterday I hit a turkey in McCollums. I slowed my car as a half-dozen of them jogged across the highway. They passed, I accelerated, then, too late, a straggler appeared from a roadside curtain of pines, sprinting to catch up. I feel awful about it.
In the last year, I’ve circumnavigated the Adirondack Park, crisscrossed it, zipped from east to west, north to south and back again. And again. Between the classes I teach at a college beyond the Blue Line, my research for a regional guidebook, assignments for this magazine, and family fun, I’ve been on the road a lot, a lamentable load on my carbon footprint, but a bonus in exploring the place I’ve spent almost 20 years covering for Adirondack Life. The magazine’s readers and contributors share plenty about their hamlet happenings, but armchair editing just gives you a screenshot. Roadside observation at least gets you deeper, filling the frames.
In Hopkinton, sun-colored anti-wind-power signs line Route 11B, where Amish buggies trot past a new Dollar General. In Lake Placid, on a narrow residential road—a detour from congested Main Street—a woman in an SUV gives me the finger. Near Batchellerville, the sliced-off bow of Maria, repurposed into a balcony, protrudes from a camp overlooking the Sacandaga reservoir. At a Tupper Lake beer garden, cornhole draws exuberant players in Paul Smith’s College T-shirts. In Hope, a bedspread-size Confederate flag hangs from a porch. After a wrong turn between Owls Head and Mountain View—no signs, no cell signal—back roads become forest tunnels that eventually loop a half-hour in the wrong direction. At a Long Lake pulloff, a limp chipmunk dangles from the beak of a raven. From Mount Defiance, in Ticonderoga, the fortification and bateaux below give a bird’s-eye history lesson. Later, at Ti’s Carillon battlefield, my kids and I stand where 259 years ago, thousands of men died. My daughter scoops up a toad that pees on her palm; my son and his wooden pistol from the fort’s gift shop disappear behind General Montcalm’s overgrown abatis, its contour snaking near a monument to the Black Watch.
All of this is the Adirondacks, but behind the steering wheel I see little commonality, except for the Stewart’s Shops and ADK bumper stickers. St. Regis Falls is nothing like Bolton Landing—same goes for Thendara and New Russia. As the crow flies, Forestport, in the western Adirondacks, and Franconia, in western New Hampshire, are equidistant from my home in Jay.
The Adirondack Park has its Blue Line to designate things like land use, zoning and, in the case of Adirondack Life, what will make it onto these pages. But who, beyond environmentalists, rangers, contractors and magazine editors, obsesses over a phantom boundary? And why should we care about the millions of acres within it?
In my writing classes I coax my students to explore identity by describing the place they call home. It’s an exercise that inevitably leads to a discussion about home as a concept; “It’s a feeling,” they tell me. “You know when it’s there.”
What I do know is the relief that comes with those Entering the Adirondack Park signs; that when I’m away and asked where I live, I say, “The Adirondacks”; that if I had a choice, I don’t know where else I’d go. And stay.
The creature I hit was an Adirondack turkey. I’d still feel bad if it had happened anyplace else, but I killed it on my homeland, which makes it even worse.