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This must be the place

art theplaceSo, you’re Canadian?

Not quite, y’all. During my three years living here in Western North Carolina, I’ve lost count of the amount of times folks have asked me that question. They want to know where I’m from, how did I end up in Waynesville, and since when did I pick up a southern twang in my speech?

Ready? Well, my hometown is Rouses Point, New York. Six hours straight north of Manhattan, six hours northeast of Buffalo, situated on Lake Champlain, smack dab on the Canadian border (45 minutes south of Montreal), with a bridge in town over the massive body of water to Vermont (35 minutes northwest of Burlington). 

Whenever I mention being from New York, people immediate think I’m from “The City,” where I must’ve grown up in some Robert DeNiro meets Tony Soprano household. They marvel at how a “city boy” found himself in rural Southern Appalachia, where inhabitants here live within their means, help their neighbor, are resourceful, and also grateful to awaken each day in these ancient mountains of mystery and magic.

In all actuality, my hometown was more Haywood than Hollywood, more Big Creek than Big Apple. For a town of just under 2,000 residents, Rouses Point felt large to me as a kid. It was the main village in an area of cornfields and open meadows, with the looming Adirondack Mountains to the west, the Green Mountains to the east, in our bowl of land known as the Champlain Valley. 

My adolescence was spent riding bikes around town, jumping in the lake when it was hot or playing pickup hockey on the ice when it was cold. It was about tracking down simple, innocent mischief and immersing oneself in it. My mother always said it was a “Leave It To Beaver” kind of community. And, in many ways, it was. Folks never locked their front doors, while cars were often left running while someone ran into the grocery store real quick. If your snow blower stopped working, your neighbor would come “bail you out” with theirs. If the power went out, which it did a lot during those notoriously bad North Country winters, someone would come check on you, making sure you had food and supplies.

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I left Rouses Point when I was 18. In search of whatever it is I’m supposed to do with my life, I felt I had to “escape” my roots — pull’em up and perhaps plant them somewhere else. I rarely ever get back up there, and when I do, I feel like a stranger in my own hometown. While I took off to the west, the south, and everywhere in-between, life continued on in Rouses Point, as it does in all our hometowns, as much as we’d like to think time hits “pause” until our triumphant return.

And though I left that town, the town itself never left me. I don’t think anyone really appreciates where they grew up until they see that place from another angle. Those unique, singular characters — you can pinpoint them in any town — stick with you, long after you see the city limits sign in your rearview mirror. 

But, as they say, the more you run away from a place, the more you just keep running into yourself, for good or ill. Leaving Rouses Point was in an effort to see what lay just outside my comfort zone, beyond the barriers of my own consciousness, beyond the confines of my subconscious. I wanted to poke and prod the invisible fences other were either unaware of, or were a tad apprehensive of getting stung by if their attempt was proved to be futile. 

Once you get outside of the fence, you find there is another fence. There’s always another fence, because that fence is you “today,” while your soul yearns for what the possibility of tomorrow could, and ultimately will, be. Everybody has their own fence, of all sizes and ranges. Some want to jump those fences, others enjoy the security. It’s how we measure those fences each morning that counts, how we decide, “Well, I’m going to hop over that bastard come noon.”

It has been 12 years since I rode out of that small, Canadian border town. Back then, I didn’t want to be defined by it. I didn’t want people to think I could or could not be capable of something because of my roots, but it’s those roots — wearing my grandfather’s hunting coat, driving his old truck — that have given me the steady foundation to withstand any storm.

And yet, as time moves along, I find myself clinging onto the idea of it, of that place and time long ago, with my grip tighter as the seasons and days on the calendar change. For when you’re out here, in the everyday chaos of the world, your interactions and reactions are a direct result of where your starting line was. It’s when, and only when, push comes to shove, where you not only see what you’re made of, but also what made you.



Hot picks

  • 1 Lazy Hiker Brewing (Franklin) will host an Oktoberfest with Barry Bryson & Emporium Band at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10.
  • 2 The Water’n Hole Bar & Grill (Waynesville) will have The Dirty Soul Revival (hard rock/blues) at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2.
  • 3 The Shining Rock Riverfest will be held from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Camp Hope in Canton.
  • 4 Balsam Mountain Inn will have Wood Newton, Phillip Lammonds and Henry Hipkens as part of their Songwriters in the Round series at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3.
  • 5 The sixth annual Taste of Sylva culinary tour will run from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, in downtown restaurants and in the pavilion at McGuire Gardens on West Main Street.
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