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This must be the place: Acadian driftwood gypsy tailwind, they call my home the land of snow

Hayford Road. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Hayford Road. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

It’s been a wild and wondrous thing to be able to wander around my native North Country right now: to see old friends and family, and actually be able to sit and make time with them. 

Usually, I only find myself back home in Upstate New York when it’s 20 below zero and there are presents under the brightly-lit tree in my parents’ farmhouse. But, with the current pandemic and shutdown, I was able to (safely) head home and be with family over the last few weeks. 

This time of the year in the Champlain Valley and greater Adirondack Mountains is filled with the grandiose splendor of Mother Nature: swimming in Lake Champlain and soaking in that summer sunshine, heading into the depths of the northern woods to hike or run, surrounded by the newly blossomed vegetation. 

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of cruising around Clinton County. With many of us finding more time on our hands these days, I’ve been able to figure out a pretty steady schedule: write and work on assignments for the newspaper in the morning, find a place for a hike or run midday, only to then just simply jump into my truck and slide down old roads and by familiar places not seen or remembered in years. 

Last Saturday, it was my niece’s kindergarten graduation party at my little sister’s house in my hometown of Rouses Point. Located on the border of Quebec, Canada, and Alburgh, Vermont, it’s a tiny lakeside community, a downtown of once prosperous businesses now abandoned and forgotten by the sands of time.

Leaving my parents’ farmhouse in Plattsburgh for the party, it’s up the Haynes Road past the Beekmantown Central School, by the gymnasium where I ran up and down the basketball court in middle/high school, that signature three-point of mine still in my arsenal whenever I shoot hoops at the Waynesville Rec Center. From the Haynes Road to the Spellman Road along the backside of the school, by the outdoor track around the football field where I ran to victory with my teammates. It’s also where I cheered on my high school sweetheart as she once again made her way to the state championships. 

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Spellman Road to Interstate 87 North. Vast tree lines and stone walls, wide open cornfields that will be as “high as an elephant’s eye” by Labor Day: ready for harvest and to provide for the countless family farms that have struggled and fought to survive each year since their hardscrabble ancestors first put down roots in this landscape those many generations ago. 

Exit 41 off-ramp to the town of Chazy. The welcome sign for the community makes note of numerous state soccer titles. The years noted on the sign represent a slew of old friends who I remember cheering on from the sidelines, the old stone school nearby that many of us waltzed into for spring formals or drama club stage productions. 

Take a left at the intersection and merge onto Route 9. Past that brick farmhouse that was the site of the most infamous house party of my senior year of high school. Though I forget the kid’s name, his parents were away for the weekend while we drank foaming beers and ran amuck throughout the 19th century abode filled with antique furniture and irreplaceable heirlooms. 

Route 9 to the intersection with Route 9B. The house that sits at that exact juncture is still owned by the parents of my ex-girlfriend from 11th grade. And it was in the living room of that home on Sept. 11, 2001, where I stood with her, holding her hand as we both watched the towers fall on the TV and wondering if this was truly the end of the world. 

Route 9B into Rouses Point, the welcome sign right when you hit the Lake Champlain shoreline that is the eastern border of the town. At that sign, you have Smith Street to the left and Stony Point Road to the right. 

At the top of Smith sits my childhood home, which my parents sold when I graduated from college in 2007. Halfway down Stony Point resides two camps that were formerly owned by my family, endless summers spent on the deck and dock, blood relatives not encountered in years who I once saw every single day.

Lake Street to Pearl Street and my little sister’s house. A late lunch with my immediate family as we celebrate our favorite 6-year-old and her recent accomplishments. Within the whirlwind of noise and conversation, I step outside and sip my cold adult beverage on the sidewalk. 

Across the street is the former home of my old high school cross-country teammate and fellow music freak. Gaze up to the third-floor attic window where we’d blast classic rock after-school, discovering the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Grateful Dead. 

Goodbye to my niece and the rest of my family. Onward back to the farmhouse in Plattsburgh. But, not before a routine drive-by past the childhood home. Back down Lake Street to Smith Street. 

Mosey along Smith, by the homes of all my youthful cronies: Ryan, Sean, Bobbi, Bryce, etc. I glance at the buildings, the front yards and driveways, wondering how my old friends who no longer live there are holding up these days. Are they happy? 

The end of Smith, last house on the left. The sturdy 1820 limestone structure that I called “home” for the first 22 years of my existence. The big maple tree I used play on is long gone, so is part of the old barn where our horse was kept and spent many years running around the fields behind the house (as did I).

With the old limestone structure in the rearview mirror, turn down the Hayford Road, pavement transitioning to dirt. I used to run this road for cross-country and track training, only to circle back for a sunset cruise with those old cronies or my high school sweetheart. 

Looking down at the dashboard, just enough gas left to get back to the farmhouse, just enough money in the bank to find my way back to Western North Carolina in due time. But, for now, silence save for the wheels pushing down the dirt road, a slight grin of nothing and everything across my face, eyes aimed forward. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

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