A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘Running to lose the blues, to the innocence in here’

The Chessie Nature Trail in Buena Vista, Virginia. Garret K. Woodward photo The Chessie Nature Trail in Buena Vista, Virginia. Garret K. Woodward photo

Hello from the writing desk in my humble abode apartment in downtown Waynesville. It’s warm and sunny outside on this Monday afternoon amid Memorial Day Weekend. I’ve just returned from a 2,678-mile out and back trip to the North Country.  

Door-to-door, from the apartment to my parents’ farmhouse in Plattsburgh, New York, is about 1,017 miles in each direction, add in also the hundreds of miles of wandering and pondering while back to the starting line of my youth in the Champlain Valley and greater Adirondack Mountains. Onward to the final days of spring.

It was, as expected, another whirlwind trip to see my folks, my girlfriend, Sarah, again in tow for adventures along the highways and backroads of America and that of where it all began for this scruffy journalist. Not a moment after this newspaper was put to bed on a recent Tuesday, I packed up the car and hit the road.

Truck stops and gas stations heading north through Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and back again southbound just a week later. Hurry, hurry. Assignments and deadlines are always in the rearview mirror and also appearing up ahead through the windshield of people, places and things. Interview. Write. Submit. Check out of the roadside hotel by 11 a.m. and push further and farther into the northeast.

Even though it was seven days at the farmhouse, it’s never enough time. No matter who you are or where you are, it always seems like you’re just getting the wheels spinning of conversation and interaction with loved ones, this ideal rhythm of time and space with beloved faces, when you realize tomorrow is coming quick and you must pack again and head below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Now sitting at the writing desk here in Waynesville, gazing out periodically through the old dusty windows to the ancient ridges and forest of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, there are visions, too many to recount or recall, of what was seen, heard and, most importantly, felt within me on this latest trek to the North Country.

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Wake up that first morning in the farmhouse guestroom following the 18-hour drive to Plattsburgh from Haywood County, only to pull into my folks’ driveway around 2 a.m., the outside light still on in anticipation of our arrival. Wake up in that guestroom bed, the same mattress and bedframe I awoke on the day I left Clinton County some 12 years ago to start work at this publication.

Motor over to the Point Au Roche State Park just outside of Plattsburgh to disappear into the woods and dirt trails bordering the mighty Lake Champlain. Trails I’ve trotted along since I joined the cross-country team in seventh grade that many years ago. Trails I’ve continued to run down all of these faded, forgotten and tossed away wall calendars later. Trails that happily haunt my thoughts whenever I may get a little homesick on the road.

Return to the farmhouse to shower and get ready for the evening, my mother, Sarah and myself soon wandering into downtown Plattsburgh for annual margaritas at the Pepper, the local Mexican restaurant. Eat the tacos and drink the beverages with gusto. Hearty laughter and fond memories rehashed. Familiar faces also rolling in, cue the bear hugs and handshakes of this trip home. 

Breakfast at the Campus Corner diner. Decades and decades old. Greasy spoon eggs, toast sausage and homefries (with onions). Sit in the same seats I used to occupy when I was solo and in search of a career as a writer, scribbling wildly in my Moleskin notebooks about who, what, when, why and how of whatever it was I crossed paths with in the earliest days of this ongoing written word journey.

Billiards and a jukebox filled with the best of 1960s rock and country at Meron’s Lounge, all in attendance listening to my 82-year-old father spin another yarn of his trials and tribulations as a young man now covered in well-earned wrinkles and salt and pepper hair. Swing into the Fourth Ward Club for a nightcap, the sounds of the Boston Red Sox baseball games and jovial banter echoing out the open front door onto Montcalm Avenue.

A hot, humid Monday taking the ferry boat over Lake Champlain to Vermont for lunch at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. My folks and Sarah grabbing a table at the restaurant, all while I laced up my running shoes and again disappeared into the vast woods behind the lodge. Beads of glorious sweat dripping down my face as I passed by old maple trees that’ll be tapped for syrup come winter.

By Wednesday, another hot day for May. Cruise down Interstate 87 to Split Rock Falls, a popular swimming hole and lagoon near Elizabethtown. Midweek and pretty much empty of tourists. Lay out on the warm rocks. Jump into the freezing water. Memories of the first time I went there as a teenager with my father and late uncle after we had run a road race of about eight miles or so in the heat.

Thursday. The final day home for this go-round. It was decided to make our way to Saranac Lake, one of my favorite spots on this planet. Lace up the trail running shoes and disappear down the Bloomingdale Bog Trail. I headed one way, my mom and Sarah the other to enjoy the views and conversation. Silent, tranquil ponds and pine trees. A lone bird calls across the way. Smile in gratitude.

Dinner at the Left Bank, an upscale French bistro in the heart of Saranac Lake. Dive into culinary delights. Hoist the wine glasses high and in celebration of the moment at-hand. A text mid-dinner from the dear parents of a childhood friend who call Saranac Lake home. They were going on a sunset boat cruise from their dock on Kiwassa Lake. Room for three more. Jump on the opportunity. 

Hop on the pontoon boat. Sunset. A cool breeze overtakes the warmth felt earlier. Tighten your jacket and count your lucky stars for another moment to pin up on the walls of your memory. Look over at Scarface and McKenzie mountains cradling the bodies of water dotting the area. Back to Carolina tomorrow. But, for now, more logs onto the fire of one’s intent. Gratitude remains plentiful.

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

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