This must be the place: I’ve been running so long on the same old ground, gonna rattle these chains till the morning light
Sitting down at the old wooden kitchen table in the kitchen of my parents’ farmhouse in rural Upstate New York, all is quiet save for the sounds of the burping coffee pot on the counter and a few birds in the trees outside the nearby screen door.
The sky is cloudy and the air cool as it swirls around the 1840 brick structure, which sits on seven acres just outside the small city of Plattsburgh. Dozens of perennial flowers and berries grow on the property through the spring and summer, with a small pond out back, right next to my father’s firewood pile, a stone’s throw from the big barn with the tin roof (somewhat rusted).
Each time I grab a cup of coffee from the burping pot on the counter and sit down at the old wooden kitchen table to write yet another weekly column for this publication, I often wonder what the next column emerging from this humble abode will be about. What will the topic and deeply-held emotions be, and ultimately radiate with some sort of conclusion, at least by the second cup of coffee?
In previous sessions at this table, there have been words and sentiments about births, weddings and funerals, the usual reasons one might find themselves trekking some 1,100 miles from Waynesville back up to the starting line of my adolescence in the North Country. That, and holidays gatherings, too: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, perhaps even the Fourth of July as seen and felt in recent years.
This time around, in June 2022, it seems that I’m on another “what does it all mean?” kind of kick. Well, let’s be honest, that question itself has always lingered somewhere in the back of my mind, usually rotating back up to the front of my attention like your clothes coming around the vast electric storage system they have at the dry cleaners. Remember those?
As stated in the last couple of columns in this here newspaper, I started this trip up north on a dark, morbid note, finding myself in the presence of a dear friend in the last hours of her life, as she was eventually taken off life support after a tragic car accident. At least I got to tell her goodbye just as I passing through Virginia en route to the Northern Tier.
And although I’ve been around a lot of sadness and death in my own existence, and even if I’ve made amends with the idea of mortality many years ago, I still feel shook from that recent experience. It’s like some force in this universe tossed a very heavy rock into the still waters of my mind, the consequences of that action rippling out endlessly into the depths of my thoughts and actions.
It’s not so much that I’ve been feeling like a ghost wandering and floating around my hometown these last two weeks, lost in some sort of existential thought, all while making small talk with folks I graduated with from high school some 20 years earlier during a parade in my hometown. It’s more so just being keenly aware and intrinsically sensitive to those people, places and things that are either surrounding me, interacting with me, or simply passing me by.
But, then there are sunsets and the eventual entering of night in places like the Hayford Road (pictured). A lonely, desolate dirt road less than a mile from my childhood home in Rouses Point, New York, I find myself putting the blinker on and heading down it whenever my travels bring me to the Canadian Border.
It’s a mostly forgotten road. The only real “traffic” are farm trucks going from cornfield to cornfield or the sporadic car full of teenagers looking for a safe, quiet place to smoke a joint. At one point several years back, a man who was a friend of my family drove down Hayford, parked, and shot himself. Nobody really brings that up in small town banter anymore, but we all know what happened and, perhaps, why he went through with it.
Aside from the finality of that last sentence, the sunsets on the Hayford Road are quite charming and hauntingly beautiful. You pull onto the road just as the pavement transitions to dirt and rocks. You drive slow, as if to soak in every second of a fleeting day disappearing behind the horizon to the west.
There’s usually a song by The Tragically Hip purposely echoing from the stereo, the windows rolled down to the soundtrack of the North Country. You slow the truck down to a crawl and take inventory of the moment at hand. The trees, dirt and air of your hometown on the border, where everything else familiar to you, and built by you, is below you, at least geographically speaking.
It’s now nighttime. Exit the southern end of the Hayford Road and merge back onto Route 9B. Back to Interstate 87 South and back to the 1840 brick structure, which sits on seven acres just outside the small city of Plattsburgh. It’ll be morning before you know it.
But, your fingertips have already figured out what they’ll be wildly typing away about soon enough, not long after the coffee pot is filled with Folgers and water from the sink. Grab that same mug from the cabinet above the stove, fill the cup with the steaming black liquid and sit back down at the old kitchen table in the farmhouse, the sounds of a few birds just outside the nearby screen door.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.