Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Back to our New York state roots

In a surprise move even to us, Michael and I have bought a house and settled into a small upstate village of Watkins Glen at the end of Seneca Lake, near our family's lake cottage and near dozens of our relatives.

Michael and I met 21 years ago on a job interview (he was interviewing me) in Sacramento, California. It wasn't until we were almost heading down the aisle that I discovered that he, too, was an upstate NY "lake kid". He was raised first in Brooklyn, then on Lake Chatauqua, about three hours from where we now live. We had both migrated west in the late 60s, me to Flagstaff, Arizona and Michael to Northern California.

Those of you who have been following our adventures know we've spent the last decade or so living on sailboats, cruising Mexico, living in a small Mexican surf village, doing a canal trip in France ---- just generally not letting any dust settle anywhere on our lives.

It's not always been appreciated by our children. But we've had a blast.

So, what happened?

I guess we're getting ready for the 'final' retirement from the university and wondered where we were going to keep our stuff. We had always assumed it would be our lake cottage for four or five months a year, the remainder in Mexico or wherever else we would be traveling.

But the lake house is over 100 years old and I swear I can feel the breeze blowing through it, even with all the windows tightly closed. It would need a lot of work for me to be warm enough to survive even an early fall or a late spring.

So we started looking around and realized what a delightful area Schuyler County has evolved in to, a Northeastern version of Napa, California, with probably close to 50 local wineries and bistros on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail surrounding the lake. Not the small Upstate New York town we escaped from almost 40 years ago and that Richard Russo so aptly describes in his novels.

After being here for a week and initially wondering what the hell we were thinking, it's also clear to me why we've chosen to return.

The initial shock: It's still cold. Damn cold for my thin blood. Shockingly cold, despite what the natives say. But we have this lovely radiant baseboard heat that keeps our new house a nice constant shade of warm, an electric blanket on our bed, and soon, our jacuzzi.

A second surprise: I'd forgotten how many layers of clothes you have to wear on a daily basis. Long pants. Long sleeve shirt. Socks. Fleece sweater. Then a jacket. Sheesh! It feels bulky and abnormal after the majority of 21 years spent in balmy climates.

And what shouldn't be surprise: the bane of Upstate New York ---- the gray, about 200 gray days a year. We open up the curtains early in the morning and wait to see if the sun comes up. Often it doesn't. It goes from a dark shade of gray to a lighter shade of gray. Then it gets dark again.

So why on earth would we choose to move home?

Family: On our first Saturday back here, both my brothers dropped by for dinner and to see the house. My cousin Ruthie can swing by when she comes to town to do errands, as can many of my other cousins.

Friends: Yesterday morning I went to yoga at a friend's house, something that I miss every year when I leave in August. Our good friend Amanda dropped by after work one evening with her new dog (a lovely boxer) and a bottle of wine. Betsy, who is now a neighbor and is 'band leader' in my music world.

Music: I've started to practice my fiddle again, getting ready for the multitude of jams and gigs available in the area, more than I could ever fit into a schedule. And soon I'll start informal lessons with a friend who plays awesome old time fiddle and is willing to 'show me what he knows.'

Proximity: We can keep the cars parked and walk almost everywhere! The general store is 10 minutes from the house and makes two choices of homemade soup on a daily basis (and publishes the menu on FB). We have restaurants and great shopping just minutes from home. And I can walk to some of the Zumba classes offered during the week. The steep uphill trek home should only add to my workout.

Community: Tonight we're going to a meeting on a proposed gas storage facility. Tomorrow the protest group is having a separate meeting. We'll attend both. We might even go to a City Council meeting. What the heck. The SPCA is having a benefit at a friend's winery. Other friend's are playing at a nearby restaurant on Saturday night. We just don't feel isolated here at all.

So if we hate the cold weather, what else --- besides the fantastic summers! --- would make us still decide to commit to living part of the year in Upstate New York?

Oh, about two hundred years of family history in this area. It's amazing to walk through the local cemeteries and recognize dozens of the local family names, including our own, families who are still living in the area, people who still remember my mom, remember some of the mischief my brothers and I got into during our summers on the lake.

Serious roots.

If we had moved back to San Diego, moved on to South Florida, it would have been lovely. But it would have felt like starting over. And I just didn't feel like doing that anymore.

But don't be deceived. Come the first snowflakes of winter, we'll continue to hightail it out of here to follow the sun with the multitude of other snowbirds heading south. For those of you who have been perplexed our latest move, really, nothing's changed. We just finally settled down enough to have a home base.

It feels great!