A Sense of Place in the Valley
It’s good to know where you’ve come from and it’s also good to know where you’re headed.
Or as Wendell Berry puts it:
“If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”
Recently we took a Sunday drive around our little slice of paradise that is the small towns and hamlets on Champlain Valley’s New York side.
A drive down memory lane
We drove South through Essex and Boquet and ran loops around Lewis, Elizabethtown and Wadhams and back up through Westport on the Lake Shore Drive.
Across this stretch of roads there were several pieces of land and farms that we had looked at prior to landing on Mountain View Drive.
Some of the them had changed hands and were being utilized while others were off the market or seemed seldom visited.
After the drive down memory lane, Kimmy and I actually felt pretty lucky to have landed where we did in Willsboro.
As as a small town of 1800 or so people, I feel it has a good balance of locals, seasonal residents, tourists and newcomers like myself, small businesses and farms, and much like the rest of the Champlain Valley, seems on the rise and poised for growth.
Maybe it’s just my neighbors and the circles I’ve been introduced to but I feel there is a strong sense of community here that I’m glad to be a part of.
Having made the Adirondacks our permanent home in 2013, our first home base at that time was Saranac Lake, the place where we vacationed for many years prior.
Trying to make a living in a favored vacation place is not as easy as it might seem.
Some people vacation with rose colored glasses and I am one of the rosiest.
When the lenses of optimism are blurred by the drudgery of trying to make a buck, small town politics and the lack of arable & affordable land, it takes the shine off your memories just a bit.
In the 2 years I lived there, I was becoming increasingly restless to find land.
I initially looked in the Tri-Lakes region, but found it to be a tough market for real estate and as I spoke to farmers there, even tougher as far the growing seasons.
I know some folks say that living at higher elevations and the mountain air is good for you, but I never really felt the health benefits.
Maybe it was too cold?
Maybe my body prefers living in lower elevations, like in a valley, because that’s where I grew up.
When an ad appeared on Craigslist for farm land, I guess it was the “valley” calling.Happy Valley Tavern, Lake Carmel, NY circa 1940’s
Growing up in a Happy Valley
Although I was born in the Bronx, I grew up in a valley in Lake Carmel.
I was 7 years old when we moved North of NYC and I’ve been moving that direction ever since.
It probably wasn’t really a valley but as a small boy it felt like one.
The restaurant at the end of our road where the bus picked us up for school was aptly named “Happy Valley” making it more fitting.
I loved to tell folks back then that I grew up in a Happy Valley.
All of the good experiences and bad mistakes that count in a childhood happened in that valley.
Being a band nerd all through school. Skinning my knee every Summer.
Trying to figure out girls while sitting on the bench for most sports except soccer, which no one wanted to play.
Your typical kid of the Eighties.
Our Putnam County town was more of a lake community that evolved into suburbia as the population grew and much less rural than the Champlain Valley is today.
Agricultural didn’t play much of a role in my childhood or teenage years.
But there was a deep love of nature and being outdoors.
Farming in the Valley
As a main undercurrent of all the other things I find joy in, it was an affinity for nature that ultimately brought me to and keeps me rooted in the farming journey.
Hiking and kayaking are great outdoor activities but with farming you can get a lot of the same benefits, the exercise, the fresh air – all with tangible goodies at the end of the day, at the end of the season.
Of course as opposed to farming these can be more leisurely pursuits. Farming is so much more from an entrepreneurial (agripreneurial) point of view.
In today’s farming you can be your own ecological pioneer.
You can be a champion for the environment by planting and growing what you preach.
The results of your work can improve soil and enrich natural habitats.
It’s a way of life that can co-exist symbiotically with nature and it’s a way to support yourself financially with the fruits of your labor.
It’s not a Utopia, but I’m starting to believe it’s what we as a species are by in large perfectly adapted to participate in socially.
So now we are literally building from the ground up this business “stone on stone” in the hopes that we can bring this old farm back to life.
The journey now is getting the farm into a thriving state both ecologically and economically and we’re in it for the long haul.
And that is what we hope to do now in this new Happy Valley that we call home, the Champlain Valley.
To continue growing and learning in a happy valley – life is but a dream!
*These ramblings were written from a Long Pond cabin rental on N. Reber Rd. We spent the weekend there with family and found it to be a real hidden gem.