Appreciating the place you live
A couple of months ago, I visited my sister in New Hampshire, not far from where I once spent my summers working at camp.
As always, I was struck by the natural beauty of my home state — a beauty I took for granted growing up. Rivers, mountains, hills, lakes, forests — none of this seemed particularly special or noteworthy to me back then.
Instead, I yearned for the day when I could live in a town with a movie theater, and other cool spots, like rock clubs and art galleries and museums. On my first trip to New York City, in seventh grade, I was dazzled by the scale of the place and the constant hum of activity; we saw cathedrals and rode the subway and gawked at the sheer number of people.
It took attending college in Ohio to gain some appreciation for northern New England. Ohio was just so flat — there was one hill on campus, and everything was laid out neatly, in straight and boring grids. During the especially bleak winter months, I often found myself wondering whether a more dynamic landscape would cheer me up.
By the time I arrived at summer camp, I felt starved for good scenery. And I found that living on a lake in the woods for two months really cleared my mind. During this period, we took some excellent day trips: to Sandwich Notch, a quiet, woodsy park with a 40-foot waterfall that cascades over a granite slab and into a sandy pool below, and Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern U.S.
Every time I find myself back in this area of New Hampshire, I’m overcome with a desire to live there.
My thinking goes something like this: “I could hike a mountain every other day and swim in a pristine lake whenever I wanted. I could cross-country ski behind my home, and ride my bike on mostly car-free rural roads.” But then I begin considering what sort of job I could find in such a remote place, and the fantasy dissipates. It would be fun to live in a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere — if I didn’t have to work for a living.
Occasionally, I entertain another scenario — one that involves living in a major metropolitan area.
I indulged this fantasy last year, after taking in the Celtics-Knicks preseason game at the Times Union Center. Friends who live in major cities mocked me, derisively asking why I would bother paying actual money to see a meaningless basketball contest mostly played by scrubs. “I don’t have another option,” I explained. But these exchanges did make me wonder what it would be like to live in a place where I could watch a major league sports event.
Or do any number of things, really.
Such as attend repertory film screenings on a more regular basis, or drop into a world-class art museum whenever the mood struck me. The Capital Region has these things, of course. But it doesn’t have as much and sometimes I find myself yearning for more. A friend who lives in Washington and works in the Capitol sometimes swings by the National Gallery of Art on his way to and from the office. Which sounds like a nice perk.
In my experience, it’s easy to gripe about all the things a place lacks rather than celebrate the things it does have. One of my friends, who moved away years ago, often complained that the Capital Region was boring. I didn’t agree, and I inquired as to what he thought the area was missing. “What do you want to do that you can’t do here?” I asked.
“Go to nightclubs and dance,” he said.
It’s true: If you’re looking for a New York City-nightclub experience, well, you are not really going to find it in the Capital Region.
However, my friend’s attitude softened a bit before he departed for a less sleepy locale. “I’m going to miss hearing the birds sing outside my window in the morning,” he said, somewhat wistfully. “I’m going to miss walking along the river.”
Sometimes I can relate to my friend’s wanderlust.
At the coffee shop near my apartment, I often find myself flipping through copies of the Village Voice as I wait for my order, and I’m always blown away by the seemingly endless entertainment options. “If I lived in New York, I would never be bored,” I find myself thinking, as I scan the arts calendars and advertisements. “I would never miss out on anything. I could do anything I wanted to do.”
But isn’t this a delusion? That there’s some magical place that has everything you want or desire? Besides, in my more lucid moments, I can point to areas where major cities are clearly deficient.
For instance: mountains.
A couple of weeks ago, I got up to the Adirondacks for the first time this year — to watch my friend Kim compete in an ironman competition in Lake Placid, and to hike. I’ve been fairly stressed out of late, and spending time in the High Peaks lifted my spirits.
As I stood on a mountain summit, I remember thinking, “If I could just hike nine miles every other day, life would be great.”
I’m always struggling to balance my city self with my country self, and if I lived in the Adirondacks I’d probably spend half my time whining about the lack of arts venues. Perhaps the best thing is to live within an easy drive of the mountains. That way, I can get to them if I need to.
And sometimes I need to.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.