There are some phrases that, when uttered, make your eyes go misty and make look at that far away place within yourself and yearn for whatever it is that the phrase represents. I'm sure for some folks that could be something like, "the tropics." Or maybe, "out west," or "down south," or something. My dad gets misty and nostalgic when you say the words, "Austin, Texas." Rachel's dad sometimes gets misty when you say, "Sandals resort." To each their own. I have quite a few misty-eye phrases. But one of the big ones is this:
And for me, that is North Country in New York State. As Dar Williams once said, there is a part of the country with the land that gently creeks and thuds. And that describes the North Country. There is something so exciting to me about the moment when I-87 turns into the Adirondack Northway. The Northway! And the moment when you are in range for North Country Public Radio. And when all the road signs turn brown because you have crossed the Blue Line and you are in a park now! A gigantic state park twice the size of Yosemite and Yellowstone combined! You pass the Meat Store of the North and so many oversized Adirondack chairs and the Hudson River and lake after lake after lake after lake.
I got tangled up in the Adirondacks during grad school when I was telling my friend/mentor/professor Laura about how I didn't really want a summer internship and she said to me, "Hey. You should go work at the Blue Mountain Center." And because I normally do exactly what Laura tells me to do, I found myself at a working community of artists, writers, & activists in Blue Mountain Lake, New York.
I was not there as an artist nor as an activist. I was mostly there as a ditch-digger/shed-painter/office phone answerer. And it was awesome. Are YOU an artist deeply interested in social justice? Are you an activist looking for a place to write your book? Do you want to write poems about canoeing to a mountain then hiking to the top? Well why don't you apply to live and work in this North Country wonderland for a month? You won't regret it. The current staff at BMC started a podcast this year to highlight the work of some resident artists and activists. You should listen it, then you should apply. If you are into that kind of thing.
I try to go up about two or three times a year. I like the Adirondacks best in the fall when the cold starts to settle in and there is a sensation of everything shifting inward. It's amazing in the summer, too, when you can swim every day and canoe for miles and explore islands in Blue Mountain Lake. One time after a dance party I maybe got a little drunk and jumped into the lake. My friend Nicaasked what I was doing and I told her, in all seriousness, that I was swimming to the moon. And I think I actually made it there - all the way to the moon - because the Adirondacks are magic.
If there is a place in the Adirondacks outside of the Blue Mountain Center that brings me the most joy, it is the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake. You guys, this place is the shit. I have been known to say while partaking in bar activities, "I feel like I was born in this bar!" But, listen, I was maybe actually born in the Adirondack Hotel (I was actually born in Northeastern PA, but it's basically the same thing.). The Adirondack Hotel has been around since 1900, and boy, oh boy, is that unsurprising when you walk in there.
Rooms are no longer $1. They are around $100 in the summer season. I've never stayed over, I only drink there. But you meet some fantastic people at the Adirondack Hotel. One time long ago, Nicaand I met a lovely man named Dean Franck. Let me tell you what I know about Dean Franck. Dean Franck had a cowboy hat and a southern accent. He was playing the bongos for a local band during open mike night. When they finished their set he sat next to us at the bar and called the bartender over with a, "Hey, little lady." NBD. He then started talking to us. Dean Franck was headed to Alabama to do some work on his buddy's farm. Alabama being far from the Adirondacks, we asked where he was coming from. He said outside Chicago. Geographically, this did not make sense, but he was a man on the road. He went were the road called him. Chicago to Alabama by way of the Dacks? That's just life for a desperado. He asked us if we knew who Jack Kerouac was. We said we did. He said that that life he was living. On the road. He had just been in Juneau, Alaska, where he performed in the Juneau Folk Festival. He's a musician. He took off his cowboy hat, apparently settling in to the bar and the conversation, and with the cowboy hat went his southern accent. We told him we worked at a writers' retreat nearby. He mentioned that he was a writer and would drop off his manuscript. We told him he should definitely apply, but that he'd have to send his materials in like everyone else. He told us about the firewood he picked up along the side of the road - it was next to a sign that said, "pay what you can," so he left $5. He invited us to his campsite for a campfire. We said that we had to get back to the Blue Mountain Center because we had to work early the next morning. He said he wanted to give us something that really inspired him, and he went out to his car. He came back with a book and said, "I keep this under the carpet of the driver's seat with all my important papers. This book blew my mind. This woman is amazing. Have you heard of her? Here - I want you to have it." It was a biography of Janis Joplin. I still have the book, and every time I look at it I think about Dean Franck and the Adirondack Hotel and I hope that the desperado is out there on the road discovering the answers to all of life's mysteries.
This is not Dean Franck. This is Zohar (star of the Blue Mountain Center Podcast). Wherever Dean is, there is still magic at the Adirondack Hotel, as Zohar and I can tell you. I highly recommend you head to the North Country sometime and check it out.