As of August 6th, Weretoad and I have been residents of Northern NY for a year. We moved up here from the Mohawk Valley last year. It's been a bit of a transition. I've been meaning to write about it.
In many ways, the North Country is similar to the Mohawk Valley. It's still NY and therefore we witness similar plants and animals. Each area enjoys productive agricultural areas and lovely rivers and/or canals. We're a couple hours away from the Utica/Rome area, so I'm not seriously removed from my family and friends.
That said there are differences. Few people see wild bears in the Mohawk Valley, but they're quite common up here, as are bobcats*. There have even been lynx and cougar sightings. This is probably because life up here is more agriculture than in the Mohawk Valley which is heavily urban and suburban except for a few happy exceptions. The bigger animals haven't been driven out yet.
The rivers in the North Country seem more appreciated. They are a central part of life here and not just something discussed in 4th grade social studies. People celebrate our rivers. Schools incorporate them into their songs. The St. Lawrence is huge to our tourist industry, and many people who reside in this area enjoy it for sport, beauty, and sustenance.
The urban and suburban centers, while spread apart, have grown on me. Alexandria Bay is kitschy but the views are beautiful and the swimming area is great on a hot day. Clayton is one of my favorite places to go. It seems to be the artistic center of Northern NY with its textile museum, antique boat museum, studios, galleries, opera house, and art classes. The view of the St. Lawrence is just as spectacular there. The dining is also wonderful and vegetarian friendly.
Potsdam, an hour away from us, is a lovely college town full of cafes, international cuisine, boutiques, and access to the Raquette River. There is art and academia, and it seems very pedestrian friendly. I wish it were closer so I could live there!
Our city is Watertown. While smaller than Utica, it seems cleaner and more alive. There are many shops, restaurants, a huge and ornate library, and a thriving farmers market that is right in the middle of everything on Wednesdays (although parking is hard to find...) and a second, smaller one closer to the community college on Saturdays.
I am finding things to keep me busy outside of work and home. There are a lot of classes that I would like to take advantage of when I have a little more money - yoga, sustainable/organic gardening, tai chi, weaving, drumming.... I've even found belly dancing classes a few towns away. The CUUPs chapter is now providing me a place to practice Paganism more regularly with others. A second New Age shop just opened up here. The Mustard Seed in Watertown is my vegetarian cafe. We have an amazing Thai restaurant, a decent Indian restaurant, and now have hibachi! We are super close to the Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Ottawa, and Montreal. The military presence originally gave Northern NY a conservative feel, and I'm sure a majority of people here are very conservative, but the area is more diverse than that. I'm feeling happier here and more at home, and that's even without me waxing poetic about how I have an amazing job with wonderful people!
There are things I miss. The proximity to my family and friends is one of them. My parents, especially my father, keep talking about moving up here. They really like it. I wish they would. I miss seeing them as much as I used to. There are things about Utica I miss as well: the amazing Stanley theater and the art museum mostly. The Stanley gets Broadway shows and MWPAI has a spectacular collection as well as their affordable film series. Weretoad and I used to take advantage of that all the time. We also miss Minar, the Indian Restaurant in Utica. The place in Watertown isn't bad - it's quite good really - but the environment at Minar was special. The staff knew us and the decor was warmer feeling. Utica also had more independent cafes. I've found some in Clayton, Canton, and Potsdam, but Watertown only seems to have Paneera and the closest thin in my hometown is a Jrek's Sub Shop.
I also miss how close everything was in the Mohawk Valley. Unless living in the extreme outskirts, it only took 15-20 minutes to get anywhere. Up here, we have to drive 30 minutes to Watertown, 30 minutes to A Bay, 40 minutes to Clayton, 40 minutes to Canton, 1 hour to Potsdam... It's annoying and stressful to someone who wants to be more environmentally friendly. But even if I were to move to Watertown so I could be closer to everything there, I would then be 30 minutes from my job. I can't win, aside from moving in between - which is what we'd like to do. But, as the author of F that S says in her latest blog entry, living in the North Country comes with a lot of driving. Her entry assuaged my inner guilt, reminding me that the little things one does to help the environment do add up. Thanks for that!
While I'm certainly not close-minded to moving elsewhere down the road, I am finding myself happy here. I have days or moments when I am annoyed by the driving, but that's really the worst part, and I want to focus on the best parts, of which there are many.
Here's to another year of exploration and growth in the North Country!
* I've not seen either yet, but my place of employment was on lockdown due to a bear once.
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