What Is The North Country?

Neal Burdick

So where’s the North Country?” It’s a question I get a lot, when I’m trying (usually with only limited success) to tell someone from somewhere else where I live. There might be more answers than there are flakes in a lake-effect snow squall, so I never know what to say. Besides, I’ve always thought a more interesting question would be, “What’s the North Country?” Here are a few responses; no doubt you have your own. 

    The North Country is contrasts. 

    We are among the leading agricultural regions in the state, a key part of New York’s national ranking as a leader in dairy, maple and apple products, but ironically we are also classified as a “food desert” because so many of us lack easy access to good nutrition. 

    We boast about our healthy environment while bemoaning our shortage of doctors. 

    We don’t much like government, but we expect it to give us jobs and fill in all those potholes immediately while not raising our taxes. 

    We have a symphony orchestra in a rural corner of the world that’s demeaned as a cultural vacuum. 

    One of the best illustrations of our epic contrasts struck me as my wife and I emerged from a concert by that aforementioned orchestra, the Orchestra of Northern New York, in Potsdam a few years ago. We had heard a wonderful program of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz, the genre of music you’d normally have to navigate a big city and pay a lot of money to hear, and when we came out we were engulfed by the distinctive redolence of manure, because across the road from the symphony hall’s (free) parking lot was an active cow pasture. I don’t know what’s across from Lincoln Center in New York City, but it’s not that. Where else can one listen to live classical music and exit to a parking lot perfumed with organic fertilizer? 

    The North Country is water. Let’s not argue about its boundaries here, because if we do we’ll never get back to our topic, so we’ll simply note that the region is surrounded by Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain and the Mohawk River. That’s one Great Lake, through which twenty percent of the world’s fresh water passes; the world’s second biggest river by volume (because that same liquid twenty percent flows through it, too); the largest freshwater lake in America aside from the Great Lakes; and the river that’s responsible for the easiest route through the Appalachians, which is one big reason why New York earned the moniker “The Empire State.” Add to that the galaxy of lakes, ponds and rivers that drain the uplands and nourish the ring of farmlands around them, and it’s plain why we are the envy of more arid places. 

    The North Country is dark skies. Thanks to light pollution, fewer and fewer are the places where one can see the Northern Lights, the Big Dipper, Venus and Mars and Jupiter. To some, car dealerships and shopping malls awash in artificial light are a sign of progress. They also announce that we are steadily separating ourselves from our roots, from the mysteries of the universe that help define us, that remind us of our place in the grand scheme. Look up into a cloudless North Country sky on a clear night, especially in winter, and you will gain a new appreciation for darkness. 

    The North Country is centrally isolated. That’s because centrality and isolation have meaning only in relation to where we are and where we want to go. We’re accused of not being near any big cities (sorry, Syracuse, but you are not big), but from vantage points in the northeastern Adirondacks one can, under the right conditions, see the skyline of Montreal. Let’s stop letting the international boundary be such a psychological barrier. I’ve been to Barrow, Alaska, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, where icebergs floated in the sea in July and the nearest full-service hospital was six hundred miles away, with no road – trust me, compared to a lot of spots on the globe, the North Country is not isolated. 

    The North Country is despair. This region has been plagued for decades by poor employment outlooks, even with oases like Massena’s plants and Watertown’s Fort Drum; as history proves (witness GM in Massena and Plattsburgh Air Force Base), these can display dramatic exits. It’s been plagued by poverty and its side-effects; when we think of rural depression we picture a hollow in Appalachia, but too many pockets in the North Country are no different. In some communities, meth labs have replaced shuttered factories as the primary manufacturing facilities. For all we spend on law enforcement, public service ads, economic development blueprints and so on, none of this seems poised to change anytime soon. 

    The North Country is wacky weather. How can we forget this one? The saying “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is not, as some people seem to think, unique to the North Country, but it certainly applies. Our temperatures can range from the minus-thirties in winter to the mid-nineties in summer, one of the more radical spans on the continent. A blizzard can rage in one spot while the sun shines five miles away. We long for summer days during cold spells, for winter (OK, fall) days during hot spells. We are rarely completely satisfied, proof that the weather never stays the same for very long. 

    There’s plenty more. We could say the North Country is friendly, strong, helpful people, but that’s a cliché – it’s what every place says about itself. Besides, not everybody’s friendly or strong or helpful. We could say it’s open spaces with wonderful panoramas of farm, field and forest, but some might argue that that means it’s under-populated. It’s a region of beauty and ugliness, of optimism and pessimism, of tragedy and hope. It is a smorgasbord of contradictions. 

Make Work Great Again

Michelle Graham

We spend a great deal of our time at work. According to a recent Gallup Poll the average American spends almost 47 hours a week at work and salaried employees even more. Is your work environment a happy place or a dreaded place? Is your work like heaven or do you find yourself in hell most days? Perhaps you cannot change where you work but you can change your attitude, your mindset and your outlook. What each one of us brings to the table every day matters, in fact it matters a great deal. The question is how do we make the most of our time at work, how can we lift staff up instead of tear them down? 

    Whether your role where you work is big or small, the employer or the employee there are a few very simple things we can all do to make our work environment amazing and wonderful. 

    It goes without saying that praise and recognition are extremely important. Everyone wants to know that they matter, they are valued, and they are appreciated. A warm friendly greeting, a simple “thank you”, “we appreciate you” all have a monumental impact. Employees who are given praise and recognition are most likely to be loyal, long-term and reliable staff. Never underestimate the value of simply being kind to your employees and, in turn, employees being kind to their employer. The circle of impact has great rewards. In short, we reap what we sow; when you give away goodness it all comes back, and the reverse is also true. The moral of the story is be kind, be compassionate and be considerate always! 

    Come to work ready to always do your best. No matter the task, bring your best efforts to the table. Be your best self, dress your best and have your best attitude. A great attitude is contagious, a smile is contagious and positive outlook is contagious. Be the person everyone wants to be around. In our work environment we all have this great ability to impact those around us. Embrace the qualities that set you apart from others in the BEST way possible. 

    Build trust among your team. Prove that you are someone that the team can count on. That means be on time, follow through on tasks, be accountable, say what you mean, mean what you say, be honest, be hardworking, go the extra mile and most important be organized and responsible! Everyone wants to be trusted, trust your insight, trust that your staff team has your back, trust that they will make good decisions. Allow your staff to grow, learn and sometimes make mistakes, Don’t Micro-Manage. 

    Thread wellness and healthy living into your workplace. Show the team that you truly care about their health and well-being. Implement work-site wellness, have mini worksite wellness challenges to improve healthy living, do health focused lunch and learns, do monthly potluck gatherings that focus on healthy choices. Make your workplace a healthy place. Have healthy snacks and healthy drinks in your vending machines. Be the motivator, the role model, the cheerleader for good health. Perhaps having a wellness team can have great rewards for not only your company’s bottom line, but the team as well. 

    Be engaged, pay attention and interact with staff. Say hello, smile, make staff feel important each day. The little things, I am convinced, mean the most in the work place. Go out of your way to do something nice, a coffee, a small snack or a special note really matters. Be “That” person that lifts others up. It is through these small acts that our working environment and attitude change. Just a little shift in mindset can change the course of someone’s entire day. 

    I am absolutely convinced that attitude is a small thing that can make a BIG difference.  

    What can you do to make your workplace more enjoyable, happier? Praise your staff make them feel important. Do your level best each day, always putting your best foot forward. Trust each other, trust the team. Build trust through good leadership and a supportive work environment. Incorporate health into the workplace, your bottom line and staff will be grateful. Engage with staff, lift them up, smile and make them feel supported. At the end of the day a happy workplace can have profound impact. This season be “That” person everyone wants to be around. Be KIND always. Happy Fall. I hope this season of change motivates you to spread joy at your workplace and beyond! 

A Wedding Suited For Alice

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Live, Laugh and Love!

Michelle Graham

Sweet summer in Northern New York is short. What can you do to make every moment count? Being a gal from Watertown I feel like I have a little insight. As we approach those beautiful long warm days there are so many things that you can do and see to have your best summer. Set your summer plan in place; you still have time to make and have experiences that can last a lifetime. Where can you visit, what fun can you have, who can you do it with?

    Let’s start with Living it up. We all get caught in the same old day to day routine. Get out of your comfort level and really truly LIVE. We are close to many amazing things. Catch a summer concert – spur of the moment – at the Amphitheater in Syracuse; the list of artists to see is awesome. Catch a sunset on the water; better yet catch a sunrise, too. Set your priorities in order spend precious moments with your children. Blow bubbles, skip stones, paint rocks, go for a bike ride, or spend time at the beach jumping waves. There are a limited number of summer days that we can spend with our sweet kids before they run off to college and then things change. Take advantage of each moment. Try something new; go out to dinner at a new place. Our summer communities offer great places to eat and play. I recently tried DiPrinzio’s Kitchen in Clayton; it is excellent. If getting in touch with nature is what you crave check out the newly renovated nature center on Wellesley Island. Your whole family will enjoy this little adventure. Also, the Adirondack’s offers many great options for hiking for the entire family. There are plenty of hikes that the entire family can hike and conquer; Mount Joe and Cascade are easier hikes that a young family can enjoy near Lake Placid. Don’t be afraid to take that drive; your options for adventure within a two-three hour drive are endless.

    Laugh your way through summer. Find ways to surround yourself with people who make you feel good and understand you the best. Sometimes it is fun to sit back and laugh at life. Many of the things we do each day can be serious. Find time this summer to relax and enjoy all that summer has to offer. We celebrate many things in summer like graduations, weddings and reunions. You don’t have to be the best or look the best; find ways to have the best time at events this year and make memories with your friends and family that count and leave an indelible place on your heart. Catch a boat ride; the feeling of being on the water is amazing. The wind and water in your face can bring an instant smile. If you really want to laugh try YOGA on a stand-up paddle board in Sackets Harbor. This is a sure way to bring some out-of-the-box fun to your day.  Go to the drive-in and catch a funny movie. Find fun things to do and see and savor the sweetness. Don’t be in a hurry to rush from place to place; slow down, laugh and smile your way through summer.

    Love your surroundings this summer. I often hear people complaining about our area. I think that summers in Northern New York are pretty fabulous. Be grateful, practice gratitude this summer in all things. What living here requires is some initiative. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way and think outside the box. Get a map and see where this may lead you. Take a trip along the water and check out all the beauty. How lucky are we that we live so close to the Saint Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Canada? The beauty that surrounds us is truly remarkable. What top 10 things can you do this summer to make it count? What adventures can you take? Where can summer 2018 lead you?

    To Live, Laugh and Love your way through summer 2018 is easy. It may require a little planning, a little out-of-the-box thinking and the ability to let go and simply find ways to have some fun. Enjoy this sweet summer and all that Northern New York has to offer. Carve your path and set your journey in motion. Don’t be a spectator this summer; be present and live – really live – your best summer life.

 

A Wedding in Redwood to Defy Tradition

PHOTO PROVIDED BY NICOLE CALDWELL
Better Farm’s art barn, located in Redwood, NY, is captured during a starry summer evening.

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Gardening Benefits Plentiful Despite Challenges

With the coming of summer, lots of North Country folks’ minds turn to gardening. Well, actually, many of those minds turned to gardening as early as January, when the seed catalogs started arriving in the mail and the planning began, on sheets of paper spread across kitchen tables on cold, dark evenings. Hard-core gardeners, it’s said, even began dreaming the moment they finished putting last year’s garden to bed for the winter, pulled the last carrot or dug the last potato through frost-crusted earth and wondered why this crop or that hadn’t come in. “We’ll try again next year….”

    For most of us, gardening may be about the independence of raising our own trustworthy food, the satisfaction of coaxing something edible from the Earth, the pleasure of getting our hands dirty, our latent desire to do something good for a beleaguered planet, or our determination to make the most of the north country’s all-too-short summers: “The growing season is only a few weeks long, and I am GOING to enjoy it, even if it exhausts me!” But for everybody, what’s even more important is that gardening is a super source of family stories.

    For us, these revolve around the expansion and contraction of our gardens as we’ve passed through life’s stages. Growing up in the north country, I got it into my head that everybody had a big garden. A great-aunt, for example, maintained a massive layout, full of flowers and vegetables and plum trees, on hundreds of square feet of river bottom, which she tended religiously into her 90s. A proper lady, she wore pants only when gardening; upon completing her weeding, clipping, hoeing and harvesting for the day, she would repair immediately to her room and emerge in a dress. I naturally assumed that when I grew up I would become a gardener too.

    That proved easier said than done, because for the first few years after college I lived in urban environments, surrounded by asphalt, and then in a boarding school where I taught. We did manage a small (I mean about six-foot by six-foot) plot there, but the grounds superintendent wasn’t thrilled that we wanted to dig up a tiny square of his campus.

    When we moved to the Canton area and bought an old farmhouse with an acre of land, though, it was time for the gardens to take off. We had some fine ones for a few years, and even succeeded in being nearly self-sufficient in veggies one winter. One year we cajoled corn stalks up to a few inches greater than my almost-six-foot height, and we even harvested a couple of palatable (if you define the term liberally) cantaloupes, which our neighbors said couldn’t be raised in the north country – too short a season. Those neighbors were from Birdsfoot Farm, one of the few communal organic operations that survived the idealism of the Back to the Earth fad of the 1970s (and continues to thrive to this day), so we were pretty smug about that. Or maybe just lucky.

    We survived late frosts; one we christened the Great Anniversary Freeze, because it fell on our wedding anniversary, June 29, and devastated not only our garden but also dozens throughout the region. We also endured a cow invasion: one spring day we looked out the window and spotted a dozen Holsteins trampling around in what after a rainy spell was abnormally spongy soil. They’d escaped from another neighbor’s farm, and were having a delightful time trashing our newly-planted spread. A quick call brought the farmer running, issuing heartfelt apologies even before he was within hearing range, and the cows were soon rounded up and headed home, though not before leaving deep holes all over our poor garden; I had not appreciated until then how much a dairy cow weighs, and thus how far into saturated soil it can sink its legs. They also left some fertilizer, though, for which we thanked the chagrined farmer.

    Which reminds me of the prolific rhubarb we cut each spring. We couldn’t imagine how it could get so big and delicious with no work on our part. Then a previous owner of the place told us it had until not many years earlier been a working farm, and the rhubarb had sprouted happily in the former manure pile. Ah, the wonders of nature.

    But the main thing we survived was zucchini. Why we kept planting so darn much of it I could never imagine, except that we knew it would grow no matter what, so there was that smug satisfaction thing again. The problem was that we always went away on vacation in August, and it never had the courtesy to stop growing while we were gone. We’d come home to zucchinis the size of Goodyear blimps. The vines would lose all sense of propriety, insinuating themselves among the bean stalks, climbing the pepper plants for a better view, hauling themselves up the tomato cages and cutting off the tomatoes’ sunlight with fronds as big as truck tires. We prayed for a hard frost.

    Eventually, we moved into town, and the gardens got smaller and smaller as our backs got older and we realized we could patronize the Farmers Market, featuring growers who actually knew what they were doing, for a little cash and a lot less sweat, mosquito repellent, muscle rub and dirt under our fingernails. We’re now down to a fall-bearing raspberry patch, some rhubarb transplanted from that old manure-pile stock, and sporadic asparagus – perennials that require minimal human effort.

    Meanwhile, gardening has evolved a new ethos as a beneficial aspect of the larger environment, partly in response to concerns about global climate change and natural habitat loss. Trees (carbon captors), bees (pollinators), water conservation practices and native species (as opposed to invasives) are the “in” things today.  We’re all for it; we’ll just let the younger generations do the labor while we rock on the deck until the raspberries are ready to pick, sometime in October.

 

More Than Just A Boat Show: Education for kids of all ages at the Antique Boat Museum

PHOTO PROVIDED BY ANTIQUE BOAT MUSEUM

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Island Living: Surviving winters away from shore

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
Nicole Caldwell stands in the middle of Butterfield Lake, Redwood, where she built her home on an island, at rear right.

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Make love a wonderful part of all your holiday traditions

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Drink in a bountiful fall harvest

A rainbow appears above the vineyard at Coyote Moon Winery, Clayton.

A rainbow appears above the vineyard at Coyote Moon Winery, Clayton.

Northern New York wineries share ‘labor of love’ with communities

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