The power and eloquence of our everyday speech

Varick Chittenden

Varick Chittenden

I’m open to the bounty of the woods. I still get excited when I find a hollow log or a dead lilac root deep in the ground and imagine what it might be. To me, it’s a gift of nature. I always say the find makes the fashion. I may not know how or when I’ll use it, but I like to store it, keep it in sight and, someday, make it into something functional for somebody. Even if it’s just for amusement, that’s useful, too.

— Barry Gregson, Schroon Lake,
Adirondack rustic furniture builder [Read more…]

Fraser family of Harrisville a folk music powerhouse

Varick Chittenden

Varick Chittenden

It was the winter of 2005 when I first met the Frasers. To write a story with a St. Patrick’s Day theme, John Golden, at the time a Watertown Daily Times columnist, had been invited to the Fraser home in Harrisville for a rehearsal for the upcoming St. Patrick’s dinner at the St. Francis Solanus Catholic Church.

For nearly 10 years, the Frasers provided the entertainment, their gift to their home parish. John knew of our interest at Traditional Arts in Upstate New York in all kinds of traditional activities in our region. Shortly after his visit, he called to urge me to see and hear the Fraser family as soon as I could. On the night of the dinner, my old friend and music enthusiast Paul Fischer and I trekked to Harrisville to do exactly that.

“Wow!” I said to Paul, as we left the church basement after a good meal and lots of good music. “These folks are the real McCoy. Aren’t they great?” [Read more…]

Celebrating a hometown hero (with four legs)

Varick Chittenden

It was 10 years ago this summer when the world heard about Funny Cide, the previously unknown and undistinguished three-year-old colt who rushed from behind to win the Kentucky Derby in May 2003. Two weeks later, he pulled out all the stops and won the Preakness Stakes. Then he was 2/3 of the way to the pinnacle of racing, the Triple Crown. This was world-class stuff in “the sport of kings,” something I knew little about.

I usually don’t pay much attention to horse racing, especially the thoroughbreds at the flat tracks. It’s a bias I have from my boyhood, when my favorite uncle, Lyndon Miller of Hopkinton, raised, trained and drove harness horses at local county fairs for a hobby. These trotters and pacers and their drivers—not jockeys—would ride two-wheeled “bikes,” or sulkies, behind them for Sunday entertainment. Harness races were small town sport; the thoroughbreds were for millionaires and swells.

Uncle Lyndon was great with animals; dairy farming was his living, but horses were his passion. He would keep one or two in his “stable” at a time, mostly has-beens or also-rans to the truly serious competitors, but that didn’t occur to me at the time. I was fascinated with Billy Song and Kay Ensign and how Uncle Lyndon cared for them. [Read more…]

Mac and cheese, please, and a side of personality

Varick Chittenden

For those who travel on their stomachs, food is an important part of discovering a place and what goes on there. What’s popular and special may depend on what grows well there — like beef in the Midwest or seafood on the Maine coast — or who has settled there — like Cajuns in the bayous of Louisiana or Mexicans in the Southwest. The north country isn’t known as a food destination, but there are plenty of places for good food. If fine dining is your preference, there are numerous restaurants with professional chefs and great style. If your taste runs to fast food, the franchisers have surely found us, with their carbon copy menus, cookie cutter buildings and efficient service that appeal to many. [Read more…]

Sir David: ‘Please pass the chicken and biscuits’

Varick Chittenden

Word of the death of former Congressman David O’Brien Martin this past November was received back here in the north country with both sadness and praise. As both a loyal son of the region and a dedicated military man, at his passing he was particularly celebrated for his successes in Washington as the driving force behind creating Fort Drum as we know it today. [Read more…]

How do Thanksgiving traditions come to be?

Varick Chittenden

As Stephen Colbert says, “Thanksgiving is a magical time of year when families across the country join together to raise America’s obesity statistics. Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car.”

[Read more…]

The new obit: How your life will be remembered

Varick Chittenden

“He loved golf, spearmint-leaf candy, jazz, blues, laughter, the company of good friends, a good story and a well-mixed stinger. He was a kind, patient, loving man who dedicated his life to his family and helping others.” — Michael, 69, Sackets Harbor.

[Read more…]

‘New immigrants’ with black buggies fitting in

Varick Chittenden

For most of us who live in the north country today, having people from other countries and cultures move nearby hasn’t been a very common experience. They may speak another language among themselves, go to a different church, eat different food, celebrate different holidays or have different values. Getting used to each other is a challenge. For a century or more, most new arrivals adjusted to local ways pretty quickly, quietly kept their own ways, or left.

[Read more…]

How a special rock became a landmark

Varick Chittenden

“North country on the Rocks!”

That sounds like a tabloid headline for some kind of disaster set to befall us. Or maybe it’s a fancy new cocktail, created by a local bartender with a sense of humor. Not this time. This time it’s really about rocks — outcroppings, road cuts, boulders — that are a significant part of the local landscape north of Albany.

[Read more…]