For me, that was the tiny Canadian border town of Rouses Point, New York. On the shores on Lake Champlain and a stone’s throw from Vermont, it was Main Street USA in a nutshell, as was greater Clinton County, which cradles the endless farmland of the Champlain Valley and northern Adirondack Mountains.
I think of it often, in the depths of my dreams, and in my daydreaming. I suppose to make sense of where you currently are, and the steps that led to the “here and now,” one must make sense of the soil by which the seed of you was planted and nurtured.
And though I took off from Clinton County when I graduated high school, it never left me. At 31, I spent the first 18 years of my life in that cow town, a place I can see atop the dashboard and through the windshield of my truck when I’m drifting down some back road in Southern Appalachia, just wondering and pondering.
Then, there are those days when everything from back there seems to just come to the forefront, even if faces and situations are thousands of miles away, or thousands of miles away from home.
Sunday afternoon. The Gibson Brothers, an acclaimed bluegrass group from just down the road in Clinton County, were to play The Grey Eagle in Asheville that evening. I conducted an interview with banjoist/singer Eric Gibson for a feature article I had in mind. Within our conversation, we touched on the notion of just how long the road to your creative dreams is from the Northern Tier, and also the ancient magic of the people and landscape we hold dearly.
And as I finished our chat, I walked away thinking about home, only to feel a vibration in my pocket. It was a text message from a childhood friend, one who grew up on my street. She informed me that a mutual friend of ours had tragically passed away the night prior. I froze. Dozens of memories of time well spent, amid and in pursuit of shenanigans, flooded my mind.
During the economic downturn of 2008, I returned to Clinton County for a period, of which I found myself in a social circle of innumerable folks my age in the college town of Plattsburgh, a wide spectrum of friendly faces, all recent college graduates, all trying to find footing in the 21st century. And within that circle was the recently deceased, a genuine soul of kindness and mischief.
Driving to The Gibson Brothers gig at The Grey Eagle, I kept thinking about those wild and foggy nights, running around downtown Plattsburgh, ricocheting around bars and house parties, every one of us trying to grasp onto any sense or chance, of well, anything that would, perhaps, love us back. We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but, we were damn glad to be within the presence of those who not only were in the same boat, but also knew us the best, and appreciated what we brought to the table of life.
When you’re 25, you find yourself in this weird “between a rock and a hard place” kind of space in your existence. To old to go back to the nonsense and chaos of college, yet too young to sit at home and clean out your DVR. So, you find solace and common ground in folks in your age/career bracket, those trying to gain traction in the game of life — a game, in essence, that can’t be won, but can be enjoyed immensely as long as you never lose the will to compete.
Since our friend left this earth, I’ve been in contact with a handful of old chums who were also part of the downtown Plattsburgh social scene. Like any college town, the scene shifts and evolves. Sure, it’s bars changing hands and new hot spots, but mostly it’s the transition of faces in the crowd, faces new to the scene, but ready to conquer it.
And with Plattsburgh, there’s always been a tight knit bond between all of those souls, even if they disappear from the scene, for a short time or forever. Some of us took off, for Pittsburgh or San Francisco, or Waynesville, but it doesn’t matter how far we go, because we can always feel that place, and those people, hovering over our shoulder, waiting for us to turn around and wave back, in solidarity, and in the mere fact that hometown ties are never severed, just frayed from time-to-time, like an old pair of sneakers you have to look down and remember to tighten up.
Sitting in the front row of The Gibson Brothers, I watched and listened to them as they sang of my native North Country, telling stories of their parent’s dairy farm mere miles from my childhood bedroom, and of that ancient magic that resides in us all from there. I thought of my family, of our late friend, and how the circle of community will never be broke as long as we never forget to remind each other of the love that is shared between us.
“Long live Clinton County,” I shouted out from the audience, to which the band tipped their hats in my direction.
1 The Downtown Waynesville Association Memorial Day weekend “Block Party” will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 28, on Main Street.
2 Mad Anthony’s Bottle Shop & Beer Garden (Waynesville) will host a Memorial Day celebration with live music all day on Saturday, May 28. Singer-songwriter Hunter Grigg will perform at 3 p.m., with A.P.E. (rock) 5 p.m., Redleg Huskey (Americana) 8 p.m. and Chris Williams (singer-songwriter) 11 p.m.
3 The “Groovin’ on the Green” concert series will kickoff the 2016 season with Lyric (funk/pop) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28, at The Village Green in Cashiers.
4 The “Trail Magic Ale #14” release party will be June 3-5 at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City.
5 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will host Fat Cheek Kat (funk/rock) at 9 p.m. Friday, May 27.