To be honest, most of my thoughts on the word ‘community,’ prior to moving to the Adirondacks, related to a sense of obligation. Community service. The word didn’t hold much significance in my day-to-day mindset.
Growing up in the relatively large Richmond suburbs…we knew our neighbors. Some were cool. Some sucked. Occasionally you’d see someone you know at Ukrops.
College. My sense of community was my immediate, and often changing, group of friends. Neighbors? If it was junior year, they were friends who, like us, were usually down for a party. If it was grad school, it was surly locals in the house next door who got perturbed when we left our garbage can out for collection more than one day a week. (I’m sorry I spend 18 hours a day keeping busy BUILDING A HYBRID CAR, what’d you do, FILE DOCUMENTS AT A DESK!? Ahem.) And there was always a bit of an ‘us vs. them’ mentality towards professors, even if you loved going to their particular class.
Chicago…forget about it. It was impossible for me to feel any sort of connection to 6 million other numerical bar codes walking around, existing in the sprawling metropolis for an almost infinite number of different reasons. People were more concerned about beating you to the next stoplight than anything else (…guilty). There was a reasonable enough bond with some of my more favorite coworkers and a handful of friends I met along the way…and as far as my neighbors during the time I lived in the Chicago suburbs…well…yeah.
In the three months I have lived in The Adirondacks… The North Country… The Ausable Valley… whatever you want to call it… I have made more meaningful connections than in three years in the Second City. I’m still learning why, but my current hypothesis is as follows. People want to be here, and it’s hard to live here year-round. This is a place of spectacular beauty, worth maintaining the protections it has enjoyed for decades and decades. People come here because they want to be in the mountains. They don’t come here because of a promotion to senior VP of marketing.
But it is hard to live here. You have to earn it, and people respect that fact. Population density is low, people are spread out. The Adirondack Park Agency prohibits sub-dividing less than 6 acres on any parcel of land. (TAKE THAT Chicago suburban cookie-cutter nightmarish over-crowded hellhole! Ahem.) Beyond that, much of the land around here is public and will never be privately held or developed anyway. So people reach out to and rely on eachother. People give to the community without asking anything in return. They know somewhere down the road it will probably get paid back at the right time. But they don’t care, because they all see this as a community worth investing in … trusting in it.
Perhaps what above all tickles me most about the people here is their connection to the land. People here don’t avoid and complain about nature as if it were an inconvenience. They flow with it. Their lives operate at nature’s cadence without imposing a will on it. They take care of the land that takes care of them. And they deal with a very brutal winter with a smile by asking you when you’re going to get out on the trails and take advantage of the fresh snow. People strive to get to the point where they can heat just with wood… be that a wood stove or a rocket mass heater.
It dawned on me that, for now, I have everything I could ever want here. What was drawing me away from the Adirondacks and towards Asheville was the initial lack of connections I made to people. The lack of an ability to walk down to a bar, restaurant or coffee shop and hang out. (Tends to happen when you live on 23 acres on the edge of town with no cell or internet.) With the move to an apartment in the heart of Keene Valley, the making of what will for sure be lifetime connections, and the ‘bring it on, Old Man Winter!!’ spirit that’s been brewing ever since WinterFuck 2014…I’m saying to Asheville “Thanks, but no thanks.” Here I have the distilled essence of the life I want without traffic, concrete jungles, shitty roads, pollution, noise…any of the extraneous tat that comes with living in a relatively built-up area.
There’s not currently a coffee shop here to go hang out in and drink the best coffee possible…but I intend to address that in due time.