The first thing that started churning my memories was the name Chautauqua (part of Chautauqua Lake, which is located in western New York). Plus, the hills along Interstate 86 (New York's Southern Tier Expressway) reminded me of the rolling hills where I grew up in southwestern Wisconsin, although New York's versions have greater altitude. I felt at home among these farms.
Just the name Chautauqua brings to mind gatherings that took place in tents and the atmosphere of the early 1900s. (A few years ago, Drive magazine had a Road Trips article about this part of the country, which overviewed Chautauqua assemblies.) I thought back to growing up on a farm on a gravel road. In the summertime, there would be gatherings in the woods across from the church at the crossroads down the hill from the farm.
Even as a preschooler, I would wander around our farm. I'd follow the trails through the woods, and I'd walk to the fields where my father was working. When I was a child, modern farming techniques and equipment were replacing corn shocks and community threshing.
I watched the wide drive belts powering the silo fillers and wondered at the shiny slats that carried the stalks and ears of corn to the whirling blades. I rode on seats mounted to equipment that had once been drawn by horses, now pulled by tractors. On those tractors, I stood on axle housings and hung on to fenders as I rode along through the fields as my father tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested.
I don't yearn to return to those days, but as I drove through New York, I reflected on how different that time was and how much my life has changed through the choices that my parents and I have made.
I enjoy long drives that give me the opportunity to dwell on these things.
Other Notes on Crossing New York
- Something that those of us in southern Wisconsin don't see: Bear Crossing road signs!
- For a happier life, don't live west of where you work, because that means always driving into the sun.
- A road sign observing that the road was at its highest point above sea level (2,110 feet -- mile marker 117) prompted me to put an altimeter app on my smartphone (after my trip).
- I saw an unusual number of turtles crossing the highways.
-- Ric Hawthorne