All my friends were stripped from me when I was 10. Well, that's how it felt. My parents packed up and moved our family from the country in upstate New York to Los Angeles. Changing schools at that age is a hundred times worse than getting put on restriction -especially for a boy as extraordinarily shy as I was. Once in LA, however, I was able to gain some great new friends at school as my culture shock subsided. Some of my best new friends were native-Californian classmates I met during the rest of elementary school.
I'd often have the same conversation with a new "California friend" that was perplexing and a tad frustrating for me. It went something like this:
"Hey Geoff, where are you from?"
"I'm from New York."
"Wow, did you ever see anybody get mugged?" Or "Did you have to ride a subway to school?"
That question would always make me pause, tilt my head and squint as I processed what my friends were assuming. If you'd like to see that facial expression, ask someone from Washington state how often they make it over to the Lincoln Memorial. I soon realized that when a state shares a name with a city, confusion happens.
The words "New York" can bring images of busy Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, a subway, the Empire State Building or even Broadway. Each image is, no doubt, a New York icon, but my image of New York is completely different. I think of deer, apple trees, horses, fishing, snowmobiling, fresh clean air, maple syrup and learning to ride a 2-wheeler on a road that only sees 3-4 cars per day.
The place is Natural Bridge, a town 326 miles north of Manhattan and about 30 miles south of Canada. I think they should call this area "Topstate NY" rather than "upstate NY" because it's so very far north and its beauty is so unique. There are no city records of muggings and the only subway available is on boat you can ride through the natural caverns that run underneath the town (hence, the name).
I visited during the first week of October -just in time for some crisp weather and to see the fall leaves turning bright orange, red and yellow. I stayed in a home my parents built ¼ mile from the house we left when I was a child. I saw the white birch tree that marked the distance I first rode on 2 wheels --still there, but 30 rings fatter! Out in back is a lake we share with deer, Canada geese, Osprey, Great Blue Herons and some "fun-to-catch" freshwater fish. Frequently while stuck in hot, smoggy, LA traffic my thoughts take me there. As an adult I've gained an immeasurable appreciation for the area where I spent my first years.
This uppermost part of New York offers some fantastic attractions. Drive less than an hour north of Natural Bridge and you'll find the 1000 Islands and the St. Lawrence Seaway spanning two countries and cultures on both sides of the US-Canada border. This beautiful region is actually comprised of over 1,800 individual islands (Yes, 1000 Island salad dressing was invented here in a shoreline town called Clayton). Trek a hundred miles NE and you'll reach Lake Placid, host of the 1980 winter Olympics and packed with cultural, historical and artistic attractions. This area also features the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains -a hiker's Mecca with resorts galore for camping, fishing and hunting. Much more info can be found at upstate-newyork.com.
The biggest challenges in visiting this portion of the NY region from CA are travel and timing. Timing, because harsh, snowy weather can lock you in or out of this area if your travel time isn't chosen carefully. Travel, because the nearest major airport is Syracuse, which requires a layover (no direct flights to LA) with a 1.5 - 2 hour drive to these areas --in the best conditions. If you take on these challenges by visiting "Topstate NY" you'll be rewarded handsomely with some of the most spectacular scenery and the friendliest people available on earth.
No, I never saw anyone get mugged while living in New York. But one time I did catch a large-mouth bass just off a dead log that had fallen into the creek. For bait I used a worm I dug up out in the pasture.