August 20, 2010

Summer Road Trip - New York: The Land of a Thousand Islands

Tin Pan Galley
Sackets Harbor Marina
On this somewhat chilly morning, in Sackets Harbor, we go to breakfast in town, a place called Tin Pan Galley. Tin Pan is in the center of downtown Sackets, with a large, shaded, garden patio and a hard-wood, almost colonial feeling interior. They serve excellent food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast, they are supposedly famous for the stuffed French toast and their creative eggs benedict dishes. I get the lemon ricotta pancakes, amazing.
War of 1812 Battlefield
After breakfast we venture down to the end of Sackets Harbor to admire the marina and the War of 1812 Battlefield. The sky is brilliant blue with lots of fluffy white clouds. It is a little humid, but comfortable, it smells like summer.
North Country New York Farmland
We drive north toward the Saint Lawrence River and the Canadian border, passing farms and fields and wildflowers everywhere. It is so beautiful out. I miss this kind of countryside. The rural areas of the West feel so different, they have an expansiveness, a dryness that is different. Here, it is more intimate, you know more because you know of less.
Wellesley Island State Park
We reach the Thousand Islands Bridge. I am in the Land of a Thousand Islands. You may hear "Thousand Island" and think of salad dressing and, rightly so, since this is where it came from, the chopped vegetables in the dressing looking like thousands of little islands in a large river. The Saint Lawrence River runs between Canada and the United States, flowing from Lake Ontario out to the Atlantic Ocean. The part of the river between Ontario and New York is called the Thousand Islands. This extremely wide river, is speckled with islands of various sizes. Some islands are tens of miles long and some are only big enough for a couple of large rocks and a tree. In the late 1800's and early 1900's many wealthy people from the Mid-Atlantic, especially, New York City, bought islands or property on the islands and built large houses, "castles" and often more humble, moderate, summer homes. So not only is the river dotted with green, tree and shrub covered islands, but it is dotted with last turn-of-the-century houses. It is a remarkable area, full of island romanticism, a youthful summer play atmosphere, and a mix of working locals and relaxed vacationers.
Our destination today is Wellesley Island State Park, which is one of the largest islands in the Saint Lawrence River and it is still part of New York. We drive past lots of campsites to the nature center parking and begin our hike.
East Coast Woods
The trail leads us into the woods and I am at first, a little confused because I thought the trail description promised us breathtaking views of the Thousand Islands area. My expectations were not aligned with reality. Then I realized, I was not going to get the Western Mountain vistas that I have grown accustomed to. This is the east coast, where expectations are different. People do not go hiking expecting their breathe to be sucked out of their chest because they are so dazzled and speechless over the endless beauty. Ah, no, it is different here. I ponder this for a while, soothing my disappointment.
The trail leads us out of the woods and back along the water. There, we do enjoy views of several islands out in the wide, wide river. It doesn't even look like a river, more like a lake since the water does not seem to be flowing. Maybe the thousand islands slow down its flow, I like this idea, your flow is slowed by a sprinkling of islands, all different, all unique in shape and size. There is one island in particular that is very small, with a house, a tree, some shrubs, a raft, some kayaks, maybe some people lounging about. Not really a yard to speak of. At a couple of places we let Merle throw sticks out into the water, which Merle, my sister's dog, is happy to swim out to and retrieve. At one spot my lens cap rolls down the rock and into the water and Merle enthusiastically retrieves it. Thanks Merle, for preventing the loss of another lens cap.
Golden Grass Pasture
Overlook of many islands
The trail leads up and out into a smooth, rock laden pasture of long, golden grass fringed by trees. There is a viewpoint of the islands spreading out amongst the riverlands. We stop for several moments to enjoy the views then continue on, descending back down into the woods.
Therese & "Susan"
It is this second time in the woods that I begin to relax. Relax because I can not help it. The hills roll gently, because they can not help it. The air is fresh with life and dirt and rock. The trees stand quietly, allowing their smaller branches and leaves to rustle in the breeze. Movement and stillness. The trees stand apart from each other, not crowded, allowing the sunlight to move through them, quilting the forest floor with light and dark. How can we know darkness without light and light without darkness? Both can exist here. Here there is space. The trees and ferns and rocks and trail and stillness and movement and light and dark all have their place here, there is space enough for all of it. Maybe this is peace. The ages that have washed over this place, and it has listened and learned, has made it wise. It does not try to amaze you or bore you, it has settled into its own, knowing and allowing itself to be known. No one sensation outshines the others, they are all equal and whole and you can remember all of them at one time and it allows you to experience it more fully. It is in the fullness that you can go deeper, you can know this place and when this understanding opens up, you can know yourself, absorbing it all and allowing yourself to be absorbed into it. You are no longer just seeing or hearing or feeling or smelling or tasting it, you are not even in it, you are it. And it is you. And all the things that might trouble you, can melt away, because when you let it all in and lay down your defenses, there is nothing else you can be, you are the amazing expansiveness that is what is. This is joy.
The pond
We exit the woods, Therese, Merle, Susan (brother-in-law) and I, and we come upon a pond, a pond on an island in a river. The pond is surrounded by the forest and the perimeter has a line of wildflowers. Merle gets himself in trouble with his Mommy because he tries to go swim in the pond water. Eventually we are led back into the woods and finally, back to the nature center parking lot and our car.
Back in the car, we drive around the park as Therese scouts out campgrounds for possible sites for future family camping trips. It looks like an excellent place for a large, extended family to gather. Camping, kayaking, boating, fishing, hiking, group meals, campfires and even that funny bag-flying-on-campfire-smoke thing that my cousins like to do.
View from Thousand Islands Bridge
We head back towards mainland New York, again over the Thousand Islands Bridge, but this time, we stop and Therese and I walk to the top of the bridge to get a look of the Saint Lawrence River and the islands found in this part of the river. The view from this bridge is not as breathtaking as the part of the bridge that goes over into Canada, but we don't want to deal with turning around at customs because we don't all have our passports. But it is still beautiful and sometimes hard to tell islands from mainland because they are so big.
At this point in the day we are famished but it is too late for lunch and too early for dinner so we decide to stop in the Thousand Islands town of Clayton, where the Thousand Islands dressing supposedly as born, to get a snack. Clayton is larger, more bustling, more excitable and less charming than Sackets Harbor, but it is still very nice. We go into the 1000 Islands Cheese Shop to buy "River Rat" Cheese, as it is called. We come away with several cheeses, aged cheddars, soft goat cheese, string cheese and the North Country New York specialty, fresh cheese curd. The fresh cheese curd we dig into immediately and it is sweet and salty and squishy and delicious. We walk next door to Lyric Bistro and get small servings of amazing gelato, my flavor is peanut butter. I walk down to the end of the street, where the downtown meets the Saint Lawrence River. There are some nice views of islands but it seems like the muggy clouds are rolling in, making the air seem a bit murky.
From Outside the Brewery
We head home a different way, through small towns and Amish farms. Then, we head to dinner at Sackets Harbor Brewery, which has a nice pub area and a dining room overlooking the marina and Lake Ontario. The sun is starting to get low in the sky, so after we order, I go out to take a few photographs. I walk along a rose vine covered wrought iron fence to the marina where people are talking and boats are coming in for the evening. Everything moves slowly and fluid, the boats gliding across the water, the ducks swimming in the lake, even the setting sun. When I return to the brewery our duck nachos have arrived and we enjoy our dinner.
When I lay on Therese's futon that night, trying to fall asleep, I feel homesick. Except not homesick for a place or a person. I miss Paul, but we talk every day and I know I will see him at the end of my trip, which is not so long from now. I know it is impossible to feel homesick when I am with a member of my immediate family, so it must not be homesickness for family. Maybe it is something else. A yearning for... something. I don't know, maybe it is for a part of myself I lost long ago and have forgotten. Maybe this trip has somehow reminded me of her and I am feeling the pain of loss for that space within myself that is missing. But it feels like homesickness. Maybe it is homesickness for a time in my life when I felt whole and the only way I have learned to cope in this world is to fragment myself, shedding and hiding parts of me. Maybe being with my sister takes me back and reminds me of that time when I knew her, that part of me, that younger me, that knew life differently, more fully. I think, of course, that this is it. She is looking for me and I would look for her, but I can't remember her name.

Sackets Harbor to Wellesley Island State Park, New York:

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