Friday, June 22, 2007


County Scenes

If I lived on the planet Mercury, I would be about 250 years old. If I lived on Mars, I would be coming up on my 32nd birthday. But I live on Earth, where I just turned 60, which seems to be a significant thing, if I let it.

And I'm letting it.

It's set me thinking off in a number of directions. One of those is, predictably, where I came from in the geographic sense: Chenango County, upstate New York.

The last time I was there was in August of the year 2000, when I went back to scatter my parents' ashes. They spent the last 15 years of their lives in Florida (and came to regret that decision more and more as time went by, because they loved upstate more than they knew when they left), and they died within weeks of each other in 1999, after 55 years of companionship. Their ashes spent the winter of '99-'00 in elegant wooden boxes here at Ft. Harrington in California, and I carried them back across the country to Chenango in the height of my home county's finest season, summer. Mother's youngest brother traveled from his home in Georgia to meet me there, and we scattered his sister's ashes, mingled with her husband's, in the Whaupaunaucau State Forest, just across the Thompson Creek Valley from their longtime home, and the place where I grew up.

I won't divulge where, exactly, the scattering occurred, because it was done without benefit of permit and I don't want them disturbed by any but natural forces. I will say, though, that it was a place where we often walked to and, when we did so, the forest hadn't grown to the point where it is now. It was within sight of our house.

I took the few days around that time to wander, solitary (since Diane didn't accompany me on this trip), through places of memory and significance. Some of those are pictured below:

Ralph and Marie Inman's House, Washington Street, Oxford, New York

The house on Washington Street in Oxford is the site of my first memory. Mom and Dad rented the upper floor from the Inmans, and I was three years old when we moved from there to our little house on King's Settlement Road outside of Norwich in 1950. My earliest memory is of my mother telling me that we were going to move. I have no idea how I felt about it, or what I thought that meant... but I remember, clear as the keyboard in front of me now, the plate of hot dog pieces and baked beans that was in front of me at that moment.

Little baseball field near Gibson School in Norwich

This was where my friends and I would play pick-up baseball games in the summertime when we were, oh, maybe nine to twelve years old, and I do believe that the screen is the same one that was there 50 years ago. Our games were spur-of-the moment things, not "organized" in any sense of the word, and we would gather by way of telephone "do you wanna play ball?" and "on the hill" and by way of bicycle, with a treasured baseball glove hanging from the right- or left-handlebar by its wrist-strap. Sometimes we'd play from when dew still wet the grass until the sun went down over West Hill. Just to the right of the bare patch around "home" is where I, barefoot, stepped on a bee in '57 or '58, and my heel still has a little, tiny white scar to remind me.

Veterans' Park, Norwich

Only a few years later (but it seemed like an age then), I was pitching on this regulation-sized diamond. I was a pretty decent high school pitcher. At every game I pitched, my Dad (who was my primary coach and instructor) sat on the railing behind the top row of the little stands (upper-left), with the tips of the fingers of his right hand between his lips, as though he were chewing on his fingernails. Looking at the picture above, I swear I can still see him there.

Grand houses on North Broad Street, Norwich

Norwich was a fairly typical upstate town, if off any beaten track since the Chenango Canal and the NYO&W railroad went out of business. A few wealthy families lived in fine houses on the main thoroughfares, Broad Street north-and-south and Main Street east-and-west. I knew a few kids from those families, but most of my friends were from...

Houses near the old railyards, Norwich

... the neighborhoods off the grid's axes, the neighborhoods of primarily Italian ("the St. Bart's Church kids") and Irish ("the St. Paul's Church kids") 2nd- or 3rd-generation families who had come to Norwich originally for work in the shoe factory, or the textile mill, or the "pill factory" (the Norwich Pharmacal Company, where my dad was an executive and my mother was a research biochemist.)

North Norwich from the East

While the County Seat of Chenango, Norwich had a population of only around 8,000 in the 1950's and '60's. The county was (and is) very rural, and its scenery is pastoral. Above is a view from a hilltop cornfield down into the Chenango River Valley and the hamlet of North Norwich.

Pastorale #1: Long view

View down the Thompson Creek valley westward to the Chenango Valley in the distance. This is the little valley in which I did most of what growing up I managed to do.

Pastorale #2: Meadow Detail

The Chenango River runs north-south through its County, eventually merging with the Susquehanna in Binghamton. It follows an old glacial track, as do most of the watersheds in its part of upstate New York, from the Finger Lakes to the western slopes of the Catskills:

Downstream View

Upstream view

The Red Mill Bridge

The Red Mill Bridge crosses the Canasawacta Creek on the west side of the "city" of Norwich. It marks a peaceful, still part of the creek, rich with flat stones on the bottom, which could be upturned in summer to find all sorts of wonderful critters hiding underneath them, or could be picked up and tossed with skill to skip across the surface in ever-shortening jumps... just as the years since I did that have jumped and skipped in ever-shortening steps across their decades.


Now, here's the rub: Two of the pictures above are impostors: they were taken in counties not named Chenango in a State not named New York. Can you identify them? If so, can you identify where they were taken?

I'll let any who want to take a shot at it do so in comments for a week (or until someone nails both of them, if that happens sooner.) Good luck!


ronnie said...

Hmmmm... tough one! I am going to go out on a limb and guess that "Pastorale #1" and "Upstream view" of the river are actually photos from your trip to Ireland. I'll wait and see just how wrong I was. :)

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

I can't contact my botanist friend who can identify the vegetation, can i? That would be cheating! 8~)

I was going to pick "Pastoral #2" and the "Downstream view." Till Ronnie mentioned it i didn't even think of Ireland, but i bet she's right on that.

Mike said...

Well, just to be different, I'll take Pastoral #2 and Upstream view," mostly because they don't have foothills in the background. Not that Ireland doesn't have foothills, but Norwich does.

So, did I just earn a point for Adam Felber, or do I get Carl Kasell's voice on my answering machine?

Sherwood Harrington said...

Mike wins!

Five people offered their candidates (including my son, Adam, who lived in Chenango county for quite some time taking care of his mother's dad, and Mrs. Fort). Everyone correctly identified at least one, but Mike was the only one who nailed them both.

One set of clues was, as Mike said, the general landscape, but there were others: which ones could be taken out without altering the narrative and the general image quality (since the impostors were taken with a better camera in 2006.)

Yes, ronnie, they're from Ireland. "Pastorale #2" was taken from a dirt road off a back road off the back road from Portumna to Gort in far southern County Galway, and "Upstream view" is the River Boyne, County Meath, taken from the suspension bridge across it from the Newgrange visitors' centre to the megalithic tombs.

Ireland qualifies as a State, by the way, because that's how the Irish refer to their nation: "the State," not "the country." That's probably a holdover from "Free State."

Thanks for playing!

Sherwood Harrington said...

... and I neglected to mention what Mike wins!

Mike's prize is this: if I die before he does, he gets my victrola!

And its earbuds.

Dann said...

What??? No car???

ronnie said...

Mike also gets a $10 discount coupon to get a victrola port installed in his car.