South of Cohocton, New York, 2012
One of the pleasures of traveling by car is the opportunity to occasionally travel at a leisurely pace. There are no panicked schedules or strip searches at airport security or worries about missing flight connections. For me, the opportunity to know where you’re headed without having to worry too much about how exactly you’re going to get there or how long it’s going to take is a great freedom. Life is the journey, after all. The experience of getting to the destination can be just as important, engaging and satisfying as the destination.
On Friday I had a chance to drive from Virginia Beach up to western New York State. It’s a drive I’ve done many times. If I had to do it frequently I’d probably put my nose to the steering wheel and concentrate on just getting there. But on this occasion I had the luxury of time.
There are many ways you can get to western New York State from Virginia Beach. The good thing (and the bad thing) is that there’s no direct highway. Whichever way you do it requires winding your way through Virginia, sometimes West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and then New York. Other than dealing with the bridges and tunnels necessary to get out of my area and then the traffic around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, most of the ride is through rural areas. You can take a western route through Pennsylvania and thread your way through one depressed mining or paper making town after another, or you can take an eastern route and skirt the western edge of Amish country as you follow the majestic Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg.
The population of Virginia Beach has exploded the last forty years. There’s very little that’s very old here and when something gets a little age on it someone invariably tears it down and builds something new on the land. It’s a little jarring, then, to travel for almost six hundred miles and see so many places haven’t changed much in the past almost fifty years I’ve been making this trip.
The good news is that the roads are much better and safer. But many of the little villages you pass through—places like Mansfield, Avoca, Leicester, Selinsgrove and Bath—have just gotten older. Some have held their own over the years. But others show noting to the passing motorist than the ravages of age, wear and tear and progress that moved away.
When most people think of New York State the images that come to mind first are invariably the skyscrapers of Manhattan, the great bridges over the Hudson and East Rivers and rust belt cities like Rochester and Buffalo. They would be surprised, however, at the green mountains and rolling hills of the Southern Tier of New York State. It’s a region of great natural beauty, at times simply pastoral and at others nothing less than breathtaking.
For much of my drive on Friday the sky was dull and overcast. There were several strong rainstorms along the upper Susquehanna. But when I crossed the peak of a range of mountains just north of Avoca, New York, the sky turned bright blue and clear. A few clouds dotted an otherwise clear blue sky. Off to the right of the highway, just south of Cohocton, lines of wind turbines sit atop ridges like giant white herons, their blades turning languidly. There are no doubt people who believe the wind turbines are ugly. But for me they are elegant kinetic sculptures.
Most of the road on this trip consists of divided highways. But there’s a stretch between Mount Morris, New York, and Batavia where it’s just two lanes. It’s not a long stretch. But because it’s farm country, there’s a good chance you’ll get stuck at some point behind a slow moving tractor or combine.
In my case, it was a tractor-trailer whose driver seemed to be determined to drive at least fifteen miles below the speed limit. I was a little irritated that the driver wouldn’t pick up the pace. But I realized later that if he’d done that I probably wouldn’t have noticed this simple Greek Revival home in East Bethany, New York.
Life is the journey. Sometimes it takes a big truck driving slowly to remind you of that.
Greek Revival in East Bethany, New York, 2012