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The organization Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, or TAUNY, in Canton will host a free book release party for <i>North Country Reflections</i> and <i>Adirondack Reflections</i>, on Thursday at 7 pm.
The organization Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, or TAUNY, in Canton will host a free book release party for North Country Reflections and Adirondack Reflections, on Thursday at 7 pm.

Books: Adirondack and North Country Reflections

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In a new collection of essays, writers who live in the Adirondack North Country have shared their experiences about what it's like to be part of the landscape or a local community. The two volumes, North Country Reflections and Adirondack Reflections are filled with essays about life in our region. They were edited by Neal Burdick and Maurice Kenny. NCPR station manager Ellen Rocco wrote the Foreword for both books.

Neal Burdick says our region has been written about since it was first visited by Europeans hundreds of years ago. Yet for most of the intervening centuries, few of those writers lived in this corner of America that is both demanding and rewarding. Burdick told Todd Moe that's changed in recent years.

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Neal Burdick: There’s really a community of writers in the North Country and the Adirondacks that has sprung up in the last 30 or so years: Resident writers, people who live in this region and can talk very knowledgeably, meaningfully, and evocatively about it.

We wanted to give them a chance to showcase their talents, and also to find out about each other, because it’s very tough in this region for writer’s to get to know each other and communicate with each other. You can’t just take a bus downtown and meet at a hotel coffee shop and exchange ideas. The Adirondack Center for Writing has been a big promoter of doing that, making writers aware of each other and making the public aware of the writers. But this was another way to do that so those were our motivations.

Todd Moe: And the books are divided into sections, so you’ve got sections on people, the land, and then flora and fauna, I think you called it.

NB: That structure just kind of emerged as we looked at the pieces and tried to figure out how to set up the book. We ended up with two different ones. One is on the North Country and one is on the Adirondacks. To those of us who live around here those regions really overlap so much that it’s very hard to distinguish the two, but the publisher being in South Carolina what do they know about it? So we ended up with two books mostly just to give them a focus.

If you put the two regions together, the Adirondacks and the valleys surrounding them, you really do have an area that’s larger than half a dozen of our smaller states. It’s a huge, huge area. So in some senses it does make sense to split them into two, but there’s a lot of overlap in content as well as in geography. So, many of the essays could have gone in either book and we just parceled them out so they came out about the same size, the books did, so that we managed to cover the entire region as best we could.

TM: It’s interesting you say that because when I was reading the essays I had to, every once in awhile, glance back at the cover to remember which volume I’m reading, because as you say, there is a lot of overlap.

NB: Which kind of symbolizes I guess, the fact that there is no hard boundary between the North Country and the Adirondacks as we point out at some point. The regions really do merge in a lot of ways not just geographical, but socially and economically. Certainly there are differences, but there’s an awful lot of commonality too.

TM: What I liked about them as well is, as you mentioned in terms of the writers, there are voices that I have known for years, people I’ve known, and new writers, people that I had never read before. And it was really nice to kind of get that mix of people who’ve either grown up in the area or lived here for decades, but also people that have only lived here maybe a half a dozen years.

NB: Yes, many of the writers have lived here all their lives, but many others have also come into the region and chosen to settle here, in full knowledge of the pros and cons of living in this part of the world. There are pros and cons to living anywhere, and you have to weigh those and decide where you’re going to end up. Many of the contributions and many of the essays in the books deal with that very question: Is this a place where I can make a life?

TM: Neal I was just going pull out that opening sentence from Ed [LAST NAME? Kantz] essay here, at least in the Adirondack reflections. “We came, we stayed building an Adirondack life,” Ed writes. “When killing frost descended on our tomato plants during our first Adirondack July, we knew we were in for a challenge.”

NB: That may be a theme that runs through all of these essays, sometimes a little more obviously than others, sometimes it’s very subtle, facing the challenges of living in this region, but also enjoying the benefits. You see that, again to varying degrees, in most of these essays.

TM: Great photographs too and illustrations. Those in themselves really tell stories too.

NB: They do and that was really a last minute edition. Maurice and I did not originally intend to have illustrations in the book. Partly because this was intended as a sequel to North Country Living, as I said, which did not have illustrations. But the publisher wanted to add those, so it was a very last minute thing. Maurice and I really scrambled right at the end last spring to find over 60 illustrations between the two books to put in.

Maurice, I have to say, was just tremendous because he knows so many people in the Saranac Lake area where he lives. If you’ve ever written anything or taken a picture or painted a picture, Maurice knows about it and has a way of persuading you to contribute to the book. He was huge and so was Tara Freeman, my colleague at St. Lawrence University, in editing the photos. And we really scrambled to pull those together at the last minute, but I think it was a good addition to the book, because as you suggest, they tell much the same story, but in many different ways.

TM: As you read the other essays, does anything stand out? Any common threads? You talk about the pros and cons. Do most of the writers have those same pros and same cons?

NB: In very general terms I would say yes. They all seem to have those things as part of their being and as part of their expression, which, again, is a thread that runs through the region, not just the book, but the region. It’s something we all deal with, those same kinds of things. There’s an essay about the beauty of cross country skiing on a moon lit night, but there’s also one about the hardships that people who are on welfare face living in rural regions. You know, we tried to find people who could talk about the joys, the pleasures and the beauties of this region, but also the hardships.

TM: You used the analogy of rivers. You wrote about rivers in your essays in both volumes. And how that’s a commonality too, with a lot of the writers and life in general right? 

NB: I guess a lot of the writing is place-based. Meaning, it’s very sensitive to and expressive of the physical environment. Rivers, I think, are something that people can identify with. They see them all the time, they’re always here, and they’re part of the natural environment. And I’d always think about it, and we kind of take them for granted, you know they’re always there. And so, they crop up a lot throughout these books, sometimes in very subtle ways and sometimes more obviously.

I think it’s just one of the ways that people connect with the land in the North Country and the Adirondacks. In fact I think the rivers kind of create that connection. They sort of tie people to the land because they’re not static, they’re moving. They’re going somewhere and they’ve come from somewhere. So there is some sort of, if not physical, then spiritual or unconscious connection that people feel to water and to the rivers and to the ponds and lakes into which they go.

TM: These are stories about our region. This place. Very special.

NB: Yes I think we did want to convey that. You know every place, every region you can find in the world, has something in common with every other place, but it also has something unique or some things unique. And I think you can say that about the North Country and the Adirondacks. And in this collection of essays, I think we tried to portray what it is that’s special about this region.

Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is great, everything’s wonderful, or that life is easy because it is not. And we didn’t want to try and convey the idea that it is. But we did want to point out what there is about the region that does make it, or that makes the two regions if you wish, special or distinctive. And here you are, you’re welcome to try it out, if you don’t like it… not everybody does and not everybody is able to, but this is what we are.

TM: There’s an honesty in it.

NB: Well we strove for that so I hope there is.


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