Sunday, February 17, 2013

That's Country - Delaware, Greene, Columbia Counties

My guy tells me that he knew a NYC executive who was convinced that cows roamed the streets of Albany, New York.  He had no idea that it is a small city. If you've never seen New York beyond the five boroughs and their suburbs, you probably have similar visions.

You'd be wrong, but there are areas of New York that are truly country and proud of it. I will confine myself to talk about the areas I know...Columbia, Greene and Delaware Counties.

Delaware is cousin to Otsego County - rolling farms, small towns and some truly interesting people, like Cheryl Lins, founder of Delaware Phoenix distillery in Walton.  She makes small batch absinthe, bourbon, rye and corn whiskey and delivers it herself to a select group of retail outlets.

Route 28 runs through Ulster County into Delaware, and that's where you'll find Andes - a funky little Victorian town with a lot of surprising shops. There's an amazing vintage clothes store, a tea shop so hip it's hard to believe it's not in Brooklyn - but there's also a traditional small town ice cream parlor.  Winters hit hard in Andes because of its elevation in the Catskills - but it will take your breath away.

Greene County is also mountain country and lies between Ulster and Albany Counties. It is home to Hunter and Windham ski slopes and the little city of Catskill - an architecturally lovely town that seems poised on the brink of something, but it hasn't happened yet.

Greene County is also where you'll find Tannersville and my favorite bed and breakfast - Nehapwa.

It's an amazing old Catskills summer "cottage" (picture cottage in the Hamptons' sense of the word) with drop dead views of the mountains and something so welcoming that you will not able to stop at just one visit.  The good news is that the owners, both experienced in the hospitality business, are opening Nehapwa Kitchen, a new farm-to-table casual dining restaurant in the village of Tannersville this spring.  Lucky, lucky you.

Cross the river from Kingston and you're in Dutchess County - no mountains, upscale towns like Red Hook, Rhinebeck and Hyde Park. But head north and you're in Columbia County...another of my all time favorite places.

First you'll find Hudson, which is a remarkably rocking small city. First an antiques hub a few years ago, it's been reborn as a hip shopping and music destination, though one street in any direction might take you back to a view of what the city was like in its less successful days.  Head further north and go to Chatham - a wonderful old railroad town in the middle of horse farms and private country estates.

I lived in Chatham when I was a young mom. It's much fancier now than it was then, but it's still a terrific place. A great bookstore, a great health food store, an original shoe store that has shod school kids every year for generations and a fine old movie house. Kinderhook used to be fancier (we lived there, too), but it has become a real estate mall instead of a village - even the post office is now a real estate office.  Chatham's where you go to have breakfast, a great burrito or an excellent dinner. And just a mile out of town, the streetlights end and the night sky is littered with stars.

I'm back in Woodstock because I met a guy, and because I missed the mountains and the essential sweet silliness of the place.

But I swear to you - not a single one of these towns has cows roaming the streets. To see cows, go visit our two farm animal sanctuaries - Catskill Animal Sanctuary and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Otsego County - NY's Rolling Farmland

Look at the map - it's fair to say that Otsego County is truly the heart of New York. Less than two hours from Albany, more like three or four from metro NY, it is another world - a place where you can escape today's stress and step back in time, if you're so inclined. Yet there are many folks who move there to have it all - green, rolling hills and quiet towns with an Internet connection that hooks you into the global marketplace.

I spent every summer of my young life in Otsego County. My parents had over a hundred acres in Cherry Valley, land that they bought for some ridiculously small price and sold for an equally ridiculous small price forty years later. My kids spent their summers there, too, and they've got memories of those times that none of us would trade for anything.

You know Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Fair enough. But there's so much more.

We went to Cooperstown one year to see the fireworks over Otsego Lake.

That picture doesn't lie: it is just that unspoiled and beautiful.

Another year we stayed in our own front field and caught fireflies for the four of July.

We sat in the darkness and marveled, then let them go.
They groaned when we took them to the Farmer's Museum, then laughed as they tried to roll hoops across the green lawn and watched, wide-eyed, as a docent printed out a newsletter on an antique press.

Richfield Springs, Cooperstown, Oneonta - these are the "big" towns. But big is a relative term and they still have a small town charm that I love.

I don't want to say too much about Cherry Valley because the truth is I don't want it to change. I love that it is so sleepy that my kids could walk down the center of the main street safely. I love the limestone buildings on the main street.  I love the farms and the quaint old houses, the little villages nearby and the vistas that go on forever.

Winter comes early and stays late in Otsego County, but summer is a thing of rare beauty.

The area has its challenges - that sleepiness I love means there aren't many jobs. It's been an agricultural area for generations and farmers are hurting. There have been wild disputes over proposals for wind farms, for hydraulic fracturing, for gas pipelines.

The future for New York's farm counties is uncertain - particularly the ones that sit atop massive shale that holds deep natural gas deposits.

I love that land - I want the people there to have good jobs and a secure life. I want them to have that while preserving what makes their land so incredibly rare. It's a modern conundrum - but there are memories to be preserved and memories to be made. I hope the land is always there, soft and green, for future generations.