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My 100-Mile Home
Ten years ago, I set out to understand where I was from. Born in Troy, gone for 15 years, I found myself right back in the place I swore I'd never return, back in the Capital Region. I had returned home.
On the surface, with all the highways and trains, ports and government, trucking and trash, abandoned factories, scrap yards, eyesores and urban dead zones, it's an easy target. On first glance, it's, well, ugly.
And people often told me they lived here not because they were emotionally invested in its beauty, but because it was a convenient location to get to somewhere else - Manhattan, Vermont, Montreal.
So, what about this unloved mid-Hudson region? This (as some have called it) post-industrial backwater?
I went out to have a look. Driving down unnamed roads, walking overgrown paths, learning about the river, asking 'what happened here?'
My discoveries? Nothing I expected.
First, I realized I live in a world-class landscape, beside the Hudson River and between the Adirondacks and Catskills. Waterfalls, tributaries, and tides, and all the complex life they sustain.
Along the river, eagles nest and circle Troy's Green Island Bridge in January. Glass eels migrate through its tributaries. Minks lollop toward culverts. Coyotes, deer, and fishers cut paths toward its shore. On Peebles Island, shad bush blooms profusely in the spring and wild columbine clings to its shale cliffs as swallows perform an aerial ballet overhead. It is not pristine nature. But it is tough and subtle.
I also discovered an incredible human story. Right here was the dirty and dangerous non-stop powerhouse birthplace of American industrialization. And everything that show brought with it. Evidence in beautiful local architecture, a dozen bridges, locks and canals, hydropower, and decorative wrought iron. In the fields, broken stone walls and foundations, piles of brick or skeletal barges visible at low tide, train tracks to nowhere, and rusty iron rail spikes, cabling, and mill wheels.
The human and the natural, they seem to work on each other in an unusual way here. The tension creates an energy I'm drawn to. The energy of river towns - jittery, unpredictable, often beautiful, and sometimes heartbreaking. River towns are the places where our human and natural infrastructures converge. Or collide. Or compete. It's commerce and eagles. Who wins? Who loses?
Teasing out details across the seasons, photographing and writing about home, the Hudson River is so much more than a transportation super highway or a cesspool to divert chemical runoff. It's why we are all here - because of water.
I hope you enjoy what I've brought back. River towns offer something new for the inquisitive mind to discover.
Images available for sale at Clement Frame in Troy.
My book, 100-Mile Home: A Story Map of Albany, Troy, & the Hudson River, available from SUNY Press.
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