I migrated to the Hudson Valley from Long Island in 2003, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I did.
No, really. Lucky stars. At age 18, unsure of anything besides wanting to leave Long Island and attend college “somewhere upstate,” I sat on my bed and opened a SUNY catalog with a New York State map on the last page. I closed my eyes, wiggled my finger in the air for dramatic effect, and placed it on the map. I opened my eyes.
Like I said — lucky stars.
So much of what I love in life is directly tied to where I live. Being able to hike the Catskills or walk across the Hudson River (via the Walkway) whenever I want are pleasures I refuse to take for granted. I never cease to revel, if even for a few seconds, in the beauty presented to me on all sides every time I drive to work.
I get genuine satisfaction from buying milk and eggs produced by cows and chickens in my proverbial backyard, or fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers, or beer brewed 10 miles from my house in Highland. I take comfort in the fact that so many of our region’s chefs and business owners have partnered with area farmers to offer local foods at their establishments.
The Valley is a veritable playground of history. I’m a sucker for those “I’m standing in the spot where [significant event] happened” moments. When I lived in uptown Kingston, I’d look through my window and envision the British troops burning down my neighborhood in the Revolutionary War.
As I drive down the winding country roads on my way to concerts at Bethel Woods, the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival, I imagine the traffic backed up for miles with old cars from the ’60s; I look out at the hills and picture them swarming with hundreds of thousands of hippies. I hear the ghostly voices of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin swelling over the fields.
Above all, I live to be entertained. New York City is just 90 minutes away, which is certainly convenient — but over time, I’ve found it increasingly unnecessary to leave the Valley for awe-inspiring entertainment. We have wildly popular artists passing through our theaters, museums, small venues, and independent cinemas every season. In fact, one of the top 10 concerts of my life was held at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock (the 2010 Appalachian Voices tour, with Jim James, Ben Sollee, and Daniel Martin Moore, in case you were wondering).
There’s something about this place that sparks creativity, innovation, and spirit. Our communities are bursting with offbeat galleries, eclectic small businesses, grassroots nonprofits, builders, and makers. Some of our nation’s greatest songs and stories have been penned here. And I still can’t get over the fact that I had the privilege of calling Levon Helm and Pete Seeger “local musicians” for so many years.
In the summer and fall, we burst with festivals, and the Valley comes alive in a profoundly comforting way. It’s almost as if everyone in the region fully embraces every sweet detail that is uniquely ours, and builds upon them to the point where we can’t help but celebrate them together.
I’m fortunate to have made a career telling stories in a place that has no shortage of them. I like to think of it as an exchange of goods, an old-fashioned barter. The Valley gives me no reason to ever be bored; in turn, I can tell some of the tales it has to offer, in hopes of informing or amusing others along the way.
Lucky stars may have brought me here. But the rich, fulfilling life that the Valley has given me is what has kept me here.