It’s that time of year again! Every summer I pack up my family and head north to my childhood home. I blog once in a while about the idyllic, small-town upbringing I enjoyed. It’s a tiny town in the Catskill Mountains. A river runs through town, home to many trout that couldn’t be bothered to nibble the bait on my hook. It’s the same river where my father took us fishing on April Fools’ Day and canoeing whenever the weather cooperated. Though I don’t canoe or fish anymore, seeing that river always brings back great memories. Some of them find ways into my stories.
Up until a few years ago, there were many cell phone dead zones around my hometown. I’m sure my little town isn’t the only place in NY where that was the case. It may still be in some areas. With New York City so famous, it’s no wonder most people I encounter don’t know much about the rest of the state. It’s HUGE, but NYC has around the same population as the entire remainder of the state. Needless to say, there are acres and acres of seemingly nothing in the countryside. There’s quiet. The stars in the night sky are brilliant. There are lakes, rivers, mountains, and forests to explore. Then there are the small towns, some charming and some downright depressing in their poverty and decrepitude. There are miles and miles of areas that can make excellent settings for stories, even the few miles I walked while recently visiting.
The image above is a path where I often rode my bike as a kid. It used to be a railroad that ran along the Delaware River, but it was long gone by the time I was born. I occasionally found rusty railroad spikes to take home. The field to its right often flooded, and my family ice skated there in winter. This path, though sunny near the road, plunged into thick woods that shut out the sun. In that shade, my imagination would spin out of control, presenting me with unseen horrors hungry for a little boy and his bike. Of course my rational mind knew better. There was an excellent fishing hole only a short walk from the path. A large stone sported an iron ring bolted to its top, perhaps seven feet from the loamy soil of the river bank. There was something tangibly unsettling about that stone, though I already spoke of my unruly imagination. The rock and its ring prompted me to write a story about a boy who falls asleep in the stone’s shadow and wakes somewhere else.
Above is the church I attended during my youth. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still hear the old pipe organ and feel the vibrations of the church bell deep in my chest. In the summer, I would lose myself in the sunlight pouring through the stained glass windows. And it would get hot. Lazy flies buzzed around the ceiling’s lights and occasionally plummeted onto my open hymnal. I remember the sounds of their wings just before they collided with the book or my face. A honey bee colony was discovered in the walls years after the last time I attended services, and I couldn’t help picturing it in my mind. Possibly millions of bees, living, building, and speaking their dancing language in the walls, created an image that inspired my story, The Queen. It will be published this fall, so keep reading for details as November approaches.
Every time I visit, something grabs my attention during my walks or drives through the country. It’s one of my favorite places during the summer. Not so much during the winters, but I have my share of pleasant memories in the snow as well. Not everything inspires stories, but it’s only a matter of time until details of the scenery and people show up in my writing. I just can’t help it. It’s a remarkable place, even though most people don’t even know it exists.