This summer when my one of my sons brought his college sweetheart to visit his family, the place he most wanted to show her was a rock. Not just any rock. “The rock.”
The rock sticks out from the shore of a tiny island in a pond just off a dirt road miles in from the highway that takes you to the little Adirondack outpost of Raquette Lake. If you climb up the sides of the rock, on top you will find three different places to perch. The lowest spot is about eight feet above the water. The next spot is 10 feet up. If you are bold and crawl up to the third spot you will find yourself about a dozen feet above the very tranquil waters of Brown Tract Pond.
For every one of their growing-up years the kids have gone to that same place with all their cousins, and climbed up that rock, testing their nerve and their skill in a primal setting. No powerboats, no jet skis, no TVs, for many years no running water or flush toilets. The loudest sound you might hear would be the swish of a canoe blade dipping into the water or the splash of a heron landing. And then kids leaping off the rock, landing in the water, whooping in celebration, then swimming back to shore to do it all over again.
All this not three hours from Syracuse. It’s one of those wonderful things about living in this area, that we have so many natural places to visit, whether we wish to exert ourselves, as in climbing a mountain or swimming across a lake, or just take it in, as in sitting on a bench at Green Lakes or Webster’s Pond and checking out the bird life.
In a nation where our kids on average spend less time outside, we have the singular luxury of abundant and beautiful natural places to go and hide from the hurrying world, at a fraction of the cost of indoor entertainment. In a time when Lebron James is about to launch a line of $300 sneakers, we should rejoice that we live in a place where you can do lots of fun things barefoot.
There’s so much outdoors here that in a summer such as this, chock-full of sun-drenched days, you don’t know what to do first.
Have you ever settled back in a kayak on Labrador Pond as the sun started to settle in the western sky, bottle of beer in one hand, the other hand steadying the paddle straddling the gunwales of your little vessel, someone you love floating near enough to exchange a smile?
Have you ever watched a kid swing out on a rope over Otisco Lake or Jamesville Reservoir, and let go at just the right moment, his body arcing toward the water, delight squealing out of every pore? Or watched kids riding their bikes in Onondaga or Kirk parks?
This year summer has been exceptionally kind to us, offering so many opportunities for outdoor play. If you haven’t been outside enough this summer, you haven’t run out of time. We could have weeks, even months of sweet sweet days ahead, days that make us wonder why so much of our identity is tied up in our sturdy winters.
Syracuse, take pride. Few places on the continent can compete with us for the sheer beauty and variety of our summertime fun venues. Where else can you bike five miles and be out in the country, drive an hour and find yourself in a lakeside gorge, or drive two hours and a little and climb a mountain peak? Who needs a Wii or an X Box or the mall when you’ve got paradise just outside the window?
Getting outdoors is recession-proof, bipartisan and guaranteed to
lower your blood pressure. It’s one of the things that makes Central New
York a great place to grow up, to live, and to come back to. Everyone
should have a rock to come home to.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. He can be reached indoors or outdoors at email@example.com.