I don’t leave my house every day—it’s so cold here by mid-November that sometimes it’s tempting simply to stay by the fire, work, and do some cooking for my family—but when I do go out, these days I see a fluttering flock of political banners. Trump/Pence, Clinton/Kaine, in lockstep, neither one trumping (so to speak) the other.
We live in a divided country, as was driven home to us last week, and my region exemplifies this divide. And living here informs and inspires my fiction. Or maybe I moved here because this tension both intrigues and alarms me.
Old and new, local and expat, old-timer and interloper—there are many terms that speak to the same concept. Some people have always lived in these parts, while others are recent arrivals (including my family). This makes for a lot of tension, even beyond the political, but it also makes for a region alive with diversity, rife with opportunity, and bristling with interest. The interface between two fronts is where dramatic things happen, like an earthquake or a tornado.
What brings people here? Outdoor recreation is one: there are mountains for climbing, hiking, and skiing; creeks to paddle and tube; lakes to swim in and skate on. Sparser population and fewer crowds are also appealing. There is reputed to be a slower, gentler way of life here—many of the newcomers arrive from The City (New York City, of course).
But slow and gentle don’t exactly apply when you’re running from the bear that’s ambling around in your yard. (Actually, scratch that, apparently you’re supposed to play dead. Although see what Jim Gaffigan has to say about that).
Nor do slow and gentle describe a corner of the country that’s caught in winter’s vise for five to seven months of the year. One of the reasons I love to write about this land is because there’s so much danger here naturally, even without the murders, home invasions, domestic kidnappings and other crimes that take place in my books. My characters could die getting caught unprepared in a blizzard, falling into a frozen lake, mangling themselves while chainsawing wood for winter, or simply getting lost in six million acres of untrammeled wilderness.
This makes for a lot of drama I don’t even have to imagine—I can just step outside my door.
People who live here tend to be tough, to have skills. We cut wood, stack wood, haul it inside, and fiddle with getting the longest burn in our wood stoves. We are elementally connected to survival in a way that folks in the suburbs or city don’t have to be.
Well, at least some of us are. To be truthful, it’s probably mostly the old-timers. I can’t claim to know much about building a fire—my husband does all of that. And if he should have the flu or just not feel like hauling logs in the snow, we can flick a button to turn on the heat. When winters last this long, propane gets expensive, but we manage. Not everyone in our community can.
There’s another inherent drama in these parts aside from the physical clime, and it comes from people who are so divided living in close proximity.
To be brutally honest, I envy the people who have always lived here. I wish I had that same right to call this place home. Is it really my region? Or am I a visitor like so many others? This is an area—a constellation of hamlets, to be accurate—where a family can live for two or three generations and still not be considered local. When so many people come from away, they form a group all their own. But not necessarily the right group.
There was an ultra-local referendum on our election day ballot to increase our library’s budget. It lost 634 to 613, which is to say, the vote was painfully close, just like the Presidential election. The amount in question was an extra $14.00 per year per household.
Near us, there’s a sustainable, locally-sourced diner where some longtime residents can no longer afford to eat.
There are those who ski down the mountains for fun, and those who wait tables and make beds at the ski lodge.
Those who picket against logging—and those who cut the trees down to make a living.
There’s also a great deal of love here, though, and awestruck appreciation that we get to spend our days in a place people come to vacation, leaf peep, and go home. When you make it through one of the long winters, it doesn’t matter if you spent it working from home or plowing snow, you’re going to trade a smile at the post office when the first bud of spring appears or the ice begins to rot.
And when our children race around together playing soccer in the shadow of the mountains, the cheers rise no matter what.
We may not always live in harmony up here—and fiction might well arise out of that conflict—but we all would like to, and that means something. Do you want to meet my region? Come on up. We’ll show you around. You might even decide to stay.
A slideshow of images from the Adirondacks & Catskills, taken by Jenny Milchman.
Jenny Milchman is the winner of the Mary Higgins Clark award for best first novel, the Silver Falchion award for best novel, and the USA Today bestselling author of three acclaimed psychological thrillers that take place in a brutal, beautiful land.
To learn more about Jenny Milchman’s most recent novel, click on the cover below: