On the Banks of Lake Champlain, Appreciating a Certain Kind of Wealth
Heading to that murky middle place where New York fades into Vermont.
Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.
We lingered in the Adirondacks. Turned two days on the quiet banks of Horseshoe Lake into four. After weeks of filthy campsites wedged in the sticky heat of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York forests, the upstate stillness was a gift. We walked, let kiddo chase frogs across the twisted roots at her feet, plopped pebbles into the smooth water and listened to her giggle at the splashes. Watched the sky for hawks and loons and herons. We stayed as long as we were allowed, and when we’d ran out our time, we pointed ourselves east again.
I’m starting to wonder if there will be anything left of the truck by the time this year’s out. The roads up this way are a curiosity. Beautiful, glossy things, new asphalt smooth as sighing; or fractured, hellish goat paths battered by a thousand thaws. The Dodge is heavy and sprung stiff, built for lugging loads over long and manicured distances. It bounces and shakes over the heaves and troughs. It rattles and clunks, the chorus mostly familiar after 13,000 miles of roaming. Aside from minor wear, it’s shouldered the distance without complaint, but I can’t help but think of the galaxy of miracles holding the machine together after 310,000 miles. Every bump feels like flipping fate a determined middle finger.
I go easy as we work our way through the bones of old New York. Lumber trucks drag their way through the hills that rise from the upper Hudson. The river’s little more than a proud stream up this way, a quiet lifetime from the Mecca of Manhattan, but close all the same. We’re no more than four hours from the city, but it feels a wide country from here. Seems impossible that you could put a boat in at this bridge and float your way to Brooklyn or beyond, out to the wide Atlantic.
The trees and fields, the barns and homes, all change outside our windows. Tidy little farms line the road, corn or alfalfa reaching out in long rows. Fallow acres, square and shaggy with low wildflowers, sit between them. The scene is pleasant under a broad blue sky, and made more perfect by a teenage girl trotting a tall chestnut horse down the shoulder in boots and shorts, smiling as the animal sidesteps at our passing.
We’ve covered enough miles to know where we are, that we’ve wandered into the estuary that happens along state lines. That we’re in the muddled country where New York fades into Vermont. We know it long before we see the Champlain Bridge for the first time, sweeping over a narrow gap in the land, reaching above a smattering of sailboats tilted with the gentle hand of the wind.
We pull into the Crown Point Historic Area, make sandwiches, and spread a blanket beneath a maple tree. We eat lunch there in the shadow of old bulwarks, the manmade hills soft with swaying grass, the remains of two stone forts quiet in the heat of the afternoon. Lake Champlain spreads out beneath us, a sheet of its own, and the water breathes a cool breeze up to us. Kiddo laughs and toddles around, orbiting her mother and I, stopping back in for bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fistfuls of graham crackers.
It’s a rare day that doesn’t leave me wondering if we made the right decision by leaving everything we’d built in Knoxville—if selling our home and balling up our lives there didn’t set us back somehow. If my greed for the early days of my daughter’s life didn’t imperil my ability to provide for her later. But there in the sun, with her squealing and high-stepping her tiny red sandals through the grass, laughing ecstatic as the wind picks up our blanket and wraps it around her over and over again, I know this is one of them. I know that there is an ocean of Thursday afternoons ahead of the three of us, bright and dark, and we will spend so few of them together. A precious handful. I know that this year has made me wealthy with them.