Where There Is a Road

New York State

Five of Five Great Lakes

The New York State Forest we camped in could’ve been a forest anywhere except it sang differently through the night. The patterned hum of life was unfamiliar. I slept to the pattering of rain in the canopy and the unfamiliar throb of life around us. When I drifted up in the dark morning hours I felt the snatches of some memory triggered by these woods. Did they remind me of childhood in Georgia? Camping somewhere? We all woke up calmer and rested.

Then we drove through the Seneca Reservation, Buffalo and past Niagara Falls to camp on the shore of Lake Ontario. Which makes 5/5 Great Lakes. Our northern border along the Great Lakes, instead of being policed by border patrol units and having traffic stopped at checkpoints like our southern border, is lined with well maintained houses. Some stretches have McMansions lined up like perfect orthodontia teeth facing the blue horizon. I was surprised to find rural New York to be so lush, though it was as occupied by as many houses as I thought it would be. Other surprises included how much it still felt like being in Michigan topographically and architecturally. The houses spanned most of the same style periods and the cities held the rust belt decay I’m accustomed to.

In this part of our adventure we used a formal campground, Four Mile Creek State Park. This was the first time anyone has ever asked for our pet’s rabies vaccination records. New York State, I found out, usually leads the nation in the number of rabid animals reported. In comparison a veterinarian in 29 Palms, CA stated Rabies wasn’t a required vaccine there and in Northern Michigan we rarely hear of a case. Either way, it was good we packed those records as part of our necessary paperwork.

I made it to all five of the Great Lakes. To get to the beach I improvised, followed my intuition, crossed a field, followed a fox down a dark trail that led to a spot that I could reach the beach. I stood in front of Ontario. She looked and smelled the same as the others. What you don’t see in the photographs: a diaper, pieces of plastic, tinsel, and various other human debris. The more we visit these places, the more we leave behind (not that this region isn’t packed with clusters of industrial sprawl). Why do so many of us care so little?

Niagara Falls

She’s everything I thought. The pure flowing power of the Great Lakes pushing to be with the sea. For some reason as a kid I imagined they were facing in the other direction and I never corrected that notion until seeing them in person. Of course the water flows out and not in.

Niagara pounds in your chest while you stand there. That water is alive. They say she’s pretty. I say she’s wicked. Kurt had less interest in going down by the American Falls’ Cave of Winds (what cave?) and Hurricane Deck. I was not going to miss it, that’s when I sent my precious, the Nikon, away and I switched to the iPhone.

The indifference and power water.

Was I running down the path in front of the human herd? Close enough. Water. I am a water element.
To get down to the base of the falls we took an elevator that dropped 17 1/2 stories to the bottom of the gorge. From there it was a short walk to a contraption of steps and platforms that get you very personal with the blasts and sprays of fresh water hurling itself to sea. Baptism by four Mothers? Superior, Michigan, Erie and Huron.

The Observations:

  • Niagara Falls had to be “restored” to its natural state, the Niagara Appropriations Bill passed in 1885 to rescue the falls from industrialization
  • It’s less natural and more park-like.
  • The surrounding Buffalo, New York area is marred by unoccupied rust belt industry leavings
  • Rural New York feels very Midwest
  • New York State Campgrounds are accessible. At least the ones I’ve seen so far. Paved ramps down to the water
  • No single use plastic. They don’t hand you a courtesy bag for a couple items (yes, yes, 1,000x’s yes!). Paper at the grocery.
  • I expected New York to be fenced and divided and controlled like Texas and Florida. It isn’t. There’s more rural population than Michigan, but there’s still wild areas. It’s beautiful.
  • Everything for sale on roadside stands: produce, pumpkins, birdhouses, crafts, eggs, duck eggs
  • There are still mosquitoes about on the cusp of October.
  • There are still wood ticks about on the cusp of October. Very tiny ones you cannot feel

The Finger Lakes Region of New York looks like a frost giant dragged his claws across the land attempting to grab a handful of dirt and debris, leaving behind a trail of lakes and fertile hills. It takes about an hour to drive from one end of one of the lakes to the other. Where the land isn’t stuffed with hardwoods or picturesque waterfalls, people have planted vineyards and orchards.


Kurt drove us through an area of New York along the Saint Lawrence Seaway and the Canadian border settled by Amish. New York is not known for its Amish populations, but here they are with their industrious little farms and tidy little homes. (What could it be like to watch the rest of us burn the world down).

After a beautiful but rainy day slowly driving backroads Kurt picked a spot to camp in the Downerville State Forest, the only camping spot. Along the backroad there was small cemetery from the 1800’s named for the Downerville family that settled in the area. Only a few weathered and broken headstones are left, but someone is making an effort to care for the grounds.

It started as a quiet relaxing evening by the burbling stream. I was lulled off into a nap and Kurt did whatever Kurt does. I woke up in the dark to Kurt watching something on his phone. I thought to myself: that rotten egg smell of the stream is much stronger. (What I know now is that propane leaks smell like sulfur). Then the alarm started just when, coincidentally, the power to the camper cut out.
Then the handle on the door jammed and before Kurt could do anything at all he had to take that off and put it back on.

I wanted to leave.

This place wasn’t for us. Resolution: Pinched lines. Broken ground wire. And mysterious misbehaving door handle adjusted▪️


Enter Your Email For a Newsletter with Book Recommendations and More