There is a homing mechanism instinctive in much of nature that draws creatures back to a place. So it is with me when my internal compass points north, and the urgency to go home is nearly overwhelming. I am a product of the Finger Lakes. Though I moved to Florida in 1989 and have traveled throughout the United States and abroad, I have never found a place I love more.
I grew up in one of the villages along the Erie Canal. These communities, which seem to defy the passage of time, still continue the same age-old traditions I knew as a child. With clockwork accuracy, firemen’s carnivals, festivals and holiday parades provide an unmistakably unique flavor to each locale. As a Camp Fire Girl more years ago than I care to admit, I marched in my share of Memorial Day parades in Spencerport. We traveled en masse south on Union Street, up the steep hill past beautifully preserved Victorian homes, into Fairfield Cemetery. There, the pageantry concluded with shots fired into the air by timeworn gentlemen from the American Legion or the VFW. The stories these old guys could tell would probably hold younger generations spellbound. In those moments, I wasn’t simply a nameless little girl in a nondescript neighborhood, I was one piece of the historical puzzle that defined my corner of the world.
As an adult many years later, I discovered something interesting while visiting the Genesee Country Village and Museum. An interpreter asked my party if we knew why the villages planted along the Erie Canal were each seven miles apart. I admitted I didn’t know the reason, though I had often wondered about it. He explained that, before the canal was constructed, seven miles was the farthest distance that men could ride on horseback for supplies, and return in the same day. I was excited to learn this nugget of bygone trivia because it wasn’t about some random place, it was about my place.
It isn’t only Spencerport of which I am enamored; it is the entire Finger Lakes Region. As a teenager, I accompanied my church’s youth group on a retreat to Perkinsville, a hamlet southeast of Dansville. I remember how quiet and peaceful it was there, at least until after lights-out when, instead of climbing into sleeping bags, the boys (who bunked on the first floor) pulled out their guitars and started a rendition of “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie.” Of course the girls on the second floor joined in the chorus. We laughed and played like that for a long time, etching the memory of it indelibly in my mind. The solitude and tranquility of the grounds where we stayed was the perfect backdrop for considering the world and our significance in it.
A few years later, I wandered outside the Finger Lakes area to attend SUNY Fredonia, in the southwest corner of New York State. My college roommate was from Avoca, a tiny little hiccup of a place not far from Bath. The weekends I spent at her family’s home resulted in my love affair with the Southern Tier. Around every bend is another bend; beyond each hill is another hill, equally beautiful. It was easy to look at the peaks enfolding the valleys and imagine what it must have looked like to the Native Americans who populated the area hundreds of years ago.
All these years later, I still find myself looking for reasons to come home. I usually make it back once or twice a year, relishing every moment of my too-seldom trips. This last time, I arrived at the Rochester International Airport at night in early October. The lights sparkled below me as the plane descended, as if the city were decorated for my homecoming. The few days I spent there were packed with every autumn activity unavailable where I live – breathing cool, dry air, shopping at Wegmans (affectionately known in my family circle as the Disney World of the Northeast), picking apples, drinking cider and munching on crisp, warm fry cakes. I visited friends and neighbors from my childhood and drove along Route 104 past centenary cobblestone structures proudly standing at attention.
My October visit ended all too soon, and it was time to return to my life in Florida. It was still dark the morning I arrived at the airport, but by the time I boarded my plane, the sky was clear and bright blue, not a cloud to be found. Flying out of Rochester on a day like that was the consummate conclusion to a trip home. As we climbed into the air, the landscape morphed from buildings and trees, into fabric-like blocks of autumn colors. A magnificent patchwork quilt took shape below me. Suddenly the Finger Lakes came into view like appliqués carefully placed upon a homespun blanket. And for a touch of drama, the gorge in Letchworth State Park appeared, blocked at one end by a dam; the only evidence of its river’s meandering presence was the steam rising in a snakelike trail over its surface.
Life provides challenges, which often necessitate change. But change can leave us reeling without constants upon which to depend. We need ballast. Many find it in their belief system. Others count on specific people to provide the stability they need. And some find security in the places they live, or have lived, surrounded by their treasured memories. Coming home comforts me and quiets my soul, like curling up in an overstuffed chair, wrapped in a warm blanket. Coming home reminds me of the ordinary miracles I took for granted, those simple wonders that demonstrate the changelessness of this place.
There is a rhythm to all of life in the Finger Lakes. Geese honk overhead as they fly by in V-formation, reminding us that winter is making its advance. Crocuses emerge from snowy remnants on the ground, announcing that spring is right around the corner. Autumn surrenders to winter; winter melts into spring; spring welcomes summer; and summer gives way to autumn again. You can depend upon it. And I can depend upon my internal compass to guide me north to the place that will always be the home I love.
by Michele Moore
Michele Moore is a wife, mother of three, stepmother of three more, grandmother to an energetic three-year-old, and a teacher who also finds time to read, write, and moonlight as a freelance voiceover artist. She loved growing up in the village of Spencerport, and someday hopes to live there again, on a part-time basis.