I’ve been thinking about the concept of a hardship post. The term has come up more than once in conversation over the last two years. Plattsburgh hardly qualifies as a hardship post but on a very small scale it embodies some of the qualifying characteristics. Isolation. Harsh climate. Scarcity of goods. When we set out for the North Country in the early summer days of 2012, friends and family saw us off with farewells bordering on ominous. It was as though we were leaving civilization behind and setting ourselves up for disaster. But downcast proclamations have a way of bolstering my confidence; projected pessimism is an excellent challenge.
Like anything else in life, there was an adjustment period. Complications with selling our house made it difficult to settle in. But I soon found things about this region I really connected with and found, well, myself. In the last couple of years I have thrived in this hardship post. It helps that I haven’t had to worry about a hostile government or parasitic infections. But the isolation and severe weather and limited stuff is all real. And all really wonderful for someone like me. (Hibernating all winter with a stack of books in front of the fireplace between walks along the frozen shoreline? Count me in!) It is as though long dislocated pieces of who I am finally fit together in this undesirable destination.
I have been intrigued by the common thread running through the people I’ve met here. Because we are nearly all transplants from varied backgrounds and, though there is some overlap, we tend to have our own unique lifestyles. One incentive of hardship posts is the depth of community. Akin to wilderness survival, people recognize the benefit of quickly forging bonds and cooperating for the greater good of the group. And I have found this to be true in this region. When you meet someone here and detect even a hint of connection, you’re texting and reciprocating dinner invites within a week. The casualness that in the past has taken years to achieve with close friends comes quite naturally here. It’s kind of like, hey, what you see is what you get for miles. And you’re like, I’ll take it!
On the flip side of the instant BFF phenomenon is the fact that I like isolation. Distance and limitations are ideal for me. It is not simply that I like loneliness. I find I appreciate a thing more when I have the opportunity for longing. I need contemplation and reflection in my life. I participated in my first book club this summer (a dork’s dream come true). And the once a month meetup with the other participants was more satisfying than a lot of other social interactions I’ve had. Each month we read the same pages, worked over questions in our minds and prepared to come together to share ideas. Like reading, the loneliness of the North Country affords me time to be alone with my thoughts. And what I have come to realize is this: it’s not selfish, it’s who I am.
Nothing makes me happier than walking through the woods or hiking up a mountainside in silence. Even with children, there are moments when it is just a wordless conversation between my self and the natural world. My thoughts pour out freer than they ever could with another person. And I am washed with sound and scent and the ecstasies of earth and sky. It is worth the forsaking of material luxuries and social opportunities. I will be forever grateful for these two long years. The time I have spent here has forced me to grow and to open myself to possibility. I am in love with this place: the rough, overpowering darkness of the mountains, the alluring movement of the water; how it has taught me to embrace the unknown.
Summer is quickly fading and my hardship post has come to an end, something that has been a long time coming and yet so abrupt. Moving away from the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain feels like losing a part of who I am. Someone recently said to me that this place is my spiritual home. I think that’s pretty accurate. In 30 years I have never felt I belonged until I arrived here. I think I can be at peace with leaving the North Country behind because I take it with me and I know I will return. In my thoughts and when I visit and perhaps, someday, to live here once again. It is inside of me, always, wherever I go from here.