Photo by Doug Kerr from Upstate New York, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
There’s this little one-room cabin in Mexico, New York (just off Lake Ontario) on a plot of land circled by three trailers on a sparsely-populated street. Amanda and I needed a place to crash after our drive to upstate New York, a bed to kick off from so we could spend the next day visiting the Great Lake and its southern fingers, glean a sense of the region. We found this one. At night this far north you might as well be swimming in the void. No wi-fi, phone signal, few streetlights to speak of as we made our way into town. It’s a place content to disappear with sunlight.
The cabin itself is easy enough to find, lit up like a Bath & Bodyworks fantasia, folksy, cute and accessible. Inside there’s a little TV, a fridge, a table with Hershey’s Kisses laid out in a heart shape. The bed is avalanched in throw pillows, mostly those frilly, fuzzy ones or those pillows with the glittery scales. There’s enough you can get them out of your way without stress and still be buried alive. Two and a half feet away, the bathroom sits behind a curtain. Intimate. Perfect for couples on the go.
We put the television on as we figured out the heater and got ourselves warm. Winter was showing up with gusto up north in a way we hadn’t yet seen this year. The frigid, ocean-imitating breath of Lake Ontario made it distinctly biting. When you’ve spent your life by one coast or the other, there’s an uncanny valley to the air of the Great Lakes, a kind of off-kilter homecoming that didn’t make sense until I experienced the lake itself the following morning. For now let’s circle back to the television.
After this nice little documentary ad for the Adirondacks, the local PBS had this special on Ospreys living on a Connecticut saltmarsh. Paul Giamatti crooned with vicious satisfaction about the story of a father osprey, ‘a powerful provider for his family’, who fed and protected his children throughout a nesting season long after his mate had ditched the scene (the kids had run her ragged, she’d done her part, Paul understood.) Their journey to adulthood was arduous, but it was a testament to the power of the osprey, the dignity of that nomadic bird that the family persevered until it was once again the season to leave family life behind and take flight into the open world.
We left the tv on as we got ourselves ready for sleep. Next up was this special on stars. A bunch of scientists were horny about touching the sun, absolutely getting off at the prospect of palming that hot, hot gas. They detailed all the marvelous modern mechanisms and efforts underway in order to bring humanity closer to that most holy goal of star touching. The excitement wore off and for the rest of the hour the scientists just pontificated on the age of stars, how brief this moment of light really was in the billowing tapestry of total darkness our universe has and will experience again in its vast, unknowable future. Eventually, there’ll be no stars left to touch or even look at. This brief experiment, this fluke of light and heat will pass us by and the dark will be all that awaits us.
We woke around dawn, an elderly woman in Hawaii doing yoga for early birds. I went to walk our Border Collie Madeline and slipped on the frost that collected on the ramp up to the cabin. Under the gradient glow of the morning, the street felt like unspoiled ground curtained in sleeping trees, never mind the rusting cars in the neighbor’s lot. The muddy ground cracked beneath my step. A school bus lolled closer, picking up the three kids that lived on this stillwater byway. I took the chance to run with Madeline, to get my blood screaming and fight against the entropy of space and cold as Amanda took our bags out to the car, also slipping badly on the ice.
We left as quickly as we could, passing down quiet sloping roads of townie bars and antique shops. Wikipedia says Mexico, New York is called the “Mother of Towns” on account of it being the root of nine counties in the area, but you’d have no idea. The town seems primarily to be a Tops, a Dunkin Donuts and a horse-drawn carriage soaking in a timeless, self-assured soup. You’d hardly know there was a pandemic or anything that could ever disrupt sacred normalcy.
On our way to Oswego, we got pulled over for going ten over the speed limit. We had no idea what the limit was but we were going thirty. The officer asked us what brought us to Oswego. Were we visiting someone?
No, we said. Just wanted to see the area.
You’re just…visiting here? He asked, as if he couldn’t understand.
He got a call and let us go without a ticket. Lucky. Within twenty minutes we were at the lake. I got out while Amanda rested and took Maddy right up to the blue horizon. I couldn’t help but feel thrown off. It was an ocean, but not at all. A lake the way a lake is a puddle. It confused me but made me smile. The world is the universe but it’s also always your home.
John Chrostek is a writer and poet based in Philly. His fiction has recently been published in magazines like Maudlin House, X-R-A-Y, HAD, Blind Corner. You know, around.