A hometown for a wandering storyteller.

Staff Writer
The Steuben Courier Advocate

When I was a kid, home was anywhere my dad's career as a U.S. Army soldier took us. We lived in some pretty cool places that, nowadays, people pay lots of money just to go visit.  But I was a child, they were only the places where my family lived, no big deal.  However, when I emerged from the cocoon of child-hood into young manhood, my spirit fell in love with the place where we lived at that time.  The forested hills and mountains, the cool, clear brooks, creeks and rivers running into lakes with beaches of pebbles and stone, the verdant valleys brimming with fruits and vegetables like a cornucopia; it all said,"welcome home".  The feeling that cemented itself into my bones was that finally, after wandering across all 50-states and some foriegn countries, the rich, fertile soil invited me to plant my roots and become one with something beautiful, solid and dependable.  For John Denver it may have been the mountains of Colorado, but for me, moving to western New York was coming home to a place I'd never been before.

Then I went to college, and once again career carried me from place to place, and even overseas.  Each time I moved, I remember thinking how I would love someday to finally settle down in a small town in the forested hills of western New York, and raise my family in the same kind of atmosphere that I had found so rewarding as a teenager.  Then one day Opportunity called on the phone and an invitation to do something meaningful was extended, and my wife and I our three youngest children moved to Bath a little more than 10-years ago.

Upstate New York is still a lovely place, and there are some lovely and loving people here.  The mountains are still forested, and clear, cold, rocky streams and lakes still beckon. The soil is rich, the air clean. The landscape is enchanting. Much is still the same.  The soft summer evenings with sunsets that seem to last forever, the cold blue hue of a winter evening as the family gathers in a warm home and sits down together for dinner; there is much to be cherished here.

But something is different.  Something has left and gone away, and something not welcome has settled into it's place.  Something other than hope and bright expectations for the future has sent away that which was dependable and solid.  Blame it on jobs going elsewhere, or blame it on the progeny of the solid stock of pioneers moving away and taking the spirit of their forebears with them. Blame it on what you will - something is different.  Call it the spirit of pessimism, if you will.  I don't mean to insult anyone, but heaven knows that entrepreneurs are fewer and farther in between.  Instead of a solid and growing pool of employment opportunities supporting a solid and dependable tax base; instead of sustaining and growing the building trades as citizens work toward building new homes for growing families and pushing the envelope of economic development; instead of attracting the creative class who are inventing the future of technology and science - we offer tax incentives to casinos, and tax the vices and addictive substances in hopes of buffering state coffers.  

There is a mourning for what was, but little sentiment for what can yet be.  We have a lot of great people, and the attractions that appealed to me as a young man are still part of the landscape.  But an eroding tax base, the growing presence of poverty, and a spirit of defeatism now occupy these valleys and hills. 

I've been stirred by a community effort underway in Rochester, a TV ad that challenges the community and its' leadership with a simple phrase: "we're better than this."

I firmly believe that Steuben County and the Southern Tier are, and can be, "better than this".  We have what I as a young professional, and then a young husband and father, was ardently looking for.  Let's open up a conversation centered on hope, dream some big dreams, and see what grows.