There’s No Place Like Home



For the Sunday Gazette


        And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days.

                 –James Russell Lowell


Only in June can the Capital District make a plausible claim to being a garden spot of the universe. Low humidity. Temperatures in the seventies. Fluffy white clouds that are careful not to obscure an azure sky that perfectly complements the deep-green and brown earth tones of the blessed land below. Surely there is no more beautiful planet. Let’s stay for as long as we can.

I wrote this opening in early June, just before our five-day heat wave struck. But, until global warming advances still further, that was most unusual and does not negate where I’m going with this piece. Most of us who treasure this month nonetheless value our four seasons. If we wanted twelve months like (most of) our Junes, we would move to San Diego. But that would not come without its hazards.

The best of all possible worlds accrues to those who have both the leisure and the means to live here in spring and fall but migrate north in summer and south in winter, free as the proverbial birds. But how did those of us who—except for all-too-brief vacations, perhaps—live here year round, choose this area in the first place?

The principal reasons are almost certainly that we were born near here (I was) or that we located here to do a particular job, or both. But let me describe for you how certain people, with the whole country to choose from, could make a rational decision to settle down in good old Metroland.

Suppose one decided to place highest priority on the minimization of the probability of catastrophe or even just grave misfortune or stretches of extreme weather. Oh, bad things can happen to good people anywhere, but keep in mind that we are talking probabilities here.

         <>Now, imagine with me a map of the United States, and one by one we’ll scratch off states or regions that run excessive risk to life, limb, or contented equilibrium. Florida? Ex it out. Four hurricanes in one summer. Bugs. Alligators in swimming pools. And Katherine Harris to raise your blood pressure.

California? Earthquakes, forest fires, freeways, houses that have a propensity to slide into the sea. (How can it be that a half million people a year are still moving there, placing their homes and their lives on a precipice?)

Seattle? Excessive rain pounding the roof, making everyone there sleepless. Volcanoes. Otherwise Edenic Hawaii has those too, along with a threat of earthquakes,  tsunamis, and an occasional typhoon, which is what they call hurricanes in the Pacific just to make them sound more exciting. And Alaska, though beautiful, is just too cold and desolate, and avalanches don’t happen on a sufficiently predictable schedule that you can easily outrun them.

Colorado? More forest fires. Too hard to breathe in Mile-High Stadium. The Midwest? Haven’t you seen video shots of those Ohio River floods?

Kansas? Dust storms. Tornadoes. Flakey school boards. Kansans must be the only ones who haven’t read “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” And everything isn’t up to date in Kansas City.

Texas and points to the north and west? Tornadoes. High humidity. Drought in western Texas. Danger from concealed weapons, lethal injections, and Tom DeLay. And Larry McMurty is closing “Booked Up” in Archer City, which will probably condemn the most famous Dairy Queen in America to the same fate as the neighborhood theater of  “The Last Picture Show.”

The Gulf and Atlantic coasts? More hurricanes. My beloved Cape Cod? Fine, but not in February, and geologists say that the relentless sea will move all of its fragile land mass somewhere else in a mere 50,000 years.

So we’ve come pretty much full circuit around our safe haven. To be as free as possible from the vagaries of nature, live in upstate New York. But not too far west where lake effect storms bury your city in the winter, and not too far north, where mudslides do threaten, and not too far south, where occasional Jet streams threaten to move next door and send you half the bill. (Saved by a Silver lining!)

Now, aren’t you’re glad you’re here?


Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette opinion page.