Travelogue #1 - Watkins Glen, July 22 - 24, 2013

Watkins Glen, NY is Gorges. I know, I know. That was groan-worthy, but I have to write about this trip while it's still fresh in my mind. Watkins Glen marks my fifth trip to New York's sublime Finger Lakes Region (Skaneateles still remains my favorite, but only by a narrow margin).

Seneca Lake is capped by two major small towns, Geneva at its north point and Watkins Glen at the southern tip. In Watkins Glen, North and South Franklin Streets are the town's main thoroughfare and it's appropriately dotted with Mom and Pop shops intermingled with some franchise restaurant chains. The downtown area looks to be in fits of revival; there's a mix of new and old that lends an overall shabby chic quality to the surroundings: a cool movie theater, a decent variety of restaurant choices, the upscale Harbor Hotel, but there are also abandoned and outdated storefronts. Overall however, Watkins Glen exudes the charm of a small hometown. 

In the middle of downtown, you come across the town's crowning jewel, Watkins Glen State Park. I took exactly 444 photographs of this place and if you've ever experienced its singular beauty, you'll understand why I wasted so much disk space. This is a place where you witness firsthand what time and nature can accomplish. It alternately fascinates and depresses me. The fascination part is easy to explain: with some running water and the passing of countless millenia, an old creek bed is transformed into the deep wide gorge it is today. It's the earth cracked open, a scar revealing just a peek into her age and mystery. 

It helps to think of the gorge as a Grand Canyon in the making.  However, unlike the Grand Canyon, the park is more accessible and interactive. While the Canyon's sheer scope awes you into stupefaction, it accomplishes the effect with its size and distance. As such, it allows you to be no more than an observer. The Gorge at Watkins Glen invokes the same effect, but with intimacy. 

By walking along the trails, you arrive at the same dumbstruck sensation. Water drips on your shoulder from jutting shelves of rock, your feet get caked with mud. There's the dank smell of earthy moss, and your face gets misted from a violent onrush of water smashing against a wall of rock below. As you literally walk through a waterfall, the experience is really no less awesome. 

At the northern trails, the weather gets drier and sunnier.  Looking down, the gorge resembles a dense neon green rainforest. Curtains of water and rivulets all march to collect at the bottom, towards the center vein of rushing water that continues its ceaseless carving of the landscape. 

But to explain why it depresses me, well that's a little trickier. Travel means exploration, but it's also a displacement from the creature comforts of home. It invites introspection; new thoughts begin to form that the daily routine of life can invariably inhibit. No matter how well we'd like to think we distract ourselves, the truth that we're not long for this earth is always there. Our bodies are temporary vessels on loan from the earth, and traveling can sadly remind us how little time we have to enjoy nature's beauty.

Reason #112 to love "The Sopranos": in an episode when Carmela visits Paris, the altered setting allowed her to shed all the minutiae and social trappings of her New Jersey life. She was able to shift her thoughts and perspective, and plangently observed - with gut churning precision, I might add - the reason why travel can enlighten, thrill and leave us so deeply saddened at the naked reality:

"We worry so much, sometimes it feels like it's all we do, but in the end it just gets washed away. All of it just gets washed away."

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