By Jack McShane
Like many flatlanders who have moved up from down state, I did so to get away from population growth and density and its consequences, particularly the parcelization, development, fragmentation and in my eyes the destruction of a land (Long Island), that once, in my youth was a land with much open space where me and my like minded-buddies could hike, hunt, fish and (oh my God!) trap. Back then furbearer pelts sold in the Manhattan fur district brought a few precious dollars for my first bank account. Picture three teenagers traversing the NYC subway system with bundles of muskrat, possum and raccoon skins slung over their backs. In those innocent days we could even hitchhike on the parkways carrying shot guns to some far off place like Patchogue or Riverhead where quail, pheasants and cottontail rabbits abounded. Yes, occasionally the cops (one of which I later became) would stop us only to ask where we were headed and to please do your hitching at the entrance where it would be safer. Rarely was there a question about the guns, maybe what brand are you using? Sadly, both that innocence and that relatively pristine land along with its natural inhabitants are now forever gone.
As we got older and the open spaces of Long Island were developed (think Levittown), and one of us reached the age of seventeen and was able to afford some old used car, we turned our attention to upstate, this being rural Westchester County. Here we could hunt big game, deer with bow and arrow. What a thrill! As the years passed, friendly farmers sold off their acres, surveyors arrived parceling off the land and the developers built what we now term McMansions. The new owners wore suits, rarely entered the woods, posted the land and warned us off when they encountered us on the road. Although in most cases totally ignorant of the flora and fauna on their newly acquired land, they were adamant that hunting be banned and they excoriated hunters. Of course, that all changed when they discovered that the deer were eating their prized and expensive exotic plantings and they or their kids wound up with Lyme disease. Then came the 180 degree turn in attitude: “Come to my place and kill them all; they are nothing but rats with hooves.” By this time we were migrating further north to avoid these maddening encounters. The Catskills and the Adirondacks beckoned with the lure of wilderness and the chance for a bear.
It was the love of the outdoors and my outdoor pursuits that got me through 22 ‘other worldly’ years on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the NYPD. A perfect day might have included: getting off work at 8am, on the beach surfing or striped bass fishing till noon, eating on the way up to Westchester for bow hunting till evening, down the West Side Highway to the station house, a few hours sleep, then at midnight back to the chaotic and ethereal world of the NYPD: drug addicts, muggers, robbers, rapists, prostitutes, stabbings, shootings, chaos of all kinds that was the world of the Upper West Side back in the 60s and 70s. Meanwhile my wife Nancy, an American Airlines flight attendant, might have been skipping over the Pacific to Fiji, New Zealand, Hawaii and back to New York, a sojourn that entailed about 5 days. When our days off occasionally coincided, dinner, which might include a bottle of wonderful Fiji beer, was accompanied by conversation that might be about surf conditions in Hawaii versus Long Beach or why I failed to get that buck I was after. It was never about air or Upper West Side turbulence.
So here we are now, in Andes, retired and residing in a beautiful house on 371 acres of forest, fields, ponds and streams. Nancy is placing the landscape on canvas and I continue to hunt deer with bow and arrow. Good friends gather for barbecued medallions of venison as classical music plays, not another house in sight and no turbulence other than a gentle breeze. It cannot get better than this. I do note that there are some Upper Westsiders discovering our wonderful Town of Andes. Welcome to our open space, pristine landscape and culturally diverse community. Please accept what has been traditional by those who were here long before you and me. If you are wandering about one day and find yourself on Bussey Hollow, stop by and you might get invited for a medallion of free-range venison and a glass of fine wine. ~