By Akira Odani

I moved to Andes in the midst of a snowstorm after Christmas 2003.  I lived previously in Westchester County, before that in New York City, Cambridge, Massachusetts., and Providence, Rhode Island. I came to the United States many years earlier from Tokyo as a young student, and this little village deep in the Catskills appeared to me to be the last destination of a long journey in search of a paradise. It is a paradise!

Yet I am moving again…to Florida, of all places. “Why?” my friends ask incredulously. Here is my own analysis as well as a reflection on what Andes has meant to me.

I came to the village with little desire for socializing and fitting into the community.  In fact, I did not know the meaning of “community” until I moved here.  The big cities I experienced did not provide me with the warmth of heart and the sense of connectedness. I planned to live quietly and anonymously, as I did in White Plains. I didn’t know what I was missing.  Unexpectedly, though, I was invited to meeting houses, social events, and the homes of neighbors. I was asked to speak, to volunteer, to share my stories, and to participate broadly in the life of the village.

I felt accepted in Andes, free to be me, and encouraged to grow beyond the retirement mode I came with.  I was invited onto a hospital board, joined a writers’ circle, found a third career in a local college.  And the best of all, I found a wife to share the remaining years of my life.  In short, I flourished in Andes as I never expected.

I hiked the Balsam Lake, Slide, and Tremper, skied at Belleayre Mountain, swam in ponds and pools, grew apple trees and harvested their fruit, rode a John Deere lawn mower, sketched and photographed wild spring flowers and golden foliage, and sailed a Sunfish on the Pepacton. I enjoyed the solitude and dignity of the quiet in the mountains. I bathed in the summer sunshine, was awed by approaching thunderstorms and lightening in the western sky, and often felt sucked into the endless depth of the universe by simply looking up at the night sky. I meditated, read good books, listened to Mozart and Verdi and contemplated the meanings of life and death. The days were filled with walks in the woods, tennis and Pickleball with enthusiasts. Evenings were often filled with laughter as we played card games, Go, and Scrabble, and dinners with friends. I have had solitude and community life, time to reflect, and time to enjoy friends. Several years ago I started teaching at SUNY-Delhi using my knowledge and skills acquired through running a small business for over 30 years. In terms of my personal growth, this third career had a tremendous impact.  I rediscovered the joy of intellectual challenge and the pleasure of learning.  That discovery will stay with me for the rest of my life, even though I decided to retire from teaching due to its physical challenges.

I have also lost friends, some distant but admired, and some very close, to old age and disease. They taught me about civic life, friendship, and love. Husbands and wives in my circle of community showed me how to love and respect each other in our everyday actions. I have made so many friends here that the number easily exceeds the total I accumulated in the previous 40 years. Andes was the first community that I could claim to be a member of and where I was able to make some small but significant contributions.

Then, why leave?

Andes is a place, a village, a community of people surrounded by mountains. It’s also changing; it’s evolving constantly. And, hopefully, so will I. The spirits of my lost friends live with me. And of course, the friends who are alive also live within me regardless of where I decide to live. Visiting each other becomes harder now, but not impossible. Friends do spend time together overcoming distance.

My wife Ruth and I wanted to have milder winters in a location closer to a different kind of nature, the vast Atlantic —- where we can continue the growth we enjoyed here.  We will cultivate new friendships and deepen our understanding and love of people and life in Ponte Vedra. Now I am more equipped than ever to sharpen my skills of learning, becoming more of who I am, and building a community around us. I hope you will visit us in Florida, my friends.

Thank you, Andes!  ~