Traveler Story: How A Trip To Upstate New York Gave Me Clarity And Peace
Photo Credit: Diovana Papen

Photo Credit: Diovana Papen

Traveler Story: How A Trip To Upstate New York Gave Me Clarity And Peace

ithaca , traveler story
Spencer Jones
Spencer Jones Sep 21, 2021

I’m a born and bred New Yorker who rarely takes time to appreciate what my state has to offer beyond the incessant rush of the city. Recently, I took a trip upstate New York to Binghamton and Ithaca, which was not only rejuvenating, it gave me clarity and direction after too much flailing.

When the pandemic hurled a curveball at our industry, we fumbled in the dark as we tried to make sense of this unprecedented challenge. The only choice we had was to roll with it, acclimate ourselves to the new normal, and hope to emerge on the other side. While doing what was in my power to appease frazzled clients and property owners day after day, I hurtled toward burnout. A getaway was needed immediately, if not sooner.

My last plane trip was to California in 2019, and with all the stories of the friendly skies becoming hostile with unruly passengers, I wasn’t keen onboarding a flight yet. So on a Wednesday evening, I left my office and boarded a bus at Port Authority.

Only two people knew exactly where I was going, and I liked it that way.

Soon enough, the skyscrapers transformed into rolling hills, dense forests, and dark, winding roads which would have been disorienting for a less seasoned driver. Fortunately, ours knew the route well.

Photo by Clay Banks

When I stepped off the bus, petrichor enveloped me in its embrace, and I could already feel the stress melting away. Binghamton was about as different from New York City as could be; smaller and frozen in the past, with none of the cutting edge architecture and hustle. It had a sleepy, but charming quality, and you could visualize the horse-drawn carriages ambling through the cobblestone streets once upon a time.

When my friend Dan picked me up from the station and drove me to my inn, I rolled the car window down all the way, treating myself to more of that fresh, earthy scent. Once we were out of the downtown area, there was nothing ahead of us but open road. A chill accompanied nightfall, a solemn reminder that summer was in its last act.

It was almost impossible to get anywhere without a car in upstate New York, and being a city brat, I wasn’t in any rush to renew my driver’s license, so I could rent one.

If I wanted to eat someplace near the inn, I had to walk down a steep hill and cut through a couple of parking lots to get to the restaurants. If I wanted to venture beyond, Dan was happy to take me, just as he’d done my two previous visits. We were opposites in many ways, but we were joined by our decency, creativity and lust for life. There was magic whenever we joined forces, and this time proved to be no different.

Upstate New York had been spared by the flooding that impacted other regions, and the blue skies gave me so much life.

The first site of my photo shoot with Dan was a Victorian house not far from Binghamton. It functioned as a bed and breakfast lovingly owned by a Black man and his husband, who were friends of Dan. We had full use of the house, gardens, and gazebo, which provided the perfect backdrop for the vampire theme of our shoot. We didn’t see much of the husband, as he was doing errands, but the Black man was one of the kindest and most lively people I’d ever met. The fact that he owned a spectacular property didn’t make him less humble, and as there weren’t many Black people in the area, let alone gay ones, we clicked instantly.

After a few hours at the Victorian house, our next stop was an old graveyard. Macabre, perhaps, but I found beauty and inspiration in such settings. The stillness and silence gave me time to ponder mortality, which had been weighing on me ever since my aunt died suddenly in July. By the time Dan and I started taking pictures, the pools of gold created by the setting sun made for the perfect ambiance. I was not only pleased with the modeling I did, but how at ease I felt. It made sense that the art I was creating benefited from my relaxed state of mind.

The cherry on top was our drive to the waterfalls of Ithaca, which was much more laid back than Binghamton. People were curious but respectful while Dan and I were shooting, and it didn’t faze them in the slightest that I was sitting on top of a giant rock with nothing on but a pair of angel wings. In fact, it was I who had reservations, throwing a towel over myself in between shooting breaks. The reservations had nothing to do with me being camera shy, and everything to do with my conflicting thoughts on my body. I’d been topless in Manhattan before since it’s legal, but totally nude in the woods? Never.

When I went to the plunge pool at the base of the falls, my reservations went the way of my discarded towel. The water felt great, and even though I’d just gotten my hair pressed a few days ago, I no longer cared about keeping it dry. How cathartic it was to swim as nature made me, in water so clear I could see the eroded pebbles and rocks at the bottom.

At some points, I was still, my back pressed to the falls as they cascaded down my shoulders. Sometimes, I laughed and splashed around with a child’s inhibition. I wanted to bask in this kind of freedom as long as possible, knowing there was nothing comparable back home.

I think the big takeaway for me following this trip to upstate New York is that nature is truly a healer, and there’s more to life than working, paying bills and dying. We’ve got to carve out room for peace, respite, and joy, and those may look different for each of us. There are improvements to be made, but I’m pleased to say that my routine is more balanced now (for example, I no longer check work emails on weekends) and I’m a better person for it.

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