As I approached the date of my departure from the Warwick Valley for a new life in the South, I wanted to take time to reflect and recall my years here and to record my thoughts about the place I have spent nearly half of my life. In thinking about this for the past few months, my mind has gone from a sharp singular focus to a broad panorama, much as one would experience first by watching the business of the Village from the corner of Main and McEwen Streets on a Saturday morning in May and then by driving up to Mt. Peter to take in the prospect of the entire valley on a glorious autumn afternoon.
This is the essential delight I have come to love about Warwick, and also the paradox I found when I first chose to leave a busy city life 27 years ago for the relative isolation of a rural place in the country. While seeking a respite from civic engagement in an urban environment, I was surprised to find myself drawn closer to the heart of this small town where I discovered opportunities to become part of the community. And just as I have grown in this community, so has Warwick grown in me.
I have an old photograph I took while on a drive with a friend when were in our late teens. It is of a weathered barn with a laid stone foundation in a field of tall green grass. We had ventured north from suburban New Jersey one day on a sort of photographic safari and ended up in Orange County. The back of the photo says simply: near Warwick, NY. From that day forward, to the day twenty years later when I stepped into an old farmhouse on Warwick Turnpike, I had been looking for the ideal of what a rural town should be – I was looking for Warwick.
Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. Not in the way I know it today. Back then I was commuting to a job an hour away, struggling to pay a mortgage, and spending long hours on the weekends making repairs to a house and farmyard that had long been neglected. I rarely ventured into the Village and didn’t know anyone other than my immediate neighbors.
Over time, and almost imperceptibly, my singular focus on my home began to broaden to a wider view of my environs. I met a few more of Warwick’s residents, learned a bit about the town’s social and political strata, and started visiting its farms and orchards. I explored its trails and waterways and discovered its hidden backroads from the best vantage point – the seat of a bicycle. I was entranced and enriched.
Then, with a child who entered a new elementary school as a kindergartner, and with more time to spend at home, I began to make new connections, learn more about the needs and challenges of this town, my town, and embrace the obligation of citizenship and volunteerism that is essential in a democracy. My eyes and my heart were opened to the richness of our rural community and the unique contributions of my fellow citizens.
As I think of my place in this community, I am reminded of the history and cultures that its inhabitants have brought to this valley for more than 10,000 years and I think of the elements that make this town a community today. While planning for my departure I have taken stock of so many organizations and events I have come to know and appreciate, and the individuals that have created them: the extraordinary Albert Wisner Public Library; the excellent services of the Friendly Visitors Program; the benefits and vision of Sustainable Warwick, the Repair Café, and Community2gether; the concerts, restaurants, and the farmer’s market; the small businesses, educators, coaches, public service workers and health care professionals who labor in and for their community; the farmers and farm workers who continue the agrarian tradition while surrounded by suburban growth, and those who strive to balance that growth with the essential preservation of natural resources and historical artifacts. These are the official and unofficial stewards of the town.
Over the years, I too have been privileged to be involved in this community’s nurturance, maintenance and measured growth, motivated by observing so many others doing the same and desiring to join them in sharing the responsibility and joy of community involvement. In doing so, I have gained far more than I have given. While I believe I have been a good steward of this responsibility, it is with some melancholy that I have come to realize how much my departure reveals a unique loss in my life.
With this reflection and realization, I have been in mourning. For the people and the land… the essence of Warwick. It is with sad acceptance that I leave behind this revered place that has been so important in my life, and yet I recognize and appreciate the honor of having been one of many human strands that, woven together, make a sprawling tapestry of fellowship and common interest that spreads across a unique 104 square miles in the western Hudson Valley.
I have also been in mourning for the loss of the personal. At a time when I most needed to meet and physically embrace friends and colleagues, when I expected to savor the tastes of this rural life a few more times, by watching a parade down Main Street or experiencing the smells and sounds of Applefest, I have taken my leave in the shadows of the pandemic. But these are the times in which we are living, and as with time, this shadow will pass. So, by this letter, I am not bidding farewell, but rather au revoir dear Warwick. For I know I will be back, to see the Village and the Town as I remember it and also to see the changes that inevitably will come.