Salmon aren’t the only animals that head back to their ancestral homes late in life. There’s a draw to where we’re from. Many humans can’t physically return for socio-economic or emotional reasons, but there’s an urge that may transcend generations. For me it’s always been traced through my maternal line to upstate New York. My mother’s [redacted for security question purposes] family had been in the upstate region around Schenectady for generations, as traced back as far as the 1770s. It was my maternal grandfather, branching off from his father (who made it as far as central New York) who eventually left the state, after teaching in a one-room schoolhouse, for which, in those days, you didn’t need to be a college graduate. In any case, I have a fondness for the Hudson Valley and an interest in its history.
Allan Keller was a journalism professor who never became famous. His Life along the Hudson is one of those charming, dreamy books about yesteryear. Richly illustrated, it really isn’t a history (Keller wasn’t an historian) so much as a set of vignettes illustrating the role and importance that the river has had not only for New York state, but for the United States as a whole. There are chapters about famous residents, battles of the Revolutionary War, historic houses, quirky facts, boating, and railroads. It’s an interesting cross-section of a forgotten part of America. Today when we hear Hudson River we tend to think New York City. And while that’s not wrong, it certainly isn’t the whole story. The Hudson early on connected Albany with Manhattan as they grew to be the two major points around which the Empire State expanded.
The book was never a bestseller. It’s not particularly rare. It is, however, a series of snapshots. One of those was 1976, when the book was published. The Hudson had become so polluted that major remediation efforts had to be put in place to redefine it from a cesspool to a beautiful waterway that took the breath away from many early travelers. This valley was once considered one of the truly scenic spaces in the United States. Now it’s pretty much a suburb of New York City, but it retains much of its earlier appeal, if you know where to look. I’ve tried to find jobs that would allow me to move back to this region of upstate New York, but I’ve ended up in my own immediate home state of Pennsylvania. I’d go back a couple more generations, if I could, but even salmon sometimes never make it back home.