Driving up Doyle’s Hill on New York Route 97 my ears start to pop. I’ve heard many people remark on this common experience, which happens as a result of the climb in elevation as they drive out of the town of Hancock along this scenic, old road.
For me, Route 97 is the way home from all points as I live in French Woods, a settlement about eight miles south of Hancock, NY. In fact, the road, which parallels my backyard, reaches its peak elevation right behind my house at about 1830 feet. It’s not K2, I know. Still, I always suspected the famed Hawk’s Nest above Port Jervis must be the highest spot on 97. But at a mere 800 feet tops in elevation, the Hawk’s Nest only feels higher with its tight, cliff-hugging zig-zag.
Coming back from Hancock, moving higher, I sometimes get a momentary feeling—a strange, sweet, crushing glimpse of awareness that for all my ambivalence, for better and worse: this is my home. This is where I live, have lived, will live.
At times like this, I feel, as the saying goes, “old as the hills,” (a saying that has its origins in the Book of Job).
So, I drive. I pass the place where I know bright yellow marsh marigolds will grow this spring. I pass the place where Nay apples will sprout up like a battalion of umbrellas on the roadside.
I see the grasses matted down by the weight of winter. I feel the push of wind as a truck loaded with bluestone bears down the opposite lane. I drive past the homes and wood piles of neighbors. A dog barking. I spot a bright red cardinal in the trees. Could this feeling be a kind of love?
A few summers ago I went for a ride with Pea Brook resident Gary Peake in his single-engine plane. The excursion was an idea thought up by my husband John for our wedding anniversary. We flew over our farm, over the Family School and French Woods Golf Course, into Pennsylvania, up to Hancock, over the mausoleum on Point Mountain, over to East Branch, and down Route 97 again to Long Eddy and Hankins. It was a grand tour.
True to form, Gary buzzed a friend’s house and entertained us with stories. I got a kick out of the hand-typed sign posted above the plane’s instrument panel which said a lot in this single word: “Think.”
It was wonderful to see our area from this perspective. The tops of the trees spread out like an ocean—both spectacular and humbling at the same time. From above the tops of the trees, we could see all the little swamps and quarries, and the speck of my family’s old house. We saw the snaking line of Route 97 as it runs along the Delaware River corridor in Hancock, in Long Eddy, Hankins and Callicoon.
My parents often spoke of the construction of Route 97, which was completed in 1939. They habitually called it “The State Road” and liked to remember an uncle of mine who had the misfortune of losing his new pair of shoes in the muck while watching the construction of the road as it was extended to Hancock during the late ‘30s. The road in its entirety is 70.53 miles, running from Point Mountain in Hancock to Port Jervis, NY.