Upstate New York: Too good to be true?

CU emmy-jordan

Emalyn gets a ride atop Daddy’s shoulders on a tour of the Cornell University campus.

Sometimes you’ve just gotta pinch yourself. Twice.

Two weeks ago, Lori and I packed our bags and flew out to Syracuse in Upstate New York with a final destination of Ithaca, a college town more than an hour’s drive away. We were headed there to help Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn move into their new home, a rustic rental on a rural property about 18 miles south of Ithaca.

We were blown away.

As first-time visitors to this area, we were dazzled by the beauty of the Finger Lakes region, four hours north and west of New York City. With endless greenery, gently rolling hills and charming villages strung out like pearls along two-lane state highways, the landscape compared favorably to anything we’ve seen in western Oregon.

And when we toured Cornell University, the Ivy League school where Jordan embarked this week on a Ph.D in microbiology, we were mightily impressed by the history, architecture and physical layout of the hilltop campus. Jordan’s pursuit of a doctoral degree will take five years, maybe even six.

As Lori and I looked out across campus toward Cayuga Lake and the forest-green surroundings, we could only shake our heads and marvel at the situation. After seeing our son and daughter-in-law endure what they did the past few years as they struggled to manage school, work and parenthood, along with a temporary move to the Midwest, here they were — in an idyllic location and at one of the world’s leading universities.

***

A year earlier, following Jordan’s graduation from tiny St. Martin’s University, they had moved from Spanaway, Washington, a working-class town that’s home to a lot of military families, to Columbia, Missouri. There, during a fellowship at the University of Missouri, Jordan gained valuable experience in a science research lab that he hoped would make him a stronger candidate for graduate school.

His efforts paid off.

Jordan was offered a teaching assistant position in the Ph.D program he most coveted. He had also been courted by Dartmouth, Penn State, Emory and the University of Michigan. This week, he began his graduate studies and TA responsibilities, working with a single professor. He will rotate through several labs in the coming years to help narrow his focus of study within the field of microbiology.

Meanwhile, Jamie began settling in as a stay-at-home mom, raising their 2-year-old daughter in a setting almost too good to be true. They are living in a farmhouse on about 70 acres just outside the village of Spencer. Their landlady occupies one half of the structure; Jamie, Jordan and Emmy occupy the other half. They have two bedrooms, a  woodstove to heat the main living area and a loft, and a spectacular view from their kitchen window.

They look out to a huge garden and a barn, where their landlady raises sheep, and have access to a grassy area that leads into the woods and a small creek with a waterfall. The place is set way back from the road, so it is quiet and pitch-black at night.

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This area of New York gets frigid weather during the winter, so undoubtedly it will be a snow-white landscape for several months. In between now and then, they will enjoy a classic New England-style fall with deciduous trees exploding in red-and-gold colors.

We couldn’t be happier for these two and our granddaughter.

When I last wrote about this young family, it was early June. They had just left Missouri and were driving back to the West Coast to spend a couple months in Southern Oregon living near Jamie’s parents. That was a nice break for them. They got to spend time with family and celebrate two milestones with them: Emmy’s 2nd birthday and the wedding of Jamie’s younger sister.

Jordan got to do some fishing with his father-in-law and brother-in-law and Emmy got to enjoy a taste of the life Jamie had growing up, being around baby chicks and other farm animals, and riding a horse (with some helping hands, of course).

They came up to Portland the first weekend in August and we had a chance to see them together with brother Nathan and sister Simone and their wives before they hit the road for the nearly 3,000-mile trip to Ithaca, accompanied by their dog and cat.

***

A few days later, we flew out to meet them to help unpack three U-Haul pods that had been delivered to the rental property. When we left six days later, everything had been moved in and most boxes put away, but there was still much left to do in the Decorative Touches Department to make their house a home. Jamie was well on her way to making it so, with some help from Lori.

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Ithaca, population 30,000, is in central New York, about 60 miles south of Syracuse and 230 miles northwest of NYC, which doesn’t appear on this map.

With moving in as the No. 1, priority, we didn’t make time on this trip to do any sightseeing, though the Finger Lakes region is known for its lakes, parks and waterfalls and has a thriving wine-making industry. We went into Ithaca just once, long enough to see a charming downtown with historic buildings and a pedestrian mall with a huge variety of shops and ethnic restaurants. The city is quite hilly — think a smaller version of Seattle and San Francisco — and in the midst of it all is Cornell.

We began our visit at the Cornell Dairy Bar, which has been making fresh ice cream, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products there at the school since 1880. The Microbiology Department is right next door in Wing Hall, where a historic photo hanging in the lobby showed polo matches taking place on the grounds out front. Those have been developed since then into a parking lot (of course) and a track and field facility.

Walking toward central campus, we were amazed at the colorful flora and fauna that provide a sharp contrast to the muted browns and grays that typify most higher education buildings. We joined students and other visitors in photographing the many classic structures on campus, many of them dating back to the late 19th Century.

Quick aside: Cornell was established in 1865 as a land-grant university focusing on science and agriculture (think Oregon State University) and later became a private research institution, as well. Today Cornell is home to about 15,000 undergraduates, 5,600 graduate students and 2,500 professional students, owing to its medical schools in New York City and Qatar, in the Middle East.

Co-founder Ezra Cornell, a carpenter and a mechanic who later made a fortune in the telegraph business, famously said, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

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When I think back to the path our son has traveled, I pinch myself. This is the kid who, at 18, dropped out of college a few weeks into his first semester, leaving a four-year, full-ride ROTC scholarship on the table because he’d had his fill of being in a classroom.

A few terms at a local community college, a part-time job making sandwiches and a lot of time playing video games occupied him until he turned 21, when he enlisted in the Army as an infantryman. He did a four-year hitch, including a year’s deployment in Afghanistan, and lived with Jamie at bases in El Paso, Texas, and just outside Tacoma, Washington.

During that time, something clicked. Upon completing his military service, he went to school on the G.I. Bill and graduated in four years, with honors, with a degree in biology. That meant four years of commuting, including one as a new dad, thanks to Emalyn’s arrival in July 2016, just before he began his senior year.

Then came Missouri. And now Cornell. At age 30, Jordan is more than ready for the next chapter in his academic career and we are excited to see where this late bloomer’s journey takes him.

Map: http://www.ntep.org/states/ny.htm

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