Yesterday morning I found myself in Denver, Colorado, boarding a plane that would connect me to another flight bound for Ithaca, New York, where I would meet up with Kathy & Frank, who would drive me to Owego, New York for Brad & Rachel's wedding this weekend. You still keeping up? I met Rachel online when I first started digging into the world of photography in 2009/2010. We have remained connected over the years & when news of her engagement became public, she asked if I would be available to photograph her wedding. Now that I have made the official announcement of leaving behind my wedding photography business in pursuit of a landscape photography & writing career, I find it perfectly fitting that someone who I "met" at the beginning stage of my photography adventure is helping me close the final chapter of that same story.
I arrived in Ithaca, New York at 10:23 P.M. Thursday night, where I met Grandma Kathy & Frank, who would take me to the Inn where other members of Rachel's family were also staying for the weekend. The Glenmary Inn looked ominous in the dark, a two-story historical home that was built in the 1857, so Kathy followed me inside to ensure I would find my room comfortably. We were met by Ricky, the Innkeeper, upon entering the large foyer of the bed & breakfast. I was so awestruck by the original woodwork still intact in the home that I asked about the home's history -- being that it was now 11:43 P.M., perhaps I should have waited until daylight to ask such a loaded question, because the only part of the story I remember is that the home became a "hospital for the nervous & anxious" ... and that's when I stopped listening.
Yes, I slept with the lights on. I've seen far too many horror movies!
Ricky showed me to my room, The Mission, & told me about breakfast in the morning. After calculating the time-change, I had a decision to make — sleep in or eat the next morning. I chose sleep, & when I awoke this morning, I knew I had made the right decision. My body actually felt rested after a full day of travel & plane-hopping yesterday. I was surprised when I heard a knock on my door as I was getting ready this morning, but knowing that Rachel's father was also staying at the Inn, I didn’t hesitate to answer it. There stood Ricky, with a tray full of breakfast food (far more than I could ever eat), complete with coffee & orange juice. Who says New Yorkers don’t have good hospitality?
I ate my breakfast while taking my time getting ready. After packing my bag for the day, I set out to trek downtown. Ricky asked where I was headed & I told him I was going to walk into town. He insisted on driving me, advising that it was quite a far walk (1.2 miles according to Google... at sea-level, at that!), but since I didn’t pack good walking shoes, I accepted his offer. We drove through the neighborhood & he showed me walking trails I could take, the bars with good beers, & gave me a quick layout of the downtown scene. He dropped me off on Front Street, across from the River Walk, & told me to give him a call when I was ready to be picked back up.
The town of Owego itself is so picturesque. I crossed the street & had to take my camera out of my backpack. I didn’t want to miss a single detail of charm in the sidwalks, flags, flower pots, & brick buildings. The details in the architecture here are some of my favorite to photograph. I followed the sidewalk across the bridge, went half way across where I sat for a few minutes on a welcoming bench, then turned back around to admire the sweet nostalgia of downtown. The street lamps on the Susquehanna River Bridge stand tall, covered by ornate, antique glass bulbs. When I first approached the bridge, I was reminded of Paris & the many bridges I crossed over the Seine River six summers ago. Nostalgia is such a keen, incredible feeling.
I meandered around the streets, taking a seat around a picnic table on the lawn of the courthouse, soaking in the sun & listening to the chime of the breeze. I debated looking for a shoe shop, but since I wear a size 11, I didn’t bother to find something more comfortable to walk in. I threw my bag on my back & continued to walk, this time down Lake Street. The one-way street was full of restaurants, cafes, & antique stores, all of which were charming & beckoned me to enter. This is another reason why I travel with only my backpack—it prevents me from buying too many souvenirs! I walked by a used book store, my arms tingling in excitement at just the thought of smelling old books… but I refrained from walking in. Again, small bag, no room for extras.
I took portraits of the building that boasted “New, Used, & Rare Books”, & I noticed a woman who stopped on the sidewalk. I lowered my camera & said hello to her, apologizing for taking up the sidewalk space. She replied with a smile, admitting that she didn’t want to ruin my photograph. We smiled & laughed as we passed each other. Another beauty of travel — the people. I know it isn’t always like this, but I love when this happens. We encounter people every single day, but do we remember that they, too, are people? They have a home to return to, they have a job, they have a life. I always smile at strangers & say hello, because you never know who may need that little push of encouragement.
After reflecting on that thought for a few minutes, I trotted my way back to Front Street, where a wooden swing swayed in the breeze & concrete benches lined the boardwalk in front of the river. I sat in the shade, admiring the green trees that looked like a bright green broccoli forest. I listened to the traffic coming from the bridge. I listened to the water greeting the shore. All of these sounds, culminating like a perfectly pitched orchestra, reminding me that I need to take time in my daily life to be still. I think that’s why I admire traveling so much & why traveling always brings me back to a place that makes me feel rawly human. No deadlines, no curfews, no responsibilities, no errands to run, no bills to be paid. Just being & enjoying the simplicities of daily life (without the responsibility of it) is one of many reasons why I travel.
I probably sat in front of the Susquehanna River for an hour, taking in the fresh air & sounds of Owego. I resolved that food & beer were my next necessary task & since I had heard about Tioga Trails Cafe (referred to as "The Trail" by locals), I headed that direction. The shop's front logo itself is charming, nestled right next to a Coors Light neon sign, so it had to be fate. I entered through the glass door & was greeted by April. She asked if I was antiquing or eating, to which I replied, "A little bit of both!" I started with the antiques, feeling grateful, yet again, for only bringing my backpack this trip. The shelves were lined top to bottom with endearing antiques that I found difficult to resist. I powered through & made my way to the bar, where George was serving drinks. He welcomed me, & I asked about the Ithaca Seasonal beer, which was a hoppy red ale. I don't normally like hops, but I was feeling adventurous & ordered one anyway. The beer did not disappoint.
I started asking questions about their shop & restaurant. The Trail also has a rooftop beer garden that's open on Friday & Saturday nights, so I'm hoping to make a stop up there later this trip. George said April is the resident historian, so she brought me a book full of old photographs from the downtown area. She told me all of the good antique shops to stop in, a coffee bar to venture to, & local consignment shops that would be worth my visit. They were incredibly accommodating & helpful, ensuring that I was happy with everything I'd ordered (shameless plug: definitely get the bacon cheddar cheeseburger & cajun fries). The two of them felt like family to me by the time I had left. April walked me outside & told me which direction to head next.
I walked down Lake Street, with no real destination in mind. As much as I wanted to shop--backpack. No room. I happened upon Carol's Art & Coffee Bar, a recommendation from George & April, so I stopped in. Carol is the owner, artist, & barista, & she has such a cool space with exposed brick that is adorned with her own paintings, which are for sale. I love meeting local artists & seeing their work. One of the other baristas made me an Iced Chocolate Coconut Latte -- and damn. It was good. She said that her boyfriend used to work at Glenmary Inn & she advised that I don't go to the basement (cool, so the lights will remain on again while I sleep tonight). We chatted & learned a bit about each other before I sat down to catch up on writing, edit the photographs I had taken so far today, & take advantage of the free WiFi. I also had a bit of thinking to do.
I went from a city of 416,427 to a town of 19,883 in a matter of six hours. I love my city, but I have grown so comfortable there that I forget such quaint, beautiful, quiet towns exist beyond the borders of Colorado Springs. When I am hiking in the mountains there, the river is still running under the bridge here. There are literally billions of lives being lived, all at the same time, all over the world. Traveling somewhere new reminds me of the intricate strings that make each of us human, that makes each of us the same & yet uniquely different. I can sense that I don’t belong here (we all know I belong in the mountains) but I don’t feel out of place in the slightest. The people get me. They know I don’t belong here, but they aren’t shying away; they are curious about the woman with the wild hair & tattoos, as equally curious as I am about them. I feel like I am a part of the community, even though I’ve been here less than 24 hours. Owego, New York, you are such a beautiful, friendly place. Thank you for welcoming me with such warmth, kindness, & generosity.
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.