Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Adirondack Patchwork Quilt: my experience working in the Adirondacks as an “outsider”

Classmates from the Adirondack semester who all became interns for a short time.

By Annalise Panici

The Adirondack region is loved by many as a home and work environment. As a student from St Lawrence University, I could always tell folks from the Adirondacks had an affinity for the place where they lived. Because of this and my general interest in the Adirondack region, ten other students and I decided to embark on the Adirondack Semester through St Lawrence University. This specific, place-based experience takes place on Massawepie Lake for the majority of the semester. We lived in a small yurt village called Arcadia and professors would paddle over to teach us about ecology, land-use, literature, and history of the Adirondacks. I had many moments in the semester where I had to reflect: wow, my professor paddled 30 minutes to teach me about this place… it must be something special.

Throughout the semester little pieces of the Adirondacks made an imprint on me: the rocks at the top of Marcy, the way our woodworking professor Michael Fernett seemed to know everyone (and later in the semester how everyone seemed to know everyone), the view from Massawepie Lake at sunset, the sound of a guitar from a local folk music duo. Yet it was not until our capstone internship experience where the beauty of the Adirondacks began to solidify for me. Through the program, each student was placed at a homestay in the Adirondacks and was given an internship to learn under Adirondack folks in various fields. Some of us went to media (like me at Adirondack Explorer and Grace Gargan at NCPR), while others went into education at Northern Lights school and Lakeside school. Some of us were more hands on working with boat builders and wood workers on tiny houses. 

Adirondack semester students, Kim Bravo and Abby Lateer, working at Lakeside school

Adirondack semester students Kim Bravo and Abby Lateer working at Lakeside school.

In talking with my friends on the program over dinner last week, one thing was evidently clear: the Adirondack workforce is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Over pasta and slightly burnt garlic bread, my fellow student Kim Bravo remarked that it was exhausting working with children at Lakeside everyday. Yet she was still raving about her work, which she attributed to how the women she works with “embody patience, creativity, and passion all at once.” Whether it was working with children, with words, with wood, or with art, there was a specific interconnectedness and adaptability that my friends were all noticing in their internships. 

As an outsider coming into any workforce, it can feel awkward or uncomfortable to become grounded in the place that was buzzing with life before you even arrived. Yet I’ve noticed that working in the Adirondacks has been a welcoming experience for most of my peers. Any of that initial anxiety was cut by the community feel of the work environments and the passion of the individuals leading us. When I was talking with my friend Grace Gargan who is interning at NCPR, she remarked that “especially when I am out in the field I like I am part of the job.” Not only is there inclusion in this workspace, but there is also passion. Grace remarked that reporter Emily Russell inspired her as a young woman “taking on an authoritative position.” She loves how Emily brings world issues into her reporting and asks herself “where else can this story go? [Emily] can talk about other jobs, she can talk about women, she can talk about diversity. When we went to the ranger school [to report on a story] she was [even] talking with someone about mental health.” This notion not only inspired Grace, but speaks deeper about the varying patterns in north country communities: patterns of inclusion and openness. 

Adirondack semester student, Margo Hayes, working at the Adirondack Center for Writing.

Adirondack semester student, Margo Hayes, working at the Adirondack Center for Writing.

This push for diversity and inclusion in the workplace leads to a unique fabric in a tightnight community, which I noticed in the yurt village through coursework, but is further emphasized interning in this place. One of my friends working at Adirondack Center for Writing, Margo Hayes, lives in the North Country, but this internship was her first experience working “in the blue line.” She noticed that “everybody is extremely tight knit here and I think there is a community based on caring for each other.” As we sat over coffee, she told me a story of a car breaking down outside of the writing center and community members offering help. “They didn’t know who she was, but immediately there was that care,” she told me. “They were seeing what could be done to help fix the situation, whereas if you were in a city I don’t necessarily think that would happen.” 

Though we are only in the Adirondacks for a fixed period of three weeks, in speaking with professionals in the area, it is evident that the community we are feeling and the welcomeness of folks in the area is reflected in business year round. The executive director of the Adirondack Center for Writing (ACW), Nathalie Thill, spoke with me about how the non-profit work in the Adirondack region is very successful and tight knit. Through organizations such as the Adirondack Nonprofit Network (created in 2008 because of the recession by the Adirondack Foundation), this webbing grew to a familial community which supports each other and local businesses alike. As we were talking more about her work at the Adirondack Center for Writing, she said something that has stuck with me: “The Adirondack Center for Writing is a part of the fabric of this town.” 

The fabric, it seems, knits more than just the ACW to Saranac Lake. It is the fabric that weaves together students from St Lawrence with inspired professionals for a few weeks. It is the fabric that cares for children at schools, reports from all sides of the story, and lets interns feel integral and supported. Though at times the “small town helping stories” may feel a bit cliche or cheesy, entering into such a tight knit professional community for a brief period of time speaks volumes to humanity at large. What would happen if we brought this caring attitude past this internship period and the blue line in general? Perhaps we would all feel a bit more supported if we lived like the Adirondack patchwork quilt of passion and care.

Annalise Panici, intern at Adirondack Explorer

Annalise Panici was a recent intern for Adirondack Explorer. She’s a sophmore at St. Lawrence University.

Photo at top: Classmates from the Adirondack semester who all became interns for a short time.

Photos provided by the author.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

3 Responses

  1. Todd Eastman says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    The Adks have a way of shaping our lives.

  2. What an excellent, well-thought-out story. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  3. Penn L Hoyt says:

    As an SLU grad (class of ’81), I am very happy to see students taking part in the working world of the people of the Adirondacks. Having grown up in the foothills of the park, I know well the hard work and camaraderie that is shared. I still manage to get back at least once a year to Long Lake and it means the world to me. Glad you had a great experience!

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