In the 1960s, a book called My Side of the Mountain inspired a young man’s dream to live in the wilderness and train raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls). As a young man he moved to Roxbury, a small farming town in the heart of New York’s Catskill Mountains, and began building his own home based on blueprints created by his mother, an architect. When he married, he and his spouse were very poor, and their unfinished home did not have electricity or water. They drew water from a waterfall on their property, chopped wood to heat the house, and survived on potatoes and powdered milk. Even so, they were happy together in the beautiful mountains. With what little they had, along with a few raptors, they started their own business of performing educational bird programs. The business grew over the course of years, and today they teach audiences all over America with the largest traveling collection of raptors in the world.
This couple who lived in the mountains are my parents. We moved to Texas after I was born, but we still take trips every summer back to our mountain home. Whenever we travel to Roxbury, I understand why my parents loved living there so much. Our town is much different from our neighborhood in Texas. It is a timeless place, beautiful in its quietness and simplicity. Every living plant and animal flourishes, and all of the farm-grown produce is much more delicious than anything bought at a grocery store.
We experience firsthand the abundance of animal life as we see deer running across streams and bald eagles flying to their nests. We relish everything that the Catskills have to offer, such as berry picking, hiking, kayaking, and biking. The house is a country home that resembles a barn, with an attached silo that serves as extra living space. It was created to be self-sufficient; we derive our water from our own well and have a wood stove that can be used for heat. On our property we also have a waterfall that provides fresh clean water, and several acres of fields on which we have grown our own produce.
My parents have worked hard and saved for every piece of furniture and appliance in our home. In the early days, for example, they would bathe in plastic garbage cans with a bucket and go to the bathroom in an outhouse as they worked their way to buying household necessities. The young couple loved the adventure of living a primitive lifestyle and celebrated the purchase of a toilet, shower, refrigerator or sink as they were able to afford it.
We take pride in our beautiful home whenever we visit; each part of the house and every appliance has a story of hard work, determination, and success behind it. This place is special to me because it’s where my parents roughed it on their own and, through their efforts, created a home and a successful business from almost nothing. As my dad always tells his audiences at the end of each program, America is a place where you can do whatever you want to do, no matter where you started. When I think about my future, I reminisce our annual visits to our northern home, which remind me of my family history. Our home represents opportunities for me: my ability to birth new ideas and dreams from the legacy of accomplished dreams before me.
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