BY Kate Bunster
NISKAYUNA — “A few months ago, as we were driving through town together on Route 7 for the millionth time, my dad said to me, ‘The longer I live here, the more I’ve come to appreciate this town.’”
Tom Swyers was on his usual early morning run one day this summer when he noticed how much beauty he was surrounded by here in Niskayuna.
As a writer, Swyers is familiar with engaging the five senses to convey a message and began to take note of the “unique” and “unusual” things he was seeing. For example, how beautiful the foliage looked and the mist during sunrise over David’s Hill, the mound that covers the town’s former landfill.
Inspired by these images, he decided to start documenting these moments through photographs and videos. Using his iPhone, Swyers captured photographs and video over the entire summer of things that “struck a chord with him.” An early bird, Swyers wakes up as early as 4 a.m. depending on the day. Some of the breathtaking scenes in the video he planned, like the sunrise. Other shots were achieved by simply “being in the right place at the right time.”
One of these moments was when he was at David’s Hill. “I think that [David’s Hill] should be on everyone’s bucket list,” said Swyers. At 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning, he arrived at David’s Hill and saw a woman sitting on a blanket enjoying the sunrise and snapped a picture. “It’s a magical place,” he said. However, he chose to leave this image out of the montage. “That was her moment.”
Looking at all his photos, he began to notice themes, the most obvious being “embracing foliage.”
“To me, embracing foliage is a group of plants or trees that surround you and give you a sense of being embraced. It can be a cornfield in town or the nature walk in the high grass behind the town library,” said Swyers. “Embracing foliage can be very calming. You feel a part of nature as opposed to a visitor passing through it with your mind fixed on your destination.”
Swyers was inspired to create a video, which he titled “Morning Magic in Niskayuna.” With it, he hopes to create awareness that there’s plenty to see and be grateful for in Niskayuna. In an effort to do this, he shared the video on facebook, where it proved popular.
It’s not Swyers’ first high-profile effort in town. His criticism of Niskayuna High School Principal John Rickert for running a simultaneous second career as a pro sports agent ultimately prompted an internal school district review that cleared Rickert of any conflict of interest or neglect of his duties. Swyers also wrote “Saving Babe Ruth,” a novel about youth baseball with obvious real-life parallels in Niskayuna, which went on to become the top seller in Amazon’s baseball essays and writing category.
The video seems to be devoid of the controversy attached to the previous efforts, though.
As it started to make its way through the Niskayuna community, it was brought to the attention to Town Supervisor Landry’s assistant, Nicole Matlick, who then passed it on to Landry. Growing up in Niskayuna herself, a lot of the images resonated with Matlick, specifically the images of the trees that Swyers captured in the video. It was shown at the Oct. 8 Town Board Meeting and received a round of applause. Swyers said many people came up to him at the conclusion of the meeting and gave him positive feedback on his work. “I’ve never seen the landfill look so pretty,” Town Board member Denise Murphy McGraw said as the room grew silent during the three-minute video.
Landry is working with Swyers to embed the video on the Niskayuna town website. “It’s very pretty here in the morning,” said Landry. “A lot of people don’t look.”
The lifelong town resident graduated in 1977 from Niskayuna High School with his future wife, Cheryl. They have a son, Randy, who also graduated from Niskayuna schools.
Swyers is not the only one out and about in Niskayuna during the early hours. He says he sees many residents around town who take advantage of Niskayuna’s bike trails to get to and from places or just to simply go out for a walk. However, he also noticed that there are many people who don’t open their eyes to all the beauty that surrounds them. This is easy to do when people get caught up in the hectic routine of their own lives.
“There’s life and beauty around Niskayuna early in the morning. Sometimes it can smack you in the face; sometimes you have to slow down to see it. But it is there,” Swyers wrote accompanying his video. “I hope the video reveals a portrait of Niskayuna that you’ll enjoy and appreciate. Perhaps you’ll discover wisdom in my dad’s words like I did.”