Goodbye, winter.

Today I was reacquainted with the place where I live.  The winter was, in short, long.  It wasn’t until February that I realized just how difficult it had been for me to live out in the middle of the woods at the mouth of 1.5 million acres of wilderness — and in February, I still had two months of winter to go.  Our house is twenty miles from a grocery store, and our few ‘neighbors’ are mostly reclusive, refusing to greet me if they happened to be outside shoveling snow while I walked by with my dogs.  I spent an inordinate amount of time alone at home (working from my computer), and although the fires in the living room were cozy, one can only sip tea by the fire and watch movies on the couch with one’s husband for so many nights in a row before feeling somewhat limited.  Even with my stereo turned up as loud as seemed well-mannered, I could always sense the deep atmospheric silence on the other side of my walls.

I wanted very badly to be able to enjoy living in the woods for the winter.  And a part of me certainly loved the billows of smoke coming from our chimney, the gold interior light reflected on the snow outside, the dogs curled up in front of the fireplace.  Part of me loved walking with my husband down the road, clipping into our cross-country skis and gliding across the snow together.  But the other part of me — the part that came alive every morning when I stepped out of my Manhattan apartment onto the sidewalk on West 83rd Street and joined the current of people coming and going, the part of me that lights up when I have a lively chat with a barista while waiting for my afternoon cafe au lait or when I meet someone who I think I might someday invite to a dinner party — could not hang.  That other part of me went hungry, grew thin and eventually cranky, eventually sad.  That other part of me eventually demanded to be listened to.  I decided that, although we are bound to this house in the woods in the summers (this is where we both own seasonal businesses), I will have to start spending winters in a larger community, a place where that neglected part of me can really live.  This will not be easy — logistically, financially — but I have come to accept that I might not have the kind of life in which the path of least resistance is always the right path.

Which brings me to today, and its abundant sunshine, its smells of sweet pine.  Today, despite all of my sour and legitimately negative feelings about living in this place for the last six months, I had this thought while driving to work (and seeing this view, below, over my right shoulder): Oh, right.  I remember why I live here.

My view on the way to work.

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8 thoughts on “Goodbye, winter.

  1. I was still lying in bed this morning when I read this. I said, “great post” and hubby said, “yeah”. I can completely relate to how you feel- our nature is perhaps less stark and formidable, but we are also in the country, my neighbors are also reclusive (and they speak another language!), and it’s quite a big change from London or New York, or even those glitzy Arabs I’d been living with before. I’ve long come to the conclusion that if I ended up back in New York, a city I love too, I would long for little Belgian bakeries and the peace and quiet of a few hazelnut trees. I would never ever miss the rain…

    The solitude is good, I tell myself. Thank good for Skype and blogs and facebook, I tell myself.

    It seems I am at one advantage, our nearest city is really a 20 minute train ride away, and it’s one heck of a city. Small, but edgy and hip and cultural and historical and lively. It’s not NY, but it gives me a fix, and i’m grateful that this small country allows me the luxury of having both a pastoral and an urban life when I want.

    What I admire about this post (and you) is the decision you’ve come to. I like how you are not resigning to the situation, but have at least taken a mental course to make life work for you. Not everyone would be so clear and focused about what they need. About what must change, and the courage and belief that the change is possible. We should all be so bold!

    I think splitting the year, isn’t a bad idea if you can make it work. It’s a dream we’ve had and have not quite given up on. Moving, travel, new places this will always be part of us, I think.

  2. I have always wanted to live remotely. It is probably good for me to get a reality check via your life. My husband (who grew up on a farm) and I often talk about leaving the city for a remote piece of land. Something about it seems simple and calm and whole. Truthfully though, I think that your feelings of isolation are a reality that we often ignore.

    I also love the idea of splitting the year. It is something that we talk about too. For us it is a fantasy that will not likely happen. It sounds like you will make it happen. Good for you!

  3. I can relate to your post. I now live in Vancouver and I feel that I’ve finally found the right mix of what city and country, or in Vancouver’s case not exactly country but “nature”, has to offer. Vancouver is nestled in between mountains and ocean and although the city is still a baby city as far as the metropolitan aura goes it certainly offers enough buzz to keep my interest. The buzz is balanced out by the fact that I can be in the middle of a huge forest with no-one around me by walking 10 minutes in one direction, or better yet on top of a mountain with only a bear or two for company – hopefully not just waking up from winter naps – after a mere 30 minute car ride.

    Interestingly enough I also used to live near 83rd Street, but on the East Side of Manhattan. Although Central Park is beautiful I found it difficult to feel as if I ever really got a chance to earth-connect with roving packs of nannies with prams on my heels most of the time. I loved living in Manhattan but perhaps because I grew up in a rural area of Alberta I found that there were definitely times that feared I would start to elbow people aside just to get a little more breathing space when I walked down the street. I also found that when I had some time to think about what I was actually doing and who I had actually connected with during the day that my life at times was emptier than when I lived in the middle of the frozen prairie.

    Don’t give up on those reclusive neighbors around your country home, maybe they have just fallen into a pattern that you can shake them out of! Some of the best parties I’ve ever attended were in someone’s basement, in the middle of nowhere, during the darkest time of the year.

    • I love what you said about the prairie vs. the city. I was on W112st street, and I can relate. It feels good to be part of that buzz, but there were times I felt like I needed out to breathe, and where I felt that there was a buzz, but I was just a bystander. Ps we’re always up for a good ‘when i was in ny’ story…

  4. I understand this feeling too though living in a valley of 50,000 people an hour from a city of 1,000,000 isn’t exactly remote. But it’s a mountain town and people come here, primarily, to get away from the city and/or to enjoy the outdoors. I have many friends who begin to feel a bit stir crazy if they don’t get outside for some exercise at least every other day if not daily. One friend told me he wasn’t sure he knew how to make small talk with extended family any more because all he could think about was the next time he could get outside. I have grown to love it too but I miss intellectual dialogue. It’s not that people here aren’t really very smart but conversations about politics and science and society just aren’t everybody’s bread and butter. My favourite weekend pastime is to head to the local cornerstore for a national newspaper, then to a local coffee shop / deli full of expensive cheeses and obscure condiments for an Americano, panini, and an hour of brain food and people watching. It makes me feel alive!

    I also totally identify with the desire to live in two places – to split my time. I struggle though with the impact that would have on my friendships here. I really need these women. It’s not optional. I worry that if I split my time between two locations I wouldn’t be able to maintain those relationships with the same depth that I’ve been able to so far. But that said, if I were going to try it there would be a lot worse communities to try it from than here. I’d just be one more person living an eccentric life in a valley full of adventure seekers!

  5. I love the variety of thoughts collected here. In many cases, I must admit: I’m somewhat envious of the combinations of interesting elements that each of your places offer you. BeZ, a hip, edgy city twenty minutes away on a train. Bellcanto, a great urban life balanced by nearby, accessible wilderness. LT, a mountain town with a coffee shop! In some ways, your comments here have helped fortify my decision to give myself what I need, and what, unfortunately, my present address cannot offer me. Flapper Pie, I relate to your thoughts about the idea of living in a remote place, of the simplicity and wholeness of it. I thought the same thing. I spent days shopping for chicken coops and researching heritage breeds of egg-laying hens. I did love chopping and stacking wood in the fall for our winter fires. I did have moments, with a book on my lap and a glass of wine by the fire, of feeling like I could live that way forever.

    Honestly, I’ve come across a fair amount of judgement for this decision to try to live in two places. People have suggested that it is excessive, inappropriately ‘privileged,’ unnecessary. And I have tried to explain: we don’t exactly WANT to live in two places. It will be expensive, logistically complicated, and, as Lemon Tart suggests, possibly problematic in terms of the continuity in some of our friendships. I would much rather live in one place that combines the things I need to feel alive and sane — the interaction with nature and culture, the peacefulness and energy that each of you has written about here. But, at least for right now, my husband owns a business (and has a job he loves) in a town with a year-round population of 400-some, 140 miles from the nearest thing that I would qualify as a ‘city,’ with a population of 60,000. Unfortunately, this is not a situation that lends itself to the kinds of rockstar combinations of nature and culture in day-to-day life that you all have celebrated here. And many of the people who have suggested that my decision to live elsewhere in the off-season is ridiculous have also, in the next breath, admitted that they could never live in such a small place (not even legally a town, actually).

    So, in short, I wanted to thank each of you for your openness and understanding and encouragement. Your comments here have made me feel much less crazy!

  6. I too related to this post quite a bit. Although I have never considered myself to be an out-doorsy type, when I was living in Toronto, I did feel hemmed in, and tired of breathing polluted air. And I longed for something a bit more balanced. I too think I have found it where I am now, and feel very lucky for that. Although, when a friend in New York tells me about the shows she has seen or the events she is going too, I do sometimes think it would be nice to have those things at my fingertips. However, it’s nothing that a little trip wouldn’t fix.

    I absolutely relate to your feelings of isolation. I think I’d have a tough time living that far away from coffee shops and interesting neighbourhoods. I heard about a study that had been done once (can’t recall any kind of name, sadly), but it had to do with how people interact in urban spaces. The upshot of it was that in neighbourhoods where there are coffee shops, shops on the street, etc. we do get a sense of belonging, of community, even if we don’t know anyone personally. It’s a kind of food for the soul, if you will. The study stressed the importance of urban places where people can gather rather than spread-out suburbs. Both have their benefits, though. Like yards. I do long for a yard sometimes.

    And I too admire that you are able to see what you need, and support yourself in that. That’s not easy to do, especially when it seems inconvenient. And most especially when people who have an idea about the “way things should be done” tell you how it should be. Good luck in all your decisions and planning! 🙂

  7. Pingback: Apartment living for marital bliss. | Mother Sugar

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