Wednesday, December 06, 2006

City mouse in the country

I lived on a farm for six months once, when I was 19. And before I moved to New York City 18 years ago I used to cross-country ski, ride my bike, go car-camping, and even backpacking. I tried for awhile to stay outdoorsy -- I had just earned my class 1+ whitewater canoeing rating from the AMC when I met Dave. But then we set up house and had Lily and it took an hour just to go three miles to get over one of the bridges and escape Brooklyn. I began to forget what was so appealing about looking at trees and being in 40-below weather, anyway.

But part of me still remembered, so we moved here. The countryside here is gorgeous and the resources to support all that activity tremendous -- the town dump has a recycling section, for instance, that reportedly is full of perfectly good used skis of all sizes. Lily's bike was $60 second-hand at that great bike shop, and the store wasn't even open; but he saw us hovering and let us in. Every time you turn a corner there's another path waiting to be walked.

So the first thing I wanted to to do was get The Gear.

Our first Friday afternoon, last week, Lily had no school and it was pouring and really windy. Perfect day to shop. We started at the above-mentioned bike shop, and then went to three or four more stores to start collecting The Gear, mostly for Lily. She got snow pants, Gortex ski gloves, and a pair of knock-off Sorel boots that cost $20. Will I regret not springing the extra $20 for the actual Sorels? Stay tuned. I got a ski jacket, the only one I could find that wasn't baby blue or soft pink.

The weather cleared and it was lovely the next day, our first Saturday, but Dave had a cold and I headed off to my cousin's 90th birthday party two hours away. So Sunday rolled around, another gorgeous, blue-sky day. I'd promised Lily we could make challah, so we started the morning with yeast and flour and lots of eggs. We've been here long enough to get dirty, I decided next, so I spent the rest of the morning changing sheets, doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, and Dave vaccumed. The little house sparkled. (Really!) Then I took Lily next door to play.

That's when I realized that I don't have The Gear quite down yet. I walked her next door -- our wonderful next-door neighbors are concerned about kids walking the few yards that go along route nine. What do I know? When in Rome... When we got there, Lily's friend's mom said she wanted to send the kids outside, which makes total sense if you don't live in New York City and don't have to watch them every second and had never occurred to me since I just moved from New York City.

So I went back to get Lily a hat, mittens, and boots to replace her leather school shoes, and realized that not only is she lacking mucking-around farm boots, all she has are the Sorel knock-offs and they are pink! In fact, her other boots are pink, too, and she has pink sneakers, and many of her clothes are pink. She was okay with it, though, and I left her trying to move a hen so she could collect her egg.

The cool thing was, Lily was over there awhile. After egg collection, she rode in the back of a pick-up full of hay to feed the cows, and climbed the piles of Christmas trees they have ready to sell. Her cheeks were red and she was beaming; she'd clearly had a great time. Lesson number two: She hates wearing blue jeans but I am going to have to insist, as her new slacks from Old Navy were covered in mud. I feel like these lessons should all be obvious, but mostly I just think, 18 years is 18 years. You can take the girl out of the city but...

So then we decided to go for a bike ride. Only we'd waited a bit too long, and it was now about 3:00 p.m. We ignored the fact that the sun was no longer high in the sky, we were going to be outside, as a family! Lily was scared to ride her new bike and wanted to ride the tagalong. But we insisted that she practice at least a little, so we walked a little way over to Stanley Street, which is very quiet and flat. She was wobbly and jerky -- the concept of handbrakes is brand-new, not to mention gears. But after riding around for a half hour she was thrilled and excited, and ready to get on the tagalong.

So we went back to the house, switched bikes, and rode the three-quarters of a mile to her school. This will be the perfect place to practice riding her new bike, as it's a flat empty lot with lots of yellow parking lines. For now, she and Dave played on the playground equipment and I chatted on my cell phone (call me!) while my hands froze. It was now well after four and the sun was definitely setting. Note to self: Go out in the morning in the winter, not the afternoon; be home by 4:00 p.m.; and always bring gloves!

Still, it was a lot of fun and we came home and ate fresh challah and homemade potato leek soup and I defrosted.

The cold is definitely an issue. I knew it would be colder in Massachusetts -- it's about 10 degrees colder, as a rule -- but somehow I thought it wouldn't be so bad inside. But I forgot that now I control and pay for my own heat, so I'm no longer living in an overheated Brooklyn apartment. We keep the thermostat at about 67 and bundle up. The bathroom does have one of those warming lamps on a timer, which is lovely. At least I don't feel so woefully underdressed in my jeans and sweaters, like I always did, even in neighborly Brooklyn. Everyone here dresses in that kind of L.L. Bean country casual, lots of Polartec and hiking boots.

Another benefit of living here is reconnecting with my New England friends. My friend George Colt, with whom I worked at LIFE and who is a wonderful writer, drove us around for a couple of hours on Monday, into Shutesbury and Leverett. We bought lunch food at the Leverett Village Coop, another good source of cheap bulk spices, grains, and other fine foods we've become accustomed to at the Park Slope Food Coop. It also turns out that members are eligible to join the Five-College Credit Union, which I hope we do soon.

George presented us with a housewarming gift of a book of topographical maps of Massachusetts and he pointed out many of the great hiking spots. As we drove he showed us trailheads and access points for the rails-to-trails. He took us past a road that leads to a rope swing on the Connecticut River. He had intended us to hike to the top of Mount Sugarloaf and eat lunch there, and I confess I totally wimped out. Truth be told I was terrified of being cold, which is kind of silly because the exertion of the walk would have warmed me up. Turns out we didn't actually have time to make the hike, eat lunch, hike down, and go see Anne, George's wife (and also a wonderful writer). So we nix the hike this time and drove over to their home in Whately, instead.

George and Anne have redone a 200-year-old brick farmhouse and it's stunning inside and out. We had bread and cheese and fresh cider and yakked about real estate and schools and transitioning from New York City. Anne told us about a great camping spot on the west side of river, a cove that we can either canoe to, or drive to, unload, and then move the car a half mile away and walk back. George told us where to go in South Hadley to watch falconers train their hawks. And they both talked about the two black bears that stumbled through the yard one summer afternoon when George was weeding. Fortunately they ignored the dachshound, as they were more interested in each other. The bears, that is.

Every day I am reminded of what my friend Sylvia speaks of as the abundance all around us. George says they've been here six years and still haven't explored all the hikes and canoing and biking they want to do, and they haven't done a bit of culture, either. I was worried about being bored, but clearly there's more than enough to do here.

Thank goodness we are coming into snow season. My complaint about New York was that I couldn't offset the winter negatives -- mountains of snow, ponds of slush, icy winds -- with skiing and snowshoeing and gorgeous vistas. No longer! Tuesday was our first snow, and while it didn't stick long it sure was pretty. I spent the morning watching the flurries as I cooked corn bread, and red bean chili with quinoa and a salad with creamy (tofu) garlic-ginger dressing from my current favorite cookbook, Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. Wonderful book, and great for those of you with new babies. My friend Nick drove down from New Hampshire and we pigged out awhile and then picked up Lily at school and went to the library for a kids' bookgroup. They were reading "The Last of the Great Whangdoodles" by Julie Andrews, highly recommended, apparently. I bribed her with the promise of ice cream to get her to go to the group; she gets very shy sometimes and digs in her heels. But now she's excited and wants to go back next Tuesday. By the way, ice cream in school costs 50 cents, as opposed to a buck at PS 261.

And today's final lesson: Things just take longer when you're on a new schedule and every routine is new. Is it also that we are in the country now? I don't know, although yesterday the country definitely slowed me down. I tried to leave at 9:00 a.m. to go see a friend and had to spend five minutes scraping and defrosting the car. It was covered with enormous, gorgeous snowflakes that had frozen in. That was after I'd discovered the skylight in our bedroom was dripping onto our bed. The poor landlord has been here almost every day, what with the tree branch crashing down in the thunderstorm last Friday, and now this. Guess that's just life in the Big Country.


  1. loverly. keep 'em coming. I think of your entries often...

  2. What a nice house! And all that delicious food you're cooking -- I am impressed!

    Small world, it is, too. Gus knows your friend George Colt from way back. They studied poetry with Jane Shore at Harvard. He sends his best.

  3. You seem to be settling to country life.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.