Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tips for New Yorkers moving to the Valley

A few observations, now that we've been here almost three years (!) (at Thanksgiving), in no particular order:

Don't come in thinking you know everything and you'll show everyone else how it's done, because a) you're wrong, you don't know everything, and b) you have no idea how things are done yet. Just be friendly and go about your business. The pace is different here; the environment is different; people move in different ways and communicate differently. Not better, not worse, just different.

Don't expect an immediate warm fuzzy welcome. Most people living here are New Englanders, after all. Like New Yorkers, they respect your privacy, and they are also used to frequent newcomers. But don't ever doubt that they have your back. Once they are your friend they are extremely loyal. We are extremely fortunate to have moved into a wonderful block. Everyone is very busy -- yes, NYC doesn't have a monopoly on being busy -- so we don't see each other much. But we all take care of each other. It's lovely.

Ignore the Hamp-NoHo debate. I think that's about class more than anything else, and there's no winning in an argument about class. Just don't be a jerk and most people will like you no matter how recently you moved here.

It's not necessarily a lot cheaper to live here than in the city. If you own property you'll have to pay these odd things called property taxes, which add a big chunk to your cost of living. Not to mention you'll have to have a car, and probably two, and beyond buying the things, those cost a lot to run and insure. And, if you're used to the Park Slope Food Coop, you'll be astonished at home much more you pay for groceries.

Don't complain about those property taxes. It's the price you pay for good roads, schools, public health, and safety. Your money is really not being wasted; the fact is the Federal government has stiffed the state for years, especially since the war in Iraq, and the state has to pass that loss onto the towns. It's just the way it is. Vote for tax overrides; it's the community-minded thing to do.

Don't assume the public schools are better than New York City. New York is on the cutting edge of education, in many ways, and few public schools anywhere are better than the best in New York, especially in their ability to handle very diverse communities, abilities, and large classes. If you intend to put your child in public school -- and there aren't a lot of alternatives -- be thoughtful about what town you live in.

If you buy a house, check out the neighborhood. Don't assume that empty space behind your backyard is zoned conservation land. It could actually be a landfill.

Don't make assumptions about the people who've lived here for generations and have never been further than Springfield. Some of the kindest, smartest people I've met here have never lived anywhere else. You are not a better person because you lived in New York City.

Things smell differently here. Understand that landfills smell, and so does agriculture, and there's not much you can do about it. Massive livestock farms, like pig farms in North Carolina, aren't common here. But there are lots of animals and cow and horse manure have distinct odors, that's just the truth. Appreciate the incredible lush loamy smell too, and the aroma of a fresh snow, and the flowers in the spring. Lovely.

Not every farm is organic. The Pioneer Valley is full of nutty crunchy people but people have been happily farming here for generations and they do it in all kinds of ways.

That tractor going 15 mph on the road in front of you, like the smell of manure, is one of the prices you pay for having incredible fresh produce from May into November.

Farmers work incredibly hard. Be sympathetic to their concerns. Unless you've farmed you have no idea what their lives are like, and you could not live without them.

New England is the whitest region in the country. But there is much more diversity of all kinds here than might be obvious at first.

Straight people go to Gay Pride. The one in Northampton is a big city street festival and well worth attending. Support your LGBT friends and have a great time eating and hanging and buying stuff. It's really fun.

Go outside. That's why people live here, to hike, swim, boat, bike, and ski, skate, and snowshoe. Many people do other things, like hunt, fish, bird, rock climb, and row on the river. Invest in the basics right away -- snowshoes, skis, bikes, hiking boots, and good winter wear. Essential.

There's lots of culture here so check out everything you can. The Mullins Center at UMass brings in superb international acts. They and all the colleges have their own arts programs, museums, botanic gardens, libraries, and speakers. And that's just the colleges. There are many other hidden treasures, including in the Hilltowns, and west toward the Berkshires. Boston is just two hours to the east, New York is three hours south, and we're very close to the Berkshires, with its wealth of culture, especially in the summer.

Get a farm share
, the term they use here instead of "joining a CSA" (community-supported agriculture). A farm share helps you support your local farm, meet your neighbors, eat organic veggies, and improve your diet.

Look at the sky. It's incredible. It's vast, ever-changing, and you can see a whole lot more of it than in New York City.

Likewise, keep an eye on the Connecticut River. Like the sky, it's organic; it changes constantly; it rises and falls and keeps on flowing. There's lots of smaller rivers too.

Walk or drive to the top of Mt. Sugarloaf regularly, climb the tower and look around. Remind yourself why you moved here. It's a wonderful life. Oh, and be sure to make at least one visit to the Quabbin Reservoir, and hear the story of how it came to be.

Be prepared for your cell phone not work, especially once you go into the hills and otherwise get out of the town centers. Along those lines, many towns don't have cable or high-speed internet access, either. I think you can get a satellite, but those have problems too, especially when it snows. And lately it's snowed a lot.

Our best recent purchase was a GPS. It got me home on Monday night over twisty, deserted back roads in the dark. It will save you time and get you onto the more interesting back roads.

Be prepared to drive a lot more than you may have ever expected. Especially if you have kids. The corollary of that is, be prepared not to walk nearly as much. Every New Yorker here misses the walking. You have to plan your walks, if you want to take them, and take them you must.

Global warming has hit the Valley, like every place else. This means it doesn't get that cold in the winter -- it barely went to single digits last winter -- but we get a lot of moisture, and that's meant lots and lots of snow. This summer has given us so much rain it's really hurt the hay crop, and also the strawberries. Be prepared for all kinds of weather, all the time. It changes quickly.

If you can afford it, buy a house with a garage. It makes a big difference on those cold mornings when you have to go to work, especially if it's snowed.

You will probably have to drive into town to get the NY Times, if it's still publishing when you move here. Get it early, it sells out.

You will not find the deep diversity here, such as food, music, people, languages, country of origin, that you find in New York. But you will find really superb versions of all that; there's a much wider variety than you might think, and you don't have to dig hard to see it.

One thing that surprised me about living here is all the various meditation retreats and sitting opportunities. Within an hour of Northampton are major centers of pretty much every major Buddhist tradition, and even more places to sit and study.

Don't go blindly killing wildlife and plants that are unfamiliar. That snake that suns on the rocks next to our driveway eats all kinds of small vermin and bugs. Ditto the bats that swoop around. We had a bat in our living room recently and it was no big deal at all. Check things out first and see what's dangerous and what's not.

I advocate keeping your cats in doors. They kill all kinds of birds and small animals and don't eat them, and they themselves often fall prey to bigger predators, coyotes and fishers, in particular. They can also get diseases out there. Pretty much everyone here does, except the folks who adopted a stray.

Check out the community events -- town fairs, book sales, ski and skate sales, pancake breakfasts, church suppers, high school plays and musicals. Don't be a snob. They're fun and you increasingly see people you know. Many of these are regularly scheduled so just watch the paper.

It bears repeating: Don't be a snob. The community is very small and very tight. Everyone knows everyone else, and most of the people I've met are really interesting, doing all kinds of cool things. Talk down to your plumber, ignore the cashier at the food coop, and pretty soon you will find yourself with no one to talk to.

Subscribe to the Hampshire Gazette. If you live in the Valley, it's your hometown paper. It's where you get all the news, its website is excellent, and like any paper, it's fun to rag on it when it screws up. Essential.

Feel free to add your own.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! and I did walk a lot more when I lived in Boston, sometimes I forget that, but I bike a lot more here and cross-country ski and grow my own garden. Groceries and cars, that's our biggest piece of the budget!


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