What could be better than making it in New York? Try leaving it. We did.
It’s no secret: high atop the list of quintessential rites of New Yorkers, natives and newcomers alike, is sewing periodic escape. Country weekends, second-home summers, holiday sublets-people of privilege, you affluentials and your toothsome spawn, I salute you to enjoy your view while it lasts. For my wife and I, your countrytime staycation has become our new year-round rural roost.
Here’s how local self-exile works. Three months ago, on a cockeyed dare to ourselves, we picked up sticks in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn and drove 60 miles north to the single stop-light village of Cold Spring in the lower Hudson Valley. Our search was brief, our requirements plain: a fully walkable, commercially low-key community within umbilical cord reach of the city and hailing distance of nature. In short, all the postcard pastoralism a hayseed urbanite can claim. After logging 15 years in New York, and taking full measure of the requisite, generationally-appropriate Brooklyn love affair, a growing hunch had us wondering if it all weren’t a bit played out, an overlooked alternative waiting just round the Hudson Line bend. Maybe the escape artists of New York have it exactly backwards?
Awaiting us in Cold Spring was a carriage house rental 40 paces to the Hudson, and another 400 to the rail station. We went from a brownstone block festooned with Guggenheim and MacArthur winners, smart-talking African- and Caribbean-American retirees, giddy sidewalk chats with pre-Pomona Jonathan Lethem and walking distance to ten subway lines and a dozen minutes to Manhattan to a blue-green speck of hamlet in the Hudson Highlands, an hour and change to Midtown and precious little else. Cold Spring claims two thousand residents yet my tally-the same 45 in rotation, in fresh trousers-disagrees. Of course something is lost in this move. Oddly enough, we haven’t quite felt it yet.
Let’s shortcut the suspense. This Hopper-flecked Winesburg, Ohio scene has hit us full in the heart. You could have guessed that. We’re in its honeymoon grip. But no matter what you hear, no: it’s no Brooklyn. Which, for us, is entirely the point.
Something in our lives had us primed to come happily unglued in a place like this. Tales of going off the grid are catnip to the info-glutted. Urban escape is, after all, essentially a class fantasy. If we came up short on the north-of-Rhinebeck Shteyngart criterion for a digital cleanse, there are consolations prizes here. Like Internet grocery delivery.
Questions remain. Can we muscle the commute? Will we become self-important arriviste locavores? Local honey-purveying hippies? Creepy childless pariahs? Republicans? (The Ailes and Pataki clans are local gentry.) Our precious city frailties don’t stand a chance of lasting the year, which might resonate brightly if I hadn’t Netflixed that Wicker Man remake this spring. An early lesson: there are many ways to lose your cool in rural parts, and maybe two to keep it. Option one, you find new feral grooves and adapt with what grace you muster. Option two, beat back the wilderness with your CSA basket, WiFi and New Yorker subscription. As the temperatures drop and tourists scatter, certain comedy awaits. Reared in suburbs, grown adult in cities, we don’t know our way around small town manners, its (plentiful!) intrigues or single-pane glass. Banana peels abound.
Can’t spot a reclusive hick for miles around? Safe to say, it’s probably you.
One hundred days in to our country living gamble, the sights are fine, fresh and undiminished by our 30-something Brooklynite slouch. We’re waiting on the city people things that will be first to fall away, even as we name them for the first time. For us, deep in a blue highways Americana nowhere is thrillingly more than somewhere enough.