I’m sitting on the train and I just looked out the window and changed my mind. Jori and I had discussed another topic for this week’s AC, but, Jori dear, to use a football phrase I recently described to you in great detail, I’m calling an audible.
The train is carrying me south, back to New York City. Back to my home — or is it? We are working on convincing ourselves that the Hudson Valley is our home now. Old Chatham, more precisely. On a recent trip to Southeast Asia I bought a string of jade prayer beads. I refer to them as anxiety beads, with which I fidget as Jori and I dial in our rural/urban lifestyle, adjusting our needs, wants and expectations quite literally minute-to-minute.
Today we spoke with a friend about building a bigger compost bin, about pens for the rabbits we are going to raise. And now, as I head into town (my affectionate term for New York City) Jori is picking up a new modem from the telecom company that supplies our Internet connection. We want to live upcountry, walk outside, see no one, smell the trees, slow down, yet we have to have the fastest connection offered by the phone company. And, I don’t think either one of us are satisfied with the download speeds…yet.
I say yet because I believe the reasons we are migrating north will eclipse some of our fetishes with electronica and it’s silicon-based sex appeal. Within 100 yards of the barn this morning we saw a giant cat. Not Felix, the neighbor’s fat house cat. I mean a wild cat. I was so excited I knocked my head on the bottom of the stairwell rushing to put on my shoes and run outside and photograph it (no, not shoot it and spit roast it…although…?). Jori then researched large cats, via our frustratingly slow connection, in the Hudson Valley and found that there have been documented sightings of a variety of species. The official NY State websites deny the existence of large cats in Columbia county. They also deny the existence of coyotes in Columbia county, although [my son] Hudson and I ritualistically howl along with them on full moon nights. In fact, we found a dead coyote on a hike along our back ridge, its throat ripped apart, probably by a non-existent large cat. For this type of detection, a faster connection to the Internet is required.
I have lived in town off and on since I graduated college in 1995. Jori moved to town from Austin in 2002. Despite the gap in years the two of us have spent living in town, town has been cool and uncool, hip and then lame, inspiring and on its way out, electric and dead an equal number of times for each of us; I chalk that up to Jori’s emotional volatility (kisses!). The truth is, town is unique, it’s what you want it to be when you need it to be. And sometimes that’s a two hour train ride away.
But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps Jori and I are just among some of the pioneers of town’s great sprawl. Lofts in Bushwick next to Waste Management go for over 2k per month. Where do the artists go? I can get a better coffee at swallow in Hudson than I can anywhere in town right now.
There was a catty piece in the Times this past summer equating towns in the Hudson Valley to neighborhoods in “town.” It was a push and outright rejected by all of those who want the place they live now to be different than the place they had to leave. An attitude, by the way, that is just so New York. The article, while certainly stretching to cover its premise, alluded to a very sound base point. That is, sorry Dad, town is no longer the center of the universe.
Smart New Yorkers who share that classic conflicted relationship with town have planted themselves close enough to still get the needed fix, but far enough away to create communities that thrive on art, music and food in relaxed, rural settings and, they may be, dare I say it, on the brink of being more relevant in artistic circles than town itself. And have you seen the buildings in Hudson? A far cry from some Superfund “loft” building approved as cleaned of all heavy metal remnants on a handshake deal and a cash-stuffed brown bag. I’ve lived there and it can, does and has inspired art. As I said, town is what you want it to be be when you need it.
There may be something new, though, something town has yet to have. I don’t know, but the sunset is beautiful, we saw a panther this morning, missed Thurston Moore playing in Hudson last week because we were in Asia but were lucky enough to catch Steve Earle, had a great cup of coffee this morning while talking to some guys who build furniture from reclaimed barn wood, met a couple of young artists who looked hungry enough to eat a panther and the coyotes howl at night.