After more than thirty years, I have come to loathe New England winters, specifically the ones in the Hudson Valley where I reside with my family in an 1890’s barn. Not withstanding the freakishly mild one we are having this year, I generally start whining to anyone who’s within spitting distance, that winter, like Darth Vader, represents the dark side. The Force, I moan, is not with me but against me.
Even the occasional Indian summer does not suppress the uneasiness I feel every fall over what I know is coming: October ends in a final blaze of color, the denouement of all that is vibrant and alive, before the dark, muddy slide into November’s violent thunderstorms, with December’s howling winds and blanketing snow sealing the deal. By January, where the thermometer outside my kitchen window registers several notches below zero, I will have a core temperature rivaling the poor slobs preserved in a cryogenic facility. Yes, a bit of hyperbole but still not far from the truth.
Blame it on my malfunctioning thyroid. Blame it on my low body fat. Blame it on my cranky disposition. Just don’t tell me to put on another fucking sweater! I’m already a walking LL Bean advertisement with my flannel-lined jeans, waffle-knit thermal undershirt, quilted vest, arctic-proof down jacket, ski cap, mittens and hiking boots. I’m considered whippet thin but from October to March, with my multi-layered uniform, I could steal the Michelin man’s job from him.
“Gosh, we just LOVE the weather!” gushes a woman I know, as we both lean into the bone-chilling wind on the walk back to our cars after dropping our kids off at school. Before driving away she shouts over to me, “and winter is my favorite season!” I look at her like she’s on drugs and then remember that, duh, of course she loves subzero temperatures: She’s from one of those Scandinavian countries where the sun doesn’t shine for nine months out of the year, not to mention that she quietly disappears with her family for three weeks during Christmas and then again in late January for the Caribbean. What’s not to love when you can take a long break in the sun and sand and warm your core.
Why not just stop grousing and move to someplace warmer? Such a good, thought-provoking question! A question which a few of my friends who live in warmer climates ask me every fall when I start on my annual tirade. Oh, if life were only that simple.
If someone had told me twenty years ago that I would be freezing my ass off in upstate New York, I would have laughed in their face and retorted, “in twenty years, I’ll be traveling the world and returning to someplace warm, preferably near the ocean.” Instead, like a character in Lemony Snicket, I have ended up, through a series of most unfortunate events, in an elephantine barn in the middle of the Hudson Valley, where summer, although spectacularly dressed in vibrant green and bathed in painterly light is barely savored before the icy tendrils of winter spread over the landscape, draining the earth of color and smudging the sky a dirty grey.
When my husband and I first purchased this behemoth of a building, we were sick of spending weekends in the city, and at the right price we overlooked its flaws, eager to have a reprieve, and the chance to breathe fresh air and walk out the door to a backyard, something we couldn’t do in our high-rise apartment. We even brought our three cats along thinking they, too, would appreciate the change, even though, like clockwork, they would wretch their guts out at the fifty-mile marker. As we mopped up the mess in our tiny Honda Civic, we would murmur sweet nothings to our carsick felines that, in another hour, it would all be worth it! And, it was. Our barn was old and funky, but we didn’t care because it offered a respite from a life that had grown tiresome. Childless and with careers that we feared had peaked or, at least, were temporarily stalled, we could imagine a different trajectory for our future as we leaned back in our comfortable Adirondack chairs, sipping a glass of wine on a warm summer evening.
For two years, we spent every spring and summer weekend hauling our selves and our three cats up to the barn. We even extended our time into September and early October the second year when we had an unprecedented Indian summer. But, the winter was never an option because my career still demanded that I travel. Fortunately, it was to warm climes, so the few days a month that I had to tough out the cold in the city passed quickly, and since my husband didn’t mind the winter, having grown up in a town even farther upstate, life was pretty good. My work allowed me to live like some of my more financially fortunate friends who fled the snow and sleet and wintered in Palm Beach or St. Barths. By default, if not my husband, I, at least, was living alongside the one percenters, those fortunate few, who, either by the good grace of inherited or created fortune, are born with or, along the way, acquire, a proclivity to follow the sun.
Who knows how long this would have continued if we had not had our baby daughter enter our lives. Just like the deafening sound of our current neighbor, Kenny’s, cannon that he loads and fires after he’s polished off a couple of six-packs, our daughter’s entrance exploded into our lives, altering our cozy, set routine. With a baby, the city seemed noisier, dirtier and scarier, not to mention that our one bedroom apartment had become claustrophobic, so it didn’t seem irrational to come up with the brilliant plan to move up to our country abode. With the decision made, the apartment sold in record time and before we knew it we had, like Eddie Albert and Ava Gabor, packed up and moved to our Green Acres.
Little did I realize then that the song would ring so true:
Green Acres is the place to be
Farm living is the life for me
Land spreading out so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside
New York is where I’d rather stay
I get allergic smelling hay
I just adore a penthouse view Darling I love you but give me Park Avenue
The chores, the stores, fresh air, times square
You are my wife, goodbye city life Green Acres we are there
We didn’t see it for what it really was until we left the city permanently, and realized too late that we were nothing other than transplanted city folk, who, big of dreams and little of brains, moved into a decrepit, decaying, 150-year-old cash-draining barn. Leave it to two actors to fall in love with a space that was originally built to house animals.
I’ll never forget the day that soon after we had moved up to our barn, we had invited a local neighbor over. He stood in the middle of the cavernous space, his head swiveling from left to right, taking in the horror of it all, and proclaimed in a slow drawl, “Yep, I’d say yer lookin’ at least atta ten-year job.” Ten years? Was he touched? My husband and I rolled our eyes, smug in our conviction that no way was this going to take any longer than a year.
Nine winters later, here we are, still not finished. Gone is the parallel life I shared with my financially elite friends, and while they text me from their beach chairs sipping Mai Tai’s, I have, like an 1880’s pioneer heading west in my wagon train, weathered the slings and arrows of Mother Nature. As we come up on our tenth year and the completion of our renovation, I am googling and perusing the internet for great public schools located in warm climates. The seduction of living in year round warm weather is beckoning me like Ulysses’ sirens, and their song is becoming more and more difficult to ignore. Although we have lived in construction and sawdust for almost a decade, and will probably never enjoy the fruits of our labor, we long to shed our layers, dig our toes in the sand and run the beach with our 10-year-old, who all too soon will be on her way to her own life, leaving us once again with each other and our now two remaining cats. There will be plenty of time when our daughter takes flight in another ten years, if we so choose, to once again, freeze our asses off.