Real Estate, Oy!

Western Washington Forest

Bill and I were in our car recently, driving to some event or other when my cell phone rang. It was our landlord calling to tell us that Norman and Amanda’s house, and more importantly the nine acres that went with it, were going on the market the following week. “It will probably take at least a year to close,” he added reassuringly.

It was nice that he warned us because a day or two later, I was working in my office when Bill yelled, “There’s a drone flying over our house!” Needless to say, he ran out and investigated. He found a young photographer using the drone to take pictures of the land and also taking pictures from the ground. (Well-paid work if you can get it, Bill also learned.)

A few days later, one of those huge two-sides-of-a-triangle signs appeared on the road by our property though nowhere near the driveway itself. I’d been a bit concerned about people knocking on the door but I needn’t have worried. No one would pay $2.15 million to live in this house, and indeed the sign advertises us as a “residential plat” with 9.33 acres. Welcome to the wacky, fun-filled world of Western Washington real estate.

We had every reason to know this was coming. Development is crawling up the road at us, swallowing up the old farms and farmhouses turning them into series of depressing beige boxes with no yards and spindly trees. The development that comes up to two houses south of us was offering 54 of these for $400,000 to $600,000 each, and they’re all or nearly all sold. It’s a crazy, crazy, crazy real estate market out there. The house next door to us is next, with its five acres, already permitted and sold, with the tenants on a month-to-month lease. We always knew this house would be next.

And so, we started looking around at real estate. But it’s a crazy, crazy market. The Venn diagram of houses that we like and houses we can afford is a very small overlap indeed. A few weeks ago, we tried to go to an open house at a house in the woods we’d visited a couple of times. It was much of what we’d wanted in a house, in the woods, with nearly five acres, a fairly nice house, a deck, and the trunks of primordially huge trees with the notches still in them from when loggers a century ago put planks a yard or two up the trunk and stood on them so as to cut across the trunk at a thinner spot than near the ground. It turns out that if you do it that way, the tree will regrow and that place was full of these old monsters that had regrown in various ways. It was magical, although the house was boringly generic. But it was only the second house we’d toured and it seemed to soon to make an offer. Which anyhow we might not have been able to make without a pre-approval letter that I hadn’t yet gotten from a lender.

So, I decided, I’d put the pre-approval in process and we would go to the open house and make a final decision as to whether to bid. No smart seller in this seller’s market, I reasoned, would sell the house days before an open house–you might get higher offers.

But no, we arrived at the open house to find the house deserted, the gate to the driveway closed. We retreated to Doc’s Pilchuck Tavern on Machias Road and put in a call to the Redfin person who’d shown us the place. Turned out, there was an accepted offer already and the house was off the market, the open house cancelled.

I felt like a fool–I’d been dreaming of a house in that wooded area east of town almost since I’d first seen that area (on the very stunning drive to the local dump). Why hadn’t I moved faster, tried harder? Most homes around there were half a million dollars or more. Here was one we could actually have afforded.

Drinking beer and licking our wounds by the river on Doc’s back deck, we decided we’d be quicker and more decisive next time we found something we really liked…

Image: The forest near the house we didn’t get.

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Welcome Home!


I hadn’t been in the Hawthorne Pub in many months, and things had changed. It was still tiny, the downstairs of what had once been an ordinary house, with a not-too-big room in the front with tables and a stage for performers. Further back was an even smaller room, called, for some reason, the Whistle Punk Tap Room, where there was a bar with taps and wines. No hard liquor at the Hawthorne.

The walls were still dark wood with random rock-and-roll art artifacts mounted on them, including a poster for Lost Dogma, the band where Ted, the owner, was the bass player. But the wall between the tap room and the performance room had in large part been removed and fixtures everywhere had been redone and spiffed up, the work of our soon-to-be good friend Kyle.

It was our second night in Snohomish County, the night of Bill’s gig that we had raced across the country to make. And the place was packed. “When Bill has a gig, everybody plays!” I’d once heard him tell some musician friends. And indeed, after he started out with his familiar tunes and “Gear Shift,” his signature tune that demonstrates his agility with a pick and a slide, he began inviting them onto the stage,  to join him.

I sat, spouse of the star, at a table right up front, jammed in with Joe, Bill’s new good friend, a keyboard, guitar player, and one of the few singers I’ve encountered on a par with Bill. Joe and Bill together are a duo called Cool & Groovy (Bill’s “Cool” and Joe’s “Groovy,” the theory goes). Bruce, ASJA’s webmaster and our first friend in Seattle sat on my other side with his friend. The stage got more and more crowded as musicians came and, less often, went. “Welcome home!” they told Bill, one after another. “Welcome home!”

I sat there smiling. He was so happy, and I was happy for him. But also a little envious. He was so at home here, and already had so many friends. When would I make my own friends? And when would this place start feeling like home?

Toward the end of the evening, Bill decided to try something out he’d been fooling with behind the wheel for the last couple of days of our trip, a jazzy little jingle he’d made up just for the Hawthorne:

Come to the Hawthorne if you like good music,

Come to the Hawthorne if you like good food.

Come to the Hawthorne for local beer, wine, and cider–

Nothing’s finer than a night out at the…Hawthorne!

There were two verses and a bridge and Bill had worked it all out while driving–vocally. Unfortunately, although he’s extraordinarily good at both driving and playing guitar, even Bill couldn’t do both those things at once so he hadn’t worked out the guitar part to go with it. This, from what I’ve observed, is the opposite of how he usually writes songs, which begin on the guitar and have a vocal line and lyrics added afterward.

But Bill is a fearless performer and lives (both musically and in life) by his ability to improvise. So he went for it. He summoned Rod, who plays bass for about half the bands in Snohomish to the stage. Now, Rod had never heard this little tune and he was about to provide its only accompaniment, but being another fearless performer, he was game.

Only now, where was the Hawthorne’s owner Ted? Tapping a keg, it turns out, an operation that takes a little while and can’t be stopped in the middle. There was a bit of awkward shuffling around but eventually Ted appeared, looking harried and carrying a very large wrench.

“We don’t got it,” Bill said. “But we’re going to do it anyway.” And he launched into “Come to the Hawthorne” with Rod following along pretty decently on his bass.

By the end of the evening, Bill was glowing and all his friends had crowded on and off the stage. Near the end, he played with Jeff, a sort of musical Swiss army knife who plays guitar, drums, and harmonica. They did Railroad Earth’s “Bird in a House,” a song that I love and didn’t know anyone else knew about. Then Bill finished off with a couple of his songs.

We climbed happily into our van bed with our cats that night. This was it. It was exactly what we’d come here for, ripping up our Woodstock life and driving more than 3,000 miles with our cats cooped up and our trailer in tow. Just this.

Horse and a Diner


This old boy was born with the dreams of the old songs,

Riding the range and singin’ like Gene Autry

Watching Roy Rogers and Trigger right after Hopalong

I’d ride through my backyard prairie just like they taught me.


October 28, Wendell, Idaho

Those are the opening lines of “Horse and a Blanket,” Bill’s song about, as he puts it, “Growing up watching cowboys on TV and knowing someday I was gonna be one.” This is many people’s favorite song of his.

It’s easy for me to forget that Bill has a boyhood cowboy stored somewhere in the back of his head. I rode horses for years while we were together and he never showed any interest in getting on one himself. On a trip to the Southwest, he had to be more or less dragged into the red rock desert around Moab although once he got there he fell in love with the landscape. This was where many of his favorite boyhood shows had been shot, he said, and it all looked familiar.

We didn’t get anywhere near Moab or the red rock desert as we drove westward out of Wyoming and we crossed the northeastern corner of Utah quickly, spending only one night there. The next day, we saw a reflective glint on the horizon we thought might be the Great Salt Lake, and shortly after that we were in Idaho.

In some ways, Idaho was a lot like some other Western and Midwestern states we’d crossed: Long, largely uninhabited, windy. In another respect it was different: This was unquestionably cattle country. We saw them–the giant feedlots, endless expanses of brown earth and thousands of cattle–and we smelled them at the RV park where we spent the night. Even though we hadn’t seen a feedlot in miles when we pulled in, the very air smelled of cow. For the first time, I got an idea of how these feedlots and their methane could cause asthma in children hundreds of miles away.

For our first meal in Idaho we pulled off the Interstate where there seemed to be no restaurants or truck stops, and drove up a small side road following signs to a diner. Bill pulled our van-trailer contraption onto a wide gravel shoulder behind a horse trailer. Of course, I couldn’t resist peeking into the trailer and there was a lone horse, wearing a western saddle, standing patiently as though he did this every day.

“That’s a working horse,” I said.

Inside, the diner seemed to be a set out of a 50s sitcom with checked tablecloths and a languid waitress holding down the fort all by herself. It was clearly a neighborhood hangout, but there were few people, as there seemed to be in the whole state of Idaho. At the table next to ours were a couple of older gentlemen wearing cowboy hats, one of whom clearly belonged to the horse in the trailer outside.

Then yet another cowboy walked in. Worn leather jacket. Fringed chaps that ran all the way down his legs looking shiny from years of use. The real deal.

I had encountered real cowboys only once before, years ago, when I wrangled my way into a free passage on a horseback riding trip in Wyoming with a magazine assignment for a piece that wound up getting killed. We slept in a primitive camp in the mountains where you were not allowed to build any real permanent structures, or corral horses for that matter because too much grazing in one location would kill of the grass and make the land vulnerable. So every night our cowboy guides would let the horses go (you had to watch out for a few minutes there while they zoomed around camp in an excited herd). Then they’d rise before dawn and round them up again for the day’s riding.

Those were serious cowboys, but still, their job was to act as guides for “dudes,” as they called us all. Around here, I doubted that these were tourist-wrangling cowboys–there didn’t seem to be a tourist area for a hundred miles in any direction.

I looked at them with interest for a few moments and went back to eating my lunch. I was road-weary, I was, as always, scrambling to catch up on email and work every moment that we were stationary. Bill, though, was fascinated.

I didn’t know it until afterward, though, because gregarious Bill–he who walked up to Nicolas Cage, asked for a picture, then asked what kind of cigar he was smoking, he who flagged down Uma Thurman in a parking lot to tell her we both had the same cleaning person, he who was absolutely fearless in the face of celebrities and earth-shakers–he was too shy to talk to the cowboys. They must have been actually using horses to get around their ranches and manage their herds, like I had thought no one did anymore in this age of factory farming. The real deal.

“I wonder what they would have thought if I had played them my cowboy song?” he mused later on. I wish we’d gotten to find out.

Image: rarejacksonholerealestate via Creative Commons

Goodbye to Friends who Don’t Know I’m Their Friend


On a summer day in 1997, I was sitting in my office simultaneously working and chatting online with Bill, who was in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He had a new job at a tech startup there so ours was, temporarily, a commuter relationship. I glanced idly out the window, then did a double-take. A medium-sized bear was ambling across the yard.

“BEAR!!” I typed in Bill’s chat box. And then, “BRB [be right back] gotta go see.”

I know I typed that second sentence. I have a clear and distinct memory of typing it. But Bill swears that at his end what he saw was “BEAR!!” and then…nothing for several minutes.

Meantime I was opening the door and looking cautiously outside. When my cat squeezed past me I said, “Be careful Simon! There’s a bear.” That was enough to spook the bear and it ran away. So I went back to my desk and resumed chatting with Bill, who was about to call to make sure I was all right.

There probably wasn’t much to worry about. The black bears in the Northeast are famously wimpy. Even though they’re around us all the time, so much so that keeping garbage cans outdoors is problematic, a nature writer friend tells me there are only four known instances in all of history of one attacking a human.

I love living in a place where a bear might wander by. I love that a giant black snake took up residence in my compost pile (once I looked it up and ascertained it wasn’t poisonous). Deer argue over our field. Hawks float overhead screaming their triple scream. We can’t see them, but we know we have a neighborhood full of barred owls because we hear them at night, asking each other “Who cooks for you?” over and over.

In early spring, the sound of peepers and trilling toads fills the night and I go out with a flashlight and rubber boots and stand around the wet part of the field till I home in on one so I can watch it peeping. Their troats expand and turn transluscent, like bubble gum bubbles.

All summer I mix sugar water for the hummingbirds that build nests in our trees — most likely because they’ve learned our house is a dependable source of sugar water. Knowing they’re nesting there, I make a point of keeping the feeders cleaned and filled. “They commit, so I have to commit,” is how I explain it. Later in the season, adolescent hummers come by and I love knowing that our yard is the only place they’ve ever lived. I like to think they’ll return in the spring with their new mates.

In the winter, it’s a similar story with the songbirds. I hang a feeder with a giant squirrel baffle from a tree outside the living room window and tufted titmice and chickadees stuff themselves all season. Finches, with their powerful beaks, park on the feeder perches, breaking up the seeds and eating them right there. Occasionally a piliated woodpecker, too lazy to hunt for grubs, hangs on the feeder chasing all the other birds away. A flashy cardinal couple wanders by, eating spilled seeds on the ground rather than the feeder. And of course there are always the squirrels who make their way past my baffle by means so varied and devious we had to use a webcam to find out how they did it.

Around here, we’re only supposed to feed songbirds from December 1 to April 1, because of the aforementioned bears. And the hummingbirds are only around from May to October or so.  Which means there’s a month or two during late fall and spring when I’m feeding no one. It always seems a little lonely; it’s almost as if these wild things were my extra pets. Only now I’m about to stop feeding them forever. If we make our target departure date of September 1, I won’t even see this crop of hummers through the whole season.

I guess it’s fitting that this summer was only the second time in more than 20 years that I saw a bear in our yard. I was, again, sitting in my office, only this time it was about 1:30 a.m. The motion sensor light on our garage came on, and as always I peered out the window, trying to see what had set it off. If I hadn’t been looking for it, I wouldn’t have spotted the slightly blacker shape of a bear against the night. Right behind it was the exact same shape in miniature—the smallest cub I’ve ever seen. The cub did not gambole around but walked in lockstep right behind what I assume was its mother.

I was alone in the house; Bill was spending a month in Washington, playing gigs and preparing for our move. This time, I ran for my smartphone, both so I could take a video and send a text to Bill: “Bear followed by tiny cub just walked into garage!!”

Bill was performing and didn’t see my message, and by the time I got back to the window, I couldn’t see the bears either. The next day I made a lot of loud banging noises around and in the garage to see if they’d stayed. It seems they’d left right away. There was nothing in our garage to tempt them.

This is just random coincidence, but my pattern-loving human brain wants to parse it, to tease out some meaning. My final summer in the Hudson Valley, where I always thought I’d raise a child, where I tried and failed to bring that child to term, a mother bear with an almost-newborn cub strolls by to bid me farewell. I’m saying goodbye too, not only to this home and these woods, but also the life I once thought I’d have here.

I’m going on an adventure that would never have been possible if I had indeed become a parent. For everything lost, something else is gained. But I will miss these wild creatures who feel like they’re somehow mine. A small part of me wants to believe that in their way, they’ll miss me too.

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Image: Chris Miller. 

I Love You So Much, But Not Right this Moment!


If you live in the Northeast or know anyone who does you already know what a horrific thing this past winter was. There were monster piles of snow. Then it warmed up and they turned into monster piles of slush. Then the temperature plunged and the slush turned to rock-hard ice. And stayed that way for months. When Bill dropped me at the Poughkeepsie train station on my way to the ASJA conference in late April, I gasped as we drove in: Piled up against the side of the station, more than a story high, was a mountainside made of dirty, hard-packed snow that obviously had been transported there to get it out of the way somewhere else. I bet some of it is still there.

A few things turned this past winter even worse in our household. First, there were kidney stones. Bill was told he had large stones in both kidneys that required serious medical intervention. He hates Western medicine so he decided he would treat them himself with lemon juice and then apple cider vinegar diluted in endless glasses of water. It worked, to my amazement, but it took much of the winter, during which time Bill stayed mostly stretched out in his white leather recliner.

The recliner is at the exact center of our rather small house. There is no way Bill can speak or even belch in that spot without my hearing it, wherever I may be, unless I put headphones on. It didn’t help that he was miserable and in pain and generally inclined to gripe, or that he couldn’t go much of anywhere else.

I couldn’t either. A massive amount of work kept me at my desk most of the time. Plus, early in the winter I managed to injure my rotator cuff on the right side. I was in a fair amount of pain myself and at one point the two of us shared a hot-water-and-ginger compress in an attempt to cure both his kidneys and my shoulder. Unable to put any weight on my right arm, there was no way I could go to yoga class, and yoga is one of the things that keep me sane.

So there we were, trapped and grumpy. Bill craved attention. I mostly craved being left alone. The more I wanted space, the more he wanted interaction, a perfectly unhappy spiral. And so, for fleeting moment, I asked myself the unthinkable. Why was I moving across the country (in an RV!) with a man who, most of the time, I just wanted him to get away from me? Was I sure I wanted to do this? Should I consider splitting up instead? This line of thought didn’t get me very far. One of the few things I’ve known for sure for the past 19 years is that Bill and I belong together. Any serious thought of separation was met by the certainty that if I ever made that move I’d regret it immediately and forever. But in the moment, all I could feel was trapped and claustrophobic. There seemed to be very little joy in our marriage.

Time passed, and things got better. It helped when, around Christmas, I read an article about a woman who literally worked herself to death and began slacking off my own work schedule a bit, letting some things happen late or not at all in exchange for one work-free day every week. The worst of the winter went by. Bill’s kidneys hurt less, and he became more mobile.

The joy was still missing though. I was still working too hard, or Bill was too focused on planning the move, or for whatever other reason. So we did two things that always work whenever our marriage hits a snag. The first is, we talked about it. I told him how claustrophobic and unhappy I’d been feeling, and how I was much less connected to him than usual.

He apologized for his kidney pain-inspired grumpiness. But then he said something that surprised me: He thought our disconnect was because his heart was already in Seattle, whereas mine was still here. And he was afraid that my subconscious didn’t really want to move.

“Of course I have mixed feelings about it, I love it here,” I said. “And I’m sure my subconscious may not want to move. But I’m confident that my conscious mind will get the rest of me to the West Coast.”

That seemed to satisfy him. Then we did the second thing that always helps, we went out together for some fun. We had brunch in Kingston and then set out on our favorite stroll by the edge of the Rondout Creek, past the tugboat museum, and the marina full of pleasure boats, the PT boat being restored, the waterside restaurants and leftover warehouses.

As we started on our walk, I thought back to a night early in our relationship, years before we married. We’d been fighting all evening and were now going out together somewhere, though I don’t remember where. I don’t remember what we were fighting about either—probably nothing of substance—but I do remember that I was completely furious at Bill, and had been for hours and hours. As I opened the door to get in the car I thought to myself that I would be perfectly happy if he left and I never saw him again. But the reasoning part of my brain reminded me that this was temporary, that he was the man I had chosen to be with, would likely be spending my life with, and that, at least most of the time, I was a lot happier with him than I was without him. Having remembered all this, I got in the car with him.

Now, standing next to him more than a decade later, I thought back to that evening. And I knew that I would always remind myself again, and again, any time, as many times as I needed, that my life without him would be immeasurably sadder and emptier. That he was my life’s partner and we belonged together.

I put my hand in the crook of his elbow. I wanted to say all this to him, about how I would remind myself as many times as it took that I loved him. But I knew it would come out sounding wrong. So instead I just said, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I hope not,” he answered. He put his other hand on top of mine.

Then we walked off together along the creek.

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To RV or Not to RV?

295799422_a02e151ca1_oBill and I are moving to the Seattle area. We know that much. And we have a target, if challenging, departure date: September 1.

Pretty much everything else is up for debate. Beginning with where, exactly, we’re moving to. “Do you have a place?” friends and colleagues asked at the ASJA conference last week. Well no. We’re planning to start out by renting and you can’t rent a place in May if you don’t plan to move in till September. We’ve looked at plenty of rental listings and rentals from the outside and even a few on the inside, and that’s about all we can do.

Besides, we don’t quite agree on where to rent. About 45 minutes from the city proper is a town named Snohomish that we both like a lot, and even if we didn’t, it would be tempting for its name alone. It’s a gem of a small town, as Bill calls it, with bars where he’s been getting gigs. Our very good friends Drew and Cindy live just a few miles away. There’s a nice Thai restaurant, a lovely used bookstore, a gorgeous yoga studio, and, this being the PNW (Pacfic Northwest, for the uninitiated), several great coffee shops. And a theater where a lot of his musical pals play every Friday night.

Not only that, unlike most of the towns around there, Snohomish has buildings that date back to the 20s and 30s. That’s a big plus for me. I’ve spent my whole life in places where history was all around. In Ulster County, stone walls built by farmers a century ago still run through the woods. Moving west I’m likely to go through Old Stuff Withdrawal.

Snohomish v. Seattle

All signs would seem to point to Snohomish. Except. That will put me a 45-minute drive outside a vibrant, happening city. How often will I actually go to Seattle? Will I really get to know it? This concern mystifies never-been-urban Bill. Woodstock is a small town, he says. You love living there.

I do love it but only because I already thoroughly know Manhattan. If not, I might find it frustrating. This is a sentiment he cannot understand no matter how many times I try to explain. He grew up in a small city 70 miles from New York and that’s about as close as he ever wants to get to it.

We talked about living in the city but the more that seemed like a reality, the more Bill couldn’t bear the idea. We talked about living in Snohomish, but the more that seemed like a reality, the more it felt to me like stepping onto a path in which nearly everything would be pre-decided for us. I’m moving 3,000 miles for your music career and you can’t live in the neighborhood I choose? I say. Snohomish is where the places I play and the musicians I play with are, he retorts. You’re moving 3,000 miles for my music career, but making it harder for me to play.

Then there’s the question of how we get there. With three cats to whom we’re absurdly devoted, we can’t fly. Maybe they’d be OK riding in a car for ten days, maybe not. But stuff has to come with us too. To Bill, this all adds up to one solution: “RV.” Or maybe “RV—at long last!” He’s been suggesting an RV trip almost since we first met. I’ve been resisting the idea for just that long. Now, with an entire continent to drive across, especially with three cats, the RV solution is sounding more logical, and he’s planning a lovely-sounding itinerary through several national parks, and studiously shopping the used RV market with my somewhat uncertain blessing.

But then he upped the ante: “Let’s live in an RV park when we get there,” he suggested, mainly because they’re inexpensive and, let’s face it, he loves the idea of RV living. My feelings about living in an RV park are similar to his about living in the middle of the city. “Maybe you should live in an RV park and I’ll go find an apartment in town!” I snapped at him.

The following morning, he burst into my office with excitement. “I think I’ve found a solution!” he told me. “We’ll have an RV in an RV park and a studio apartment in the city.”

“I said that.”

“But you were joking,” he said. (That’s a lot nicer way to put it than “being snotty” which might be closer to the truth.) “I’m serious. I’m looking at the rents of studio apartments. We could get one, and rent a space in an RV park, for less than we’d spend on a one- or two-bedroom apartment.”

So he’s found some good deals on real estate sites, but will they turn out to be places one would actually want to live? I don’t know. Will we really be able to berth an RV as inexpensively as he thinks? No clue there either. Is this just another wild idea that will evaporate in the harsh light of reality? Could be.

But this is the kind of reason I married the man. Faced with a complete disconnect of our desires, he mentally jumps the track and thinks up a solution that gives each of us what we really want.

And so, at least for now, this is our plan.

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Image: Bruce Fingerhood (Image is for illustrative purposes only. We don’t have one yet…)

A Visit to Middletown




You can try to avoid leaving home, but it doesn’t matter. Eventually, home will leave you.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago on Bill’s sixty-second birthday. I had what I thought of as a fun day planned: A Japanese anime movie (he’s a fan) followed by a meal in a nice French restaurant and perhaps a one-man show by a comedian friend of his performed in, of all places, a nearby Zen monastery.

But Bill had a different idea. He wanted to visit his brother near Middletown, the city where they grew up, about 90 minutes south and west of Woodstock. Was that OK? he asked.

“It’s your birthday,” I told him.

Middletown, in Orange County, “Downstate” New York, was a homey little city to be a child in, by Bill’s description. Especially Hanford Street, where Bill’s relations all had lived in various houses up and down the block. Bill’s grandmother, who’d arrived from Ireland raised her eight children on Hanford Street. Two of them, Bill’s mother and his uncle Charlie, spent their lives there and raised their own children there. Bill’s paternal grandmother, “Nana” also settled there.

Down a generation, Bill’s brother Tom started his family in a house across the street from Bill’s widowed mother who spent almost her entire life on Hanford street and lived there till the very last months of her life. She had cared for an elderly man across the street who had no children; unexpectedly when he died he left her his house. Caring for neighbors was the sort of thing that family did.

For me, it’s beyond imagining–growing up surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins, three or four generations in the same town, on the same street. None of my family members has lived his or her entire life in one country, let alone one city. Not even me. What would that be like, I wonder, to have someone nearby nearly always who knew you, cared about you, and would report your transgressions. Comforting? Stifling? Both?

Home isn’t home anymore.

But time has caught up. We’d seen the slow transition of the city, even when much of his family was still there, and it’s accelerated since. It’s rougher, more down-at-heels, more dominated by low-end chain stores and restaurants along what used to be called the “Miracle Mile.” Bill’s old neighborhood is a sad sight, with his ex-family houses in various states of disrepair. Because by now, none of Bill’s family members is left on Hanford Street or even in Middletown. Two of his siblings moved to California. His brother Tom moved away too, but stayed nearby, in the small town of Otisville. Everyone else has dispersed or died.

On a drive down the old street, Bill sighed and shook his head over the trees and picket fences that had been removed, the state of his grandfather’s old porch. When we were done, we took a ride into the grounds of Middletown Psychiatric Hospital, the graceful, 19th-century assembly of buildings surrounded by park. Many family members, including both Bill and his grandfather, had held jobs there.

“What are those Xes?” he asked. Building after building had a red square posted on its doors, with a white X across it. I looked closer. “Abandoned building, no sprinkler system” I read.

“Wow,” said Bill, as we drove up and down the winding roads through the campus looking at boarded up and broken windows, piled up leaves, empty parking lots. This one was where the most extremely mentally ill had been housed, he remembered. That one was where, newly divorced, he’d shared a dormitory with a bunch of student nurses.

At the bottom of a hill we came upon a large herd of deer. One group was calmly grazing, another simply sitting on the lawn, enjoying the late afternoon sun. They didn’t seem especially troubled by our car, or by the fact that they were actually living inside a city.

The last time?

On the way to his brother’s we passed by the old country cemetary where both Bill’s parents are buried. In honor of my Jewish roots, we set pebbles on their headstone. Bill’s brother and sister-in-law fed us pork chops and birthday cake and the two brothers traded news of all their family members. It was midnight before we got home.

We are moving in a few months, so things are beginning to take on a will-this-be-the-last-time-we-do-this? character. Would this be Bill’s last visit to Middletown?

“I’m fine with that,” he said. He could try to go home, but it wasn’t there anymore.

One more reason not to regret leaving, one less tie holding either of us here. We can try to stay where we are, we can hope everything remains the same. But likely as not, one day we’ll return to find our old workplaces abandoned, neglected, and overrun by deer.

Why I’m moving 2,907 miles from a place I love

Last fall, I had dinner with a group of writers. I mentioned that Bill and I were planning to move to the Seattle area later this year. Since we live in Woodstock, New York, that’s a long way away and people always want to know why. So I explained how I’ve always been happy in the Hudson Valley and he hasn’t, necessarily. As a writer, I’m lucky enough to be able to work almost anywhere. He’s a musician, or he was for many years before he got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and couldn’t keep up with the physical rigors of setting up and performing. He’s gotten better, though it’s a slow process that took decades. A few years ago, he realized he was well enough to perform again.

Meantime, there’s his best friend Drew, who moved to the Seattle suburbs a few years ago after he reconnected with an old flame there. Almost from the beginning, he was reporting back to Bill: It’s really nice here. People are polite. They’re supportive to musicians. There are more places to play. It really doesn’t rain as much as everyone says…

Right away, sight unseen, Bill was just about ready to pull up stakes and go. I’m the cautious one. “OK,” I said. “Let’s spend some time there and check it out.” And so we have, for the past year and a half, several weeks at a time. We’ve explored small towns and different sections of the big city. We’ve made sure to experience the rainy season, not once but twice. Admittedly, it has its dreary side. But I’ve always been intrigued by the damp majesty of the Pacific Northwest. And the literary community there is so impressive it’s almost intimidating. I love my writer friends in the HudsonValley but it will be fun to get to know this whole new writer community.

Mainly, our friend is right. When he’s there, Bill has someplace to play out nearly every night. This is something he needs and loves to do, and something he’s incredibly good at. He’s going to be 62 in a couple of weeks. He’s a pretty young 62, but still. If he’s to be a performer, now’s the time.

It was around this point in my story that I noticed one of the writers at the table looking at me with one of the saddest expressions I’ve ever seen. He had lost his wife of many years, another writer, very recently. “Maybe they had unfulfilled dreams,” Bill guessed, when I told him this later. But I think it was something else, the unspoken comment I seem to get from so many people when I tell them about this move. You must really love him a lot to be willing to change your whole life.

Fifteen years ago, we did something similar. Bill (who’s a geek as well as a guitarist) got a job at a dotcom in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I wasn’t wild about Williamstown, but after an annoying commuter-relationship period just to make sure the job would last, we packed up our cats and our many computers and books, and made the move. A year later, the company had been acquired and Bill had moved to a telecommuting job based on the West Coast. We could live wherever we wanted. We might have gone off in any number of directions. But knowing how attached I was to Woodstock, Bill insisted on moving back here, returning to a life that wasn’t his first choice.

We’ve been here ever since, and it’s been good to us in many ways. I doubt I’ll ever love a house as much as I love this one. Everything here is familiar. Our family is almost all nearby. We have deep roots of the sort that make me see why people our age don’t usually pick up and move across the country.

But we’re not usual. It’s Bill’s turn now to love where we live, and mine to have a spouse who’s as happy with his career as he is with his marriage. And both of us are ready for a new adventure.

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Photo credit: Tavis Jacobs