Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mountain Views

Five years ago I bought a small piece of land in the northwest Catskill Mountains of New York State. These are old mountains that have wide tops often cut with high mountain valleys, which is where my land sits. It’s not the most stunning site, but it’s nestled on the side of a valley with gentle views of the ridge to the west and a mountain peak about 10 miles to the south.

I saw the property for the first time on my birthday. For years I had dreamed of one day owning a second home outside the city. Don't get me wrong. I love the city, but I had reached a point (an age?) where I needed a counterpoint to the fast, rushed pace of the week days.

I was with a friend who was house hunting. She couldn't find anything that interested her, and unexpectedly I bought these few acres. I was starting a new job that kept me from getting Upstate very often. So, I took my time. Paid the annual taxes. And, occasionally drove up to check out the site, although it was a year or two before I had someone clear some of it with a brush hog. I could see that a road had once crossed the land on a diagonal, but it had long been abandoned. In fact, the old road bed had become a seasonal spring that was muck any season I checked.

The Backstory

Twilight Journal is a record of my experiences in building a house—for now it's actually a second home. I've called New York City home for almost as long as I lived in Mississippi, where I was born. I love New York, but after years of living in the city, I started to realize that I needed a alternative to the fast pace of my weekdays and an escape where I could refuel in a lifestyle that was more connected to the land and the seasons.

It was the now ominous summer of 2001 when I first started "getting away" for the weekend. Little did I know then how much more important a place outside of the city would come to mean to me. I had found a little farmhouse in Columbia County that I rented that summer. It was big on charm but short on amenities. The kitchen was a little room with a refrigerator, a range and an old-fashioned metal hutch. The bathroom was even more basic: toilet, sink (no mirror) and a tub that I couldn't imagine sitting in. So, I rigged a shower with a hula hoop, wire, shower curtain and a garden hose that I managed to connect to the tub's faucet. The few visitors I had that summer were fascinated by my ingenuity and the variety of showering experiences you could have with a hose and spray nozzle attachment. Even in that little house, or maybe because of it, life felt so real.

Despite the things the little house lacked, that summer was one of the most relaxed, enjoyable summers I can remember. Friends and I spent a lot of time hanging in a trio of hammocks behind the house, and I started thinking about how to make the experience a permanent part of my life.