The world of remote work, even if some eventual return means being in the office a few days a week, opened up the doors and possibilities to moving a little farther from the City, and we took the chance.
It’s not that we were tired of the City. I will always need to keep one foot in New York, because I find it teeming with life, and there’s just no way I could sacrifice the food or all there is to do there. There’s no place on earth like New York, and I’m not about to lose that.
And yet, in my heart, I guess I’m still a country boy, or some such, and as much as I love being by the ocean or the Hudson and East Rivers, it was mountains, in the end, that called my name–the Poconos in particular.
So, I did something weird and bought the retirement home now. Maybe one day, when I’ve paid off the mortgage, I’ll get a little place in Manhattan too, and I can trade off being in both places, but for today, where I needed to plant my feet was in the Poconos, the Appalachians. They’re the mountains that have guided my whole life, after all.
In the handful of weeks I’ve been here, it’s been a blessing. I have a deck that overlooks a one-hundred foot drop, and below me, my property line goes to a small creek that I can hear twenty-four/seven, sometimes from inside the house. The community we moved into has six pools, eight tennis courts, a fitness center, a restaurant club, and a private ski slope.
We’ve already spotted multiple hawks, two kinds of woodpeckers, heard a bard owl or two, seen turkeys, deer, and started documenting all the different woodland creatures we come across. It’s a bit of a wonderland, and I feel a little like Shrek or something in my little hollow.
It’s also hard to realize that I’m not vacationing but that this is my life. It’s not what I planned, but then, six years ago, I was jobless, desperate, home in Tennessee hoping anything would come through. I don’t know that I ever would have believed that I’d go, since college, from Indiana to Scotland to Tennessee and Morocco to Massachusetts and Missouri to New York and New Jersey to settle, finally, in Pennsylvania.
That sounds so much like it was a straight path, and it’s been anything but that. Hell, the past ten years have been a hard ten years. Filled with plenty of mistakes. Some years were just empty and soul-sucking. Some were bad enough to make the pandemic seem like I’d already been through all of that. But as I sit in my loft, level with the tree canopy, it strikes me that your story is, in some ways, what you choose to do with it.
I’m saying that, I think, not because this is some feat worthy of celebration–though buying a house does feel like a feat in many ways–but because it all feels a bit like a Frost poem, and there were all these different junctures and bends and undergrowth, and I could have taken so many different paths. I even wish, often, that I could have lived them all. I wish I could be celebrating the purchase of a high-rise apartment in Hudson Yards, or writing this from a cottage in the Middle Atlas just outside of Fes. I wish I could have moved to L.A. and become a surfer–not even kidding–or hiked the whole of the Appalachian trail for six months. I think I would have enjoyed the Pacific Northwest, or Vancouver, or Seattle, or moved to Japan. I wonder where the military would have taken me, or some finance job that had me flying all over all the time.
So many things. So many choices. And I think what I’m driving at, even beyond the choices about where we decide to live, or what we decide to do, is that in all its twists and turns, the way our lives end up in places unexpected, the story in the end is ours to make of it what it is, to call it what we choose to call it. Whatever it is. Because the choices we made that got us to where we are are not without their good days, or their bad. It’s the in-between point A to point B that all the things that matter happen.
We hold onto the stories we remember from our lives, clinging to the ones that impacted or resonated with us the most. The stories we held onto became our truths. Those truths, in turn, were chipped at, whittled, carved by welcome and unwelcome passions, warped by time and outside influences, sometimes to our benefit, others to our detriment. On some level, at the end of the day, our story–specifically how it gets told–is maybe the one thing about our lives we have control over. We get to decide who is the narrator, the protagonists and antagonists, what the story arc is, or who comes out clean in the end, and no matter what happens to us or what we’ve done with our time, or didn’t do, there’s no story that can’t find redemption or be worthwhile in its telling. The hard part is that lifelong task, the one of the examined life. Our natural pull toward embellishments that protect our reality can too easily alter it.
And it’s not that we need our story to be factual: no true story is purely that. But we need it to be true enough that we don’t discover we’ve just hidden and projected, true enough we can work through it without burying the truth so deep down in ego or inadequacies, it gets lost entirely. The good news, though, is that even then, it’s still our story to tell, not anyone else’s, for as long as we’re around to keep writing, keep redacting, keep interpreting and reinterpreting. My advice: tweak towards grace, for yourself, edit with love, for others (especially those you’ve hurt or who’ve hurt you) on the mind, redact until you work through it enough you know it’s good and right.
Maybe that’s why I had to move to the mountains. Always changing in their constant erosion, yet still somehow stable for generations. I wanted to feel and be moved by the winds of change, and also plant my feet into the rocks. Something about that seemed to mesh well with my story.