Walking around Rockland Lake recently, I thought I’d taken a detour to the Galapagos.

Several mature and magnificent herons and egrets were escorting a huge flock of young birds across the southern end of the lake, a few short flaps at a time. It appeared to be a flying lesson. The young aviators took off and lifted themselves, just a foot or so, above the lake. Then, after being airborne for mere seconds, they’d skid across the lake’s surface, like shaky Cessnas trying to land in a storm.

Again and again it went. I, along with other walkers and runners and cyclists, stopped in my tracks to watch this bit of Animal Planet in a New York suburb.

It’s been like that all summer long. Abundantly abundant and then some.

Animal sightings, for me, never get old. Give me the chance to watch a chipmunk wriggle in and out from under a rock, and I’m warm on the inside. Even the squirrel that scampers along the railing on my deck is a treat.

But this year’s wildlife sightings are proving to be something akin to marriage vows — a “for better or for worse” scenario.

First, it was the turkey vulture (a bird only a mother turkey vulture could love). The slick black-and-brown bird with the hooked red head showed up one day at the invitation of my neighbor’s uncontained refuse.

Swooping in, he headed for a collection of plastic garbage bags. From my window, I watched the bird furiously tear away at the plastic. Once it scored, it flew upward with a thick heaviness and, thunk, landed on my roof. All the while, my nearby chickens screamed like hyenas.

That was nothing compared to the cat-and-mouse game we have been playing with a brazen raccoon. Every morning, we noticed he had been trying to burrow under and into our chicken run overnight. So determined was this animal that he kept moving large rocks that we’d tightly packed along the rim of the run.

One night, we heard a loud crash. There we were, face to face with the dark-eyed raccoon that, unable to feast on our plump poultry, was trying to lift the lid of a large cedar box on our deck where we store their feed.

“Git the gun, Pa,” I said to my husband.

Well, we don’t have a gun, and throwing rocks didn’t scare the raccoon away. So, every night, as darkness falls, Rocky returns, like a killer with bodies to bury.

But last week was a whole different animal. As I opened the door to leave my house, I did a double take.

“What the hell is that?” I said.

I called my husband at work. “We’ve got a bear.”

“Are you sure it’s not a hedgehog, or Sasquatch?” he said.

“Very funny,” I replied. “That is a definitely a bear.”

“Take pictures,” he said.

By the time I grabbed my camera, the bear had ambled closer, onto my lower patio. He was enormous. The furniture looked small next to him. Bored, he made his way up a set of stone steps and stood less than 5 feet from my front door.

I could see him through the glass, the only barrier between us. He looked at me. I looked at him. He was cute — well, kind of, in that way that a bear can look if you temporarily forget that his claws are as sharp as your best kitchen knife.

I was torn between fascination and fear. I wanted to observe him, like a wildlife photographer on assignment. But I had chickens to protect. I wasn’t buying that “Oh, bears are herbivores” stuff. I rapped at the glass until he eventually skulked off into the woods.

The next day, my local paper and every regional media outlet reported on a bear sighting in the Village of Nyack, about a mile away. The critter looked frightened, clinging to a branch up in a tree. If I were the bear, I’d definitely come back to my expansive wooded property. Though I’m hoping there are enough garbage cans in the village to keep him sated until next winter’s hibernation.

Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” available on Amazon.com.

E-mail: [email protected]

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/realestate/residential/living_where_the_wild_things_are_RtYJOMLlAPUCwfjwjvECRL#ixzz1UAJ98MEt

To promenade means to take a leisurely walk, to see people and be seen by people. In Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation Over Public Space authors Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Irena Ehrenfeucht write that wealthy urbanites in 19th century America “claimed the streets and attempted to insert bourgeois decorum into urban bustle.” These citizens “strolled to display their social status and define their respectability by the differences they created.”

When I was young, three friends and I backpacked through Europe one summer. I don’t know who started the dare but someone wondered aloud, “How long could we go without taking a shower?”

We were on trains and in youth hostels and being grungy — it was part of the abandon of being young and free, I guess. I broke down on day four after hiking in the Austrian Alps. I couldn’t stand my own stench. I bathed. We all did.

This memory floated back to me as I entered day three without a shower on the Wednesday after Memorial Day weekend. But this time I wasn’t participating in a youthful “Survivor”-style escapade.

I had no hot water.

It all started Sunday night when the smoke/carbon monoxide detector on our bedroom ceiling sounded. It rang twice then stopped. My husband searched the house. There was no fire. Either we had a carbon monoxide leak or the detector was worn out and faulty.

We opened the windows and waited. Nothing happened for 20 minutes; then another high-pitched alarm. It stopped again. We called the fire department rather than wait until morning because I wasn’t sure how long it would take for carbon monoxide to put us under.

Standing at the open front door, we explained to the fire chief — while swatting at bat-sized mosquitoes entering the house — what had happened.

The firemen checked out the upstairs and the main floor. No problems there. They then wanted to go to the basement.

My husband and I braced ourselves. Six years ago, in a similar incident, the gas line for our hot water heater was turned off because of a carbon monoxide leak. The gas company had told us the vent was not pitched vertically enough to send gas up the chimney. We called in plumbers to fix the venting — admittedly a tough job in our basement with low ceilings.

By now the firefighters, accompanied by a gas company official who’d been called in, were tsk-tsking at the venting job. Their detectors said we had a high carbon monoxide reading.

The gas was turned off immediately.

It was Memorial Day. Temps rose to the mid-90s. Nothing much to do but plant our vegetable garden, as planned. We were sweaty and smelly by day’s end.

Discussions over what to do next became heated. My husband thought we should have a plumber try to fix the venting. I insisted on switching to an electric water heater.

My husband said it would be more expensive. I said we wouldn’t have to worry about carbon monoxide.

He said it would be more expensive. I said I didn’t trust plumbers anymore.

He said we would spend an extra $500 a year taking hot showers. I said we could cancel our New York Times subscription.

I can’t say whether it was my rising hysteria or the rancid smell emanating from my person, but he gave in.

For three days, though, we were trapped in a labyrinthine maze of what-ifs, unreturned phone calls and canceled appointments. In the throes of a post-Memorial Day weekend heat spell, it was impossible to get an electrician to run a line. Ten calls went nowhere. They asked if we’d like to make an appointment in mid-June. One said he’d come the next day, then called at 7 that morning and canceled.

“It’s too hot to work today,” he told us.

Finally, we dialed Franco — a referral from a friend. Our friend warned he was expensive. At this point, I was willing to pay extra to smell like a daisy again. Franco showed up moments later. He told us to order our hot water heater and he’d come back later that day.

Lowe’s promised to install and deliver the unit by 9 p.m. Thursday, and did. Franco also showed up and hooked up an electric line.

That night, after the sweat-drenched workmen left, I scurried upstairs to the bathroom. Hot water rained down. My middle-aged bones and muscles were soothed and grateful — though I felt nostalgic for that younger me who went without bathing for days just for the fun of it.

Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” available on Amazon.com. E-mail: [email protected]

NEW YORK POST is a registered trademark of NYP Holdings, Inc.

nypost.com , nypostonline.com , and newyorkpost.com are trademarks of NYP Holdings, Inc.

Copyright 2011 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved. Privacy | Terms of Use

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/realestate/residential/waiting_for_hot_water_can_push_you_neIZaNuwjPwLAASwqm4q9I#ixzz1Q6E5LDGY

I was just about to hit the spam button when I took a closer look at the e-mail subject line: “Location Scout for HBO.”

I opened the e-mail and saw that it was for real. Someone named Susan said HBO was looking for a farmhouse for a new pilot starring Tea Leoni and Hope Davis. Having read my Burb Appeal column, she said, she thought my 150-year-old farmhouse might be a good fit.

Remember the movie “Indecent Proposal” when Demi Moore sleeps with Robert Redford for $1 million? That’s how I felt. An HBO shoot for a week can net $20,000, plus relocation fees. I could pay down debt, plump up my daughter’s college fund, build a little writing studio on my property. Oh, the euphoria of such unexpected treasure!

Then my husband reminded me that I am the most territorial human on the planet.

“How in the world will you be all right with a film crew taking over the place?” he asked.

I took a deep breath and tried to imagine my husband, daughter and I, plus our five cats, relocating to an apartment for a week. It’s been nearly six years since we’ve lived in a confined space together. But, hey, for that amount of money, I figured we could cope.

“Who will take care of the chickens?” my husband continued.

Another good point.

“We’d have to make a provision to have access to the property during the shoot,” I replied.

There was actually something appealing about having our house used for a television series. After all, the house has been an inspiring character in my own drama these last several years — and the muse for this column. My house has always been more than a house. It has defined and shaped me, just as I rescued and redefined it from ending up in a construction heap. I constantly feel swept up in its long history and excited about being the author of its new chapter.

I e-mailed the scout to come the next day.

I had a restless night, tossing and turning over the thought of an army of camera people, lighting, actors and caterers commandeering my lair. Would they use our refrigerator, our bathrooms, our furniture? What if a klieg light caught fire and burned down the house? What if they wanted to paint the walls? (Come to think of it, the walls could use a paint job.)

The following morning dawned, a beautiful spring day. I puttered around the house fluffing pillows, straightening pictures and opening the windows to let the light stream through.

Around 11 a.m., the house looked picture-perfect, thanks especially to the 200 newly opened tulips lining our driveway. But in a Dorothy-We’re-Not-In-Kansas-Anymore moment, the sky turned black, trees bowed, torrential rains turned the soil to mud. Even the tulips closed and hung their heads like pallbearers at a funeral procession. Susan the scout texted me to say she’d pulled over on Route 59 because of a tornado warning.

This must be an omen, I thought.

About 90 minutes later, the storm subsided and a perky, reed-thin woman rang the doorbell. She shook off the rain and came inside. I told her about the house. She told me about the pilot: Tea Leoni and Hope Davis play high-octane New York City fashion divas. One drops out for a stab at the hippie life in an old farmhouse. I was secretly hoping it was Hope because I could see her “living” in my house. Then, Susan explained, something tempts her back to the city and she struggles with the conflict.

“Interesting plot,” I said. “A little like my own story except nothing could lure me back to the city.”

Susan and I continued to chat as she walked around the house snapping pictures. She especially liked the vaulted ceilings in our bedroom and the antique claw-footed bathtub.

Before she left, she gave me a few things to think about. The shoot would take about a week. They would want the house in two weeks. A film crew could be as large as 100 people. We would not have access to the property during the shoot. If they wanted to paint the walls a different color they would, but they’d repaint them back to the original color afterward.

She must have seen my Linda Blair moment because I’m sure my head spun a full 360 degrees.

“This is not for everyone,” Susan said. “The money’s great, but you really need to be able to relinquish control. When these crews come to your house, they don’t think of it as your house, they think of it as their set.”

With that, we wrapped up the meeting. She told me we’d get a call within a week if HBO was interested in our house. I closed the door and bolted it. Paying down debt was a nice fantasy, but I wasn’t game for an indecent proposal.

E-mail: [email protected]

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/realestate/residential/home_movie_MnCQTsrTe5v8hl0ZGt8T4J#ixzz1MnqoMwGI

There I am, still in my flannel bathrobe one late March morning, when I hear a thunderous hammering outside my window. My initial thought is someone is building a house, but quickly I realize it’s the annual arrival of the pileated woodpecker, the first true harbinger of spring.

I grab my long-lens camera and tiptoe onto my deck in the freezing cold. I snap a couple of shots of the elusive bird, which is nearly 20 inches tall and sports a red crest and long, tapered beak. He is the spitting image of his cartoon doppelganger, which makes him appear unreal.

It’s 30 degrees on my mountain, but Woody’s return is a vernal affirmation that this endless winter will soon fade. While his smaller brethren — the hairy woodpecker and the downy woodpecker — are year-round guests at our bird feeder, Woody is a special emissary whose message is: “Abundance lies ahead.”

Spring hasn’t sprung yet this year. It has staggered and stumbled toward being a legitimate season. It’s teasing us with greening forsythia stems and poking tulip bulbs, but confusing us with 24-degree nights and April snowstorms.

Like Woody, humans are programmed to behave a certain way after the vernal equinox, which occurred March 20. We put away our skis, shake out indoor carpets outside on the deck railing, take out the compost pail and lower the thermostat — even though it isn’t any warmer than it was three weeks ago.

I have to thank my chickens for flooding me with hope. After four months of egg-laying dormancy, they are back in business. Whereas we’d get an occasional egg from late November through mid-March, we now have four or five a day from our six hens. Suddenly, we are under enormous pressure to make omelets and angel food cake.

As wintry as it appears outside my window, winter’s mute button has been turned off. In addition to joyous morning and evening birdsong, there’s the return of the power-tool symphony, zig-zagging away at tree branches that will become next year’s firewood. The loud rumble of earth is back again every day around noon, courtesy of the quarry’s blasts. The wheezing drill means my neighbor is once again sculpting his marble and bronze creations. Dogs have returned to the yards. Children are yelling with delight.

Of course, the onset of spring brings another ritual: budget season. Ah, what can be more renewing than learning how your school district, town and county will raise your taxes?

Our Nyack school district just hired a new superintendent, 55-year-old James Montesano. They plucked him out of Paramus, NJ, where Gov. Chris Christie has capped superintendent salaries at $175,000. The recent hire told our local reporters he’d planned to retire this year because he wasn’t willing to take a cut in salary. He didn’t have to: New York is the land of plenty. Here, Montesano can earn $237,000 — and still collect his New Jersey pension.

Then there’s the spring-cleaning itch. I can’t stop weeding — inside my house. In the past month, every cabinet and closet has been picked clean. Bookshelves have been thinned, furniture rearranged. I keep washing stuff and begging my husband to touch up scuffs on the walls with paint we have saved for six years.

This will be our sixth spring in suburbia. Yet, all we’ve bought for the deck are a couple of Adirondack chairs and a small iron bistro table-and-chair set. Last year, we built a lower patio that invites the pleasures of warm weather. So, I went online and purchased a suite of white wicker furniture with sage-green cushions.

The furniture arrived recently, on another day of sleet and snow. The whiteness of the wicker was stark against the steel-wool-gray sky. Nevertheless, my husband unpacked the goods and I arranged the suite. Let’s just call it the power of positive thinking.

Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com. E-mail: [email protected]

Rear Window

By Tina Traster

Humor

Lately, I’ve been feeling like Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window” — but in the suburbs.

Why haven’t I seen the school bus stop next door? Why is there only one car going in and out of the driveway? What’s happened to the wife and teenage daughters?

On a typical suburban street, such a mystery easily would be solved by popping by or picking up the phone. At the very least, I could call another neighbor and ask what’s going on at so-and-so’s house.

But not on this road. I live on an undulating mountain pass — the kind you might drive along if you were apple-picking upstate. Traffic moves fast. There are no sidewalks. At least one other person besides me raises chickens. I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks tote shotguns.

It’s the kind of road for people who live in a bedroom community but who’d rather not.

Dwellers include a small-press publisher, two sculptors, a moviemaker, a yoga teacher and holistic healers. I’ve met some of these people briefly, but most of us prefer a reclusive lifestyle. That’s why we live on a road where there’s never a block party or a communal effort to get a fallow townhouse development knocked down.

I think back to the Brooklyn house I grew up in. It was on a tree-lined street with small lawns and tidy back yards. Houses were in spitting distance of one another. We could see directly into our neighbor’s kitchen.

I remember gazing through the window while we cleared dishes after dinner. The husband and wife next door would become quite animated sometimes, moving in circles around one another, arms gesticulating. Were they quarreling or cavorting? It was an intriguing mime act to decipher.

When I ask my husband what he thinks happened to the wife and girls from next door, he says, “Has anyone looked in the wood chipper?”

He doesn’t care. He doesn’t wonder about strangers who live 200 feet from us. I’m not sure why I do.

After weeks of concluding I hadn’t seen the family, I made an intentional effort to see if the school bus was still stopping at their house. It wasn’t. During the long, snowy winter, I’d only seen the husband outside, shoveling — and only occasionally.

Then I remembered something: A few months ago, I’d noticed a U-Haul in their driveway. I assumed one of the girls was off to college.

Like Stewart’s character, I am overcome with curiosity — and theories. Is the couple going through a divorce? Did something terrible happen? Is it temporary or permanent?

My antenna is up.

Meanwhile, another mystery is dividing my detective time.

Several weeks back, I saw my elderly neighbor from across the street brought home in an ambulance, on a stretcher. From my window, he looked very withered and old. He is, by now, at least in his early 90s.

When we moved in nearly six years ago, he tottered across the dangerous road and introduced himself while we were doing a fall cleanup outside.

He’d been living on this road for a half-century. He told us stories about knowing people up here who used to trap minks. He was here before the New York State Thruway cut through Rockland County and brought a stream of traffic to our road. He was amused by the recent installation of sewers. He complimented us on rescuing the dilapidated farmhouse we bought and bringing it back to life.

What I remember most keenly about him was how much he loved living on this mountain road; he treasured the wildlife at his doorstep.

That was the longest conversation we ever had. After that, he occasionally waved while he was picking up his mail. Over time, I noticed he stopped driving. He no longer ambled down his long driveway to collect the mail. His son who lives in a neighboring house does that now.

The other day, I saw an ambulance with flashing lights return to his driveway. I think this time it was taking him away.

As the tires crunched down the gravel, my eyes welled up, over someone I never knew. Perhaps that’s what made me sad.

Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com.

E-mail: [email protected]

Spring Feverish

By Tina Traster

Humor

Anyone who’s ever spent a winter week in Vermont or Canada’s Laurentian Mountains knows how easy it is to get swept up in the dreamy idyll of living in a “place like this” one day. There’s a perpetual blanket of snow. The glow of candles flickering in windows and fires blazing in brick hearths. A red cardinal made redder by a backdrop of stark whiteness.

I used to fantasize about living in a “place like this” every time I visited one. Now I know how it feels. Winter 2011 has given us nine storms and 63 inches of snow in the Hudson Valley so far.

My daughter’s school closed four times for snow days, and there have been several delayed openings and one early dismissal. I don’t think she had a full week of school during January.

We are toiling breathlessly to keep our six hens alive during our first winter of animal husbandry — jerry-rigging the coops with blankets, tarps and heating devices.

The locks on our old cars freeze constantly and the engines barely start. Power outages are frequent.

The front door shrinks when it’s below 20 degrees. So when we leave the house, the door must be slammed approximately 10 times before the latch catches. When we return, every picture on the wall is tilted, like in a funhouse.

Oh, and speaking of fun, have you heard about the newest extreme sport? Collecting the mail. Thanks to the plows, there has sometimes been a mound of frozen ice in front of the mailbox. To retrieve mail, one must stand in the road and drape one’s body over the igloo to reach inside the box. The consolation prizes? Scorching fuel bills and Lands’ End catalogs that make you fantasize about — what else? — living in Vermont.

Nothing, though, has tested our mettle more than the driveway — or what’s left of it. Normally, our long, skinny gravel driveway fits two cars side-by-side at the wider end. But after the post-Christmas Day blizzard, my husband and I did a do-si-do with our two cars, lining up one behind the other. Then an ice storm hit, and his economical but winter-challenged stick shift auto-froze in place. No amount of chipping away at ice or spinning tires nudged the car an inch.

For countless days, I offered him my all-wheel jalopy and experienced the life of a shut-in. Finally, a snow angel appeared just as my husband was once again urging his fossilized car to get a move on. A strapping guy — the kind who wears a T-shirt when it’s 15 degrees outside — stopped his pickup truck in front of our driveway and asked if we needed help. He got behind my husband’s car and successfully pushed it out of the driveway.

Everyone is in on this winter’s complaint-fest. But I had to laugh the other day when my mother, who lives on the Upper West Side, lamented over canceled bridge games and difficult journeys down to Lincoln Center.

“Bridge games,” I scoffed. “Right now, Ricky is in the basement using a blow-dryer to unfreeze our frozen water pipes! He has to bring hot water bottles out to Miracle [our hen] every few hours to keep her from freezing to death!”

“Well,” she responded with a sniff, “these are the choices you made.”

My mother has never understood why I bought an old farmhouse on a mountain road 25 miles from the city. To her way of thinking, I should have stayed in Manhattan, or at the very least, chosen a lovely groomed Westchester suburb.

But I have no regrets about moving to our rugged Hudson River town. When it’s all said and done, whatever wintry challenges we’ve muddled through have been offset by pleasure. Hunkering down as often as we have made us inventive: cooking soups and baking breads. Life slowed down, and our road became largely silent. We stayed in our pajamas all day. We drank hot chocolate and gazed out the windows, watching deer trudge in slow motion through deep snowdrifts. It’s made me nostalgic about childhood winters I seem to remember but probably never had.

Maybe Vermont would be manageable after all.

Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com. E-mail: [email protected]

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, we noticed one of our six hens was shrinking. Due to the “pecking order,” which is a brutal Darwinian reality, Miracle, our barred rock hen, had nearly been pecked to death.

Readers of this column will recall that, two months earlier, we rescued a cat at death’s door. And because of the pecking order among our four cats, I needed to turn the laundry room into his lair. Now I needed to provide similar warmth and protection for a bullied bird.

The guy at the Agway feed store said his “grandma just lets ’em peck the weak ones to death — that’s just the way it is.” Not so for a city girl turned country bumpkin. In my rule book, every animal in my care deserves a fightin’ chance.

We have no barn, no outbuildings — just a subletted laundry room and a cold, unfinished crawl-space basement with mice. Only one solution remained in our ever-shrinking house. We bought a large dog crate, filled it with pine shavings and bowls and placed it in our 4-by-6-foot downstairs powder room.

In the early hours and days, we covered Miracle’s wounds with antibiotic ointments left over from the cat rescue. We were on a vigil the first 48 hours. We gave her extra mealworms and tomatoes. And a lot of encouragement.

Soon, a new normal — a relative word in our household — set in. The only bathroom we could use was upstairs. Having “to go” became competitive. Pine shavings were sticking to our shoes and slippers and migrating to every room. I closed the vent in the downstairs bathroom because the blowing hot air was turning into a mélange of pine shavings and chicken poop.

Three weeks later, Miracle was recovering slowly.

But it was the holiday season. We had a handful of invitations for dinners and get-togethers out to friends and family. (Luckily, though, we were not hosting Thanksgiving).

It’s hard enough to explain to guests why we have five cats — but a chicken living in the house? Way too complicated. So, we put in place Plan B. If anyone asks, “We’re having plumbing issues in the downstairs bathroom. Use the one upstairs.”

For the first dinner party, our guests congregated in the dining room, which is on the opposite side of the house from the bathroom. Amazingly, no one needed to go. A week later, we had friends who spent time with us exchanging holiday presents in the living room, which is next to the bathroom. My husband, Ricky, played deejay that night, careful to keep the music going to camouflage Miracle’s gentle clucking.

During the chicken’s convalescence, the bathroom walls were doused with tomato juice. The floor resembled a dusty saloon. Pine shavings nestled in the vent and along the moldings. Cobwebs grew. After six weeks, the bathroom resembled a small barn.

Finally, Miracle earned her name and recovered fully. But farmer Jim, who sold us Miracle, warned us our brood was not likely to welcome her back. His best advice was put her back in the coop at night while the others are asleep; sometimes you get lucky because the hens don’t realize she was ever gone.

We put her in the coop that night, but the next morning, when we let the birds into the run, the brutality started immediately. It didn’t take but a few hours before they pecked bare a section of our newly healed bird. This was Dec. 24, two days before the post-Christmas blizzard was scheduled to hit.

Much as we love her, we knew Miracle needed to stop living in a dog crate in our bathroom. We devised a quick plan. My husband purchased a medium-size doghouse, which we put in the middle of our dormant vegetable garden at the other end of our property. Then he built reinforcements and covered the 8-by-10-foot enclosure with deer netting. To protect Miracle from the coming storm, we added blankets and tarps.

Miracle looks like a queen in her new digs — a solo occupant who’s enjoying the peace. I don’t know what we’ll do this spring when it’s time to plant vegetables and fruits in the garden. I guess we’ll do what we always do: improvise.

Get the entire story of Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com. E-mail: [email protected]

Silly me for forgetting the second Sunday before Thanksgiving is a national holiday.

National Leaf Blowing Day comes around every year — two weeks after Halloween and two weeks before the re-enactment of the pilgrim feast. NLBD, we’ll call it. It’s not the kind of holiday that prompts mall stampedes, newspaper supplements or costumes. (Well, more on that later.)

Rather, it’s a collective, lemming-like dance to bag fallen leaves in time for the town’s Department of Public Works to whisk away autumn’s detritus.

Knowing the pickup deadline looms, folks along country roads and in cul-de-sacs — people you never otherwise see — pour from their homes to participate in an annual rite of passage. Like the shofar sounded on the Jewish New Year, the rousing roar of leaf blowers rises upward in a splendid song of cleansing, turning a Sunday into a six-aspirin day.

But as I said earlier, I hadn’t remembered when I woke that Sunday it was NLBD. My husband and I were in bed luxuriating with the newspaper, because for a change we had the house to ourselves. Our daughter was at Granny’s for a weekend sleepover.

It started like clockwork — and I say that literally — because 11 a.m. is the time town dwellers with power tools are permitted by local laws to deprive others of a day of peace. At the first jarring blast, I ran to my daughter’s bedroom window to see a neighbor in the grass dressed like an alien. A metal jetpack on his back, he looked like the grandfather in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”; his giant earphones were straight out of “Is it real or is it Memorex?” commercials. Then I saw the tube-like attachment creating a swirling eddy of dead leaves.

“Oh noooooooooo,” I bellowed. “It’s the leaf blower.”

I knew the cacophony would continue for hours: 1) because power tools are fun; 2) because we live on a mountain with a lot of trees; and 3) because men left on their own on a Sunday can easily find themselves in a trance.

Seeing my face twisted with agitation, my husband said, “Let’s go to the lake and take a walk.”

On this gorgeous blue day, we arrived at the lake path. The warm sun belied the changing season. Only yellowed maple leaves were still clinging to trees. I took deep breaths, grateful for the escape.

Then I heard it.

“What is that noise?” I asked.

“Don’t look,” my husband said, shielding my eyes.

Too late. Not far off the path, an army of deployed county workers were blowing leaves.

“This is a park!” I crowed. “Why do dead leaves need to be hauled away from a forest?”

(There may be a good answer to this question. It wouldn’t surprise me if some nice reader e-mails me the explanation.)

But at that moment, I was bereft.

“Try not to think about it,” my husband said. “After our walk, we’ll go for a croissant.”

Driving from the lake to the village, I witnessed darkly dressed men standing in clouds of leaves that swirled around them like small tornadoes. When we parked and got out of the car, the great song of autumn continued. Even owners of postage-stamp-size lawns felt the need to blow their leaves into tiny piles.

The din vibrated against the glass window at the patisserie while we ate croissants and spooned up potato leek soup. It was then I realized: There was no way to escape NLBD. This was a holiday, with all its trappings. Like fireworks on July Fourth. Like the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve.

We drove back home. My neighbor was still blowing leaves.

“Maybe we should clear up, too,” I said to my husband.

“I guess,” he said, threading his arms back into his red-and-black lumber jacket and heading out the door.

I settled onto the couch and listened to the gentle scuffling of the plastic rake scraping at crispy crunching leaves, one scoop at a time.

Get the entire story of Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com.

E-mail: [email protected]

You don’t come of age in any measurable amount of time. Some people find they’re still passing through teenage well into their midlife crisis. Some find they never knew what teenage was to begin with.

I looked twice before I realized it was a cat. Dumped and left for dead, at first he looked to me as if he might have been a raccoon. He was curled up in the leaves next to a walking trail, far from any house. His face was scarred and scabbed.

“This cat,” I thought, “has to be saved.”

A woman walked by and, noticing that I was extremely upset, asked what was wrong. Miraculously, her next words were, “I rescue cats. I’ll jog home and get a trap.”

She returned 40 minutes later with a trap and some bait (tuna fish). It was obvious by the way this cat walked into the trap that he was young, had strength to lick the plate clean and was not feral.

My husband and I went to the emergency animal medical center, where doctors triaged the cat with fluids and antibiotics. Since we were considered “responsible” for the animal, we had 24 hours to decide his fate.

“We cannot take in another cat,” my husband declared, citing our four felines.

“I know,” I said. “It won’t work.”

While the cat received medical attention, we rushed back home and called everyone we knew. Nobody wanted a cat. We knew he’d be put down at the local animal shelter.

“We cannot take in another cat,” repeated my husband as the day grew darker and things began looking more desperate.

“I know,” I said. “We don’t have a way to introduce him to the pack.”

The problem is we don’t have a basement, mudroom, garage or outbuilding. On top of that, our house is constructed like a bagel. The foyer leads to my office, which leads to the kitchen, which leads to the dining room, which leads to the center hall, which leads to the living room, which ends back at the foyer. The donut hole, so to speak, is a small, cramped laundry room. I couldn’t imagine putting a cat in there.

The upstairs bedrooms and bathroom weren’t options either — their well-worn perches belonged to our current cats.

Each time I’ve rescued a cat, he or she has been young enough to be read the riot act by the others in exchange for room and board. But the cat we found on the hiking trail — though small and the worse for wear — was a grown male cat. And you need to give a grown cat a separate space before the others will accept him.

We kept making calls. No one would take him.

“We are going to have to take this cat,” my husband said, as the sun started to sink.

“I know,” I said. “Can we build an extension overnight?”

I wished I could turn back the clock five years, to when all the walls were down to the studs and there was a chance to build a mudroom. I’ll know better next time.

After he spent two days in the hospital, we brought the cat home and named him Patch. Small and frail, he was treated by the other cats as if he were a Doberman. There was lots of hissing, growling, hair standing on end, stiff tails.

Our cat commune was perturbed. There was no way that Patch was going to be eligible to share their litter boxes or food court. My husband and I looked at each other with despair.

Then we both looked forlornly at the laundry room.

It’s roughly 9 feet by 6 feet, though most of the floor is occupied by appliances and storage cabinets. We set up a litter box, food and water bowls, catnip toys and a little straw basket with a towel for sleeping.

Keeping him behind closed doors felt cruel. It wasn’t. This little space, though hardly ideal, saved him.

Over a couple of weeks, he got stronger. In the meantime, our brood could sniff around outside the door and get used to him. Slowly, Patch was eased out a few minutes at a time until his eventual induction.

A month later, Patch has earned free passage, but he’s still like a reality-show contestant — most likely to be voted off the island. And thus the laundry room has become his lair, his safe place, his sanctuary. Except when I’m doing a load.

Get the entire story of Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb — complete with nutty neighbors, bumbling town officials and a plethora of domestic and wild animals — in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” now available on Amazon.com.

E-mail: [email protected]

90 Miles North

By Tina Traster

Essay

Five years ago my family and I left Manhattan and relocated to a Hudson River town. I have found that sweet spot of comfort. While I tread these familiar waters I take heart my gardener will arrive Wednesday, Didier will bake buttery croissants and Nyack’s librarians will go out of their way to locate any book I ask for. I’m wearing the fuzzy bathrobe, walking in shoes that have molded around my feet.

My Golden Pond

By Tina Traster

Humor

My daughter, Julia, and husband, Ricky, love to recount the time mommy dragged them around the lake path on a 10-degree day. (Of course, it was really 20 degrees — but with every telling of the story, it has gotten colder and colder.)

Julia, then 4, stumbled around the lake in a puffy pink ski suit, looking like the Gerber baby with her Renoir-rosy cheeks. It took the promise of a rather large doughnut to get her to complete the one-hour walk. My husband — usually a hearty soul — was whimpering most of the way.

Such is the spell cast on me by Rockland Lake State Park, a 1,079-acre rural retreat two miles from the end of my driveway.

Almost daily, I head to what feels like the middle of nowhere. The freshwater lake is nearly visible along most of the 3.2-mile trail. Encircled by mountains, a walker feels hemmed inside an isolated ecosystem where rabbits, deer, squirrels, swans, geese, ducks and even egrets and herons are constantly visible.

It’s by dumb luck that the lake is in my “back yard” — or, really, is my back yard. When I moved from Manhattan five years ago, I could tell the county was filled with beautiful spots, but I had never thought to ask the real estate broker, “Is there, perchance, a gorgeous lakeside trail where I can walk, two minutes from home?”

Too many suburbanites take their constitutionals in cul-de-sacs, on high-school football fields and at the (gasp!) mall. The lake is my sanctuary. Images from its shore are burnished in my mind. Like the cross-country skiers scissoring across on an icy day. And the heron lifting off the shallow bank, its skinny legs dangling. And the doe nursing its fawn six feet from where I stood.

Rockland Lake was the center of ice-making in the mid-1800s. The Knickerbocker Ice Co. harvested ice and hauled it over Hook Mountain along the Palisades to steamboats and ice barges waiting on the Hudson River. Ice was shipped down to New York City and beyond. By 1926, the advent of refrigeration killed the ice industry. But every winter, artists carve enormous ice sculptures for a festival.

Most days, nothing happens on the lake. On weekdays, faithful walkers, cyclists and joggers do laps. We nod at one another. I’ve given them some names: The demon-fast 80-year-old skater is Speed Racer; the woman with the meringue of white hair coiled atop her head is Her Majesty. Someone out there has probably named me The Woman Lost in Thought, because when I’m alone out there I’m suspended in space and time.

When I’m joined by a friend, the lake walk has a wonderful way of drawing out childhood stories. I’ve learned more about a person on this trail in an hour then I ever could over months elsewhere. The calm waters lull you into a state of remembering. My days at sleepaway camp upstate in the Catskills are conjured by the sweet scent of summer grass and the thick clumps of water lilies at the banks’ edges.

The lake is peaceful — except at that moment when you’re ambling along and an enormous maple falls right across your path on a perfectly clear, still day. No warning. No groaning sound. A reminder to take nothing for granted.

My 8-year-old has been given a first-class education at the lake. She perfected riding her scooter. She’s learned to cycle and row a boat. She possesses a natural-world vocabulary I did not have until my 30s. She can spot a cormorant sunbathing on a rock. She knows baby swans are called cygnets. She finds it intriguing that a flock of crows is called a murder.

Of all the things I do with Julia, walking around the lake with her is my favorite. I love that she knows the contour of the lake as well as I do. I know she will scale up and down the giant boulder near the trail’s end or pick up acorns and shove them in her pocket.

One day this summer, she and I walked around the lake when the temperature reached 100 degrees. I know we’ll recall that hellish-hot day a year from now. One of us will say, “It was 110 degrees that day.” And the other will say, “Oh no, it was hotter than that.”

Read more about Tina Traster’s move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” an e-book now on Amazon.com. E-mail: [email protected]

I’ll Only Leave Manhattan in a Body Bag

 

Is it me or is the word suburbia loaded?

Like ‘stay-at-home mom’ or ‘Britney Spears’, suburbia has its fans, satirists, detractors. Until 2005, I was smugly ensconced in the third category, a self-styled city slicker who wore black garb, told cabbies the best route to get across town, exchanged intimacies with people riding elevators. Typical New Yorker. Suburbia to me — a psychologically-scarred Brooklyn-born kid whose family never ‘made it’ to Long Island — was an aseptic construct where women over 40 lost their edge and their calf muscles because they spent their days driving to the strip mall and schlepping kids to soccer practice.

“That will never be me,” I’d swear to my husband driving over the George Washington Bridge after visiting friends who lived in cavernous colonials with marbled foyers and Labrador retrievers. “Never!”

My lifelong scorn for suburbia enabled me to put up with every city-related inconvenience or absurdity. Circling like a hungry buzzard for a parking spot or keeping windows shut on hot summer nights to drown out whining sirens or the occasional gunshot. Even when I was tripping over my toddler’s loot, I believed IKEA was the solution to our ever-shrinking 700-square-foot apartment.

We could not afford a bigger apartment in a steroidal real estate market but I would not contemplate suburbia.

I was mentally and physically asphyxiated by my long-held beliefs that the sticks were filled with people who stopped going to independent films and who ate dinner before 7. Sure I was yearning for room and trees and a driveway but my childhood demons were ninjas. It all started the day my family piled into the yellow Cadillac to see the white house for sale in Long Island. At ten, this was the most glamorous house I’d ever stepped inside of – it was nothing like the cramped ones in Brooklyn. My mother wanted this house and this life more than anything in the world. My father didn’t. He thought a Cadillac in his driveway and a detached house in Canarsie was good enough. My mother’s brooding and envy for greener pastures turned into scorn for all-things-suburban. An emotionally resourceful woman, she came up with plan B: raise her daughters to worship Manhattan.

Throughout college, I tacked up in every dorm room I lived in a famous New Yorker Magazine poster that put Manhattan as the center of the universe. Then I went about spending my whole adult life there, becoming the quintessential New Yorker. You know, Woody Allen’s template.

Disturbingly at 43, for the first time in my life, my romance with Manhattan was wilting. Sept 11 had crushed me. The apartment walls were closing in on me. I wanted to step on Elmo’s face every time he said “Elmo loves you.” I was growing unrecognizable. I began to think my daughter needed a bedroom (rather than a creative space) of her own more than a first-class education on the Impressionists at the MET. I started to dream about what it would be like if she could distinguish between lavender and salvia. I thought about how delightful it would be to wake up to the whata-cheer-cheer-cheer of Northern Cardinals rather than screaming sirens.

My husband knew not to suggest suburbia – I considered it a four-letter word. Instead, Mr. Tactically Brilliant got me to spend long stretches of time in the country.

 

 

Call of the Wild

 

I am a city kid. Born in Brooklyn, I hung out on stoops, played kickball in the street, could hear neighbors when they fought.

But every summer, my parents shipped me off for eight weeks to sleep-away camp in the mountains. There I pulled a blanket over my head at night because I was afraid the bats in the rafters would sweep down and weave nests in my waist-length hair. At night, dark, black starry nights, I worried a bug-eyed country loon with a warm rifle would do us in. But each morning the sun rose and I plunged happily into the serene lake and was sad only when the sun set.

I was even sadder when the camp bus returned me to Brooklyn’s hot streets eight weeks later.

Three decades later, the country is a container of youthful memories. Julia was two when we rented a summer house in the Catskill Mountains. The little Arts-and-Crafts two-story cottage was set back from the dusty dirt road near a lake. I felt my chest expand every time we drove up on a Friday afternoon. Turning up the steep road after Ellenville, we’d pass hulking hotels, abandoned riding stables, bungalow colonies – some lived in, others reminders of days when the Catskills drew New York’s urban Jews by the droves. Sheep and goats grazed behind wire fences. This down-and-out depressed area is a no-man’s land to some but to a down-and-out stressed out urbanite it looks like paradise.

The cottage was rickety and unfinished – wires hanging where the owner meant to install a fixture – but the diaphanous lake seen through our window was like an Impressionist painting, changing colors with the hours of the day, altering perspectives with the opening and closing of the waterlillies on the lake’s surface.

I found unexpected peace and pleasure. I woke to bird song. My daughter and I yanked wild flowers, especially tiger lilies from the side of the road. We gathered bouquets in bunches and put them in tall skinny glasses. The day I swam across the lake to a tiny sandy beach on the other side I was transported back to my teen years at sleep-away camp, a time when I had felt most alive. The lake was telling me something. I had only to listen.

One day our landlord told us she was thinking of selling the cottage.

“Do you guys have any interest in buying it?” she asked.

My first instinct was to throw my arms around her and say “yes, yes, please, yes” but instead my husband said “We’d need to think about that.”

That night, after we tucked Julia into her crib, we went out on the deck. We crawled into a sleeping bag and gazed at a sky of diamonds. I think we were both afraid to start the conversation.

“So, have you given the idea any thought?” he asked.

“I love the idea but we can’t afford to maintain the apartment and a summer cottage,” I said.

“Yeah, I know, but it would be nice,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “If we could at least escape on weekends, I’d probably be a nicer person,” I said, wistfully.

“Maybe we should move up here permanently,” he said.

I thought he was joking, and left it at that.

In early September, on our final ride back to Manhattan in our car stuffed to the brim like the Beverly Hillbillies, I blubbered like a baby.

“Why is mommy crying?” my daughter asked my husband.

“She doesn’t like to leave the country,” he explained.

There it was—the simple truth. I wanted to be immersed in nature, to quiet the noise, to slow down the pace.

That September misery became a gauzy shroud. I secretly began scouring real estate listings on the Internet – unable to admit to my husband or myself I was thinking about leaving Manhattan’s hallowed ground. But viewing houses for sale on the Internet is additive. It was only so long before I’d break down and admit I had to live in one of those old farmhouses that looked so inviting on my computer screen.

The old house we bought was a total wreck. It had been on and off the market for five years. We viewed it on a January day, tramping through waist-deep snow. It was covered in cobwebs. Every window was broken, every door was warped, every wall was crooked. But a great brick hearth, strands of light pouring through skylights and a wall of windows facing acres of woods said “rescue me.” Deer grazing outside the window might have sealed the deal.

Taking in a shallow jittery breath, I said “I’ll take it.”

“Are you sure?” the broker asked. “This is a money pit.”

She wasn’t wrong but we jumped. Sometimes it is those insane decisions you make for the wrong reasons (or at least those your mother would say are the wrong reasons) that end up putting your life in the right direction.

The house needed a four-month top-to-bottom renovation. In that short span of time, I learned I had a knack for rebuilding a house. I discovered how good I can be under pressure. I figured out how the innards of a house work. I learned the alphabet soup of HVAC and BTUs. Four months gave me a life-time of experience, and at the end, a house that held my DNA.

During the renovation, we lived in the Catskills cottage. One night, I told my husband there was a drunk intruder stumbling around outside. We closed the lights in the house and peered outside. He was big, all right—I’d say about 400 pounds—and he didn’t give a rat’s bottom when we shone a flashlight into his beady silver eyes. He just looked up and presumably said, “Hey, I’m eating dinner. Buzz off.”

I accelerated the renovation, bringing down the whip even harder on the contractor. A week later we packed the car and drove HOME.

I cried again as we wended down the mountain.

“Why is mommy crying?” my daughter said.

“She’s crying tears of joy because we’re not going back to the city,” my husband explained.

 

***The rest of the collection is availabe on Amazon for $2.99.

 

 

Burb Appeal Cover Image


Hey everybody,

My new nonfiction collection, Burb Appeal, is now available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99.

Note: You do not need a Kindle or e-reader to download an e-book. You can download ebooks directly to a PC.

Click for Burb Appeal: The Collection

And here’s a quick excerpt…