90 Miles North

By Tina Traster


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.

I know one day an irresistible itch will evict me from this geography.

When that wind will blow in a new direction I don’t know but I suspect it will blow me north. North, where farms roll endlessly to the horizon, mud kicks up around tires in April, split-rail fences lean leeward. It will lead me to a place where I’m no longer at such a safe distance to Manhattan that I can visit my dentist when a tooth chips. I will have to relinquish what last connective tissue I have to the city if I’m to live in a place where I can get lost in corn fields in July and lie under a sky so velvet black it feels like I’m hiding under a blanket.

I’ve accumulated a treasure chest of rural memories. I recognize how September smells different from August in the Catskill Mountains. I know water from gurgling mountain streams is not safe to drink. The lines around my eyes slacken when I’m upstate. I breathe from my diaphragm. My daughter likes to be around the lady who jumps into the lake naked and swims to the other side.

I’ve etched my experience over time, in summer and winter, living in rented tumble-down houses. For a week or two I play house, read the local paper, cook furiously, gather wild flowers to arrange in glass vases, browse library shelves. I drive as far as necessary to find a health food store or organic ice cream or the day’s fresh fish catch. I figure out everything I need to know as if I were going to live in this place.

With every country escape I try on something that may become permanent. At least that’s what I presume I’m doing. I remember every time we took a family vacation when I was a child my parents were a magnet to some blood-sucking real estate agent who convinced them to spend an afternoon looking at houses or time-shares wherever we happened to be traveling. Mine is not a fantasy sport. My efforts are R&D for a future life.

Ulster County, 90 miles north, is like a giant dressing room where I try on towns and villages for size. I love New Paltz’s sunflower farms and the Gunks, Kingston’s Rondout district, Rosendale’s health-food restaurant. With each fragment of living up there, I stand in front of the “mirror,” waiting for my reflection to tell me what feels right, what needs tailoring, what to discard.

This summer I tossed a wild card into the parlor game.

“Woodstock?” my husband said, when I told him I’d rented a house there for 10 days. “I thought we hate Woodstock?”

The Woodstock we thought we knew is the town of tie-dyed hippie skirts and life-sized cutouts of Bob Dylan. It’s a clich√© on the map of ’60s culture that has lived off its association with a concert that actually took place an hour away in Bethel New York. It’s where photo-snapping day-trippers waddle down the streets and wild-eyed Vietnam veterans read poetry on the village green.

I can’t say what possessed me to choose Woodstock — I presume I heard a faint wind whistling, pointing me to this town that crouches like a praying monk in the shadows of the majestic Catskill Mountains. We spent 10 days living in a rental house deep in the woods by a stream. Though it was late summer, a time when Woodstock is most susceptible to being a caricature, I found a different essence. I was more aware of the 40-something women who don’t dye their flowing grey locks and children who eat tofu. I noticed advertisements for local farm dinners and book readings at The Golden Notebook. I watched a community going about its daily business, baking bread, selling its wares at Mower’s market, carrying yoga mats.

I saw myself gazing in the mirror, trying on Woodstock, and liking it.

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TINA TRASTER writes the 'Burb Appeal' column for The New York Post and "The Great Divide" blog for the Huffington Post. She is a city girl who has turned her efforts to social commentary on life in a NY-metro area suburb. She is not afraid to "out" bad actors, annoy neighbors, take on bumbling town officials or challenge anyone who messes with her bliss. She lives with her husband, young daugther and four cats in an 1850s reclaimed farmhouse on a beautiful mountain precipice.

Traster is at work on a memoir called Burb Appeal.

You can reach her via email at [email protected]

10 responses to “90 Miles North”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    Woodstock is the old cliche: great to visit, but you don’t wanna live there. That little main street gets impossibly clogged with traffic, the stores are expensive, and the people who actually live there tend to be aging Baby Boom hippies.

    It is also worth noting that Woodstock did not happen in Woodstock; they just stole the name for its cultural cachet (the town was, a century and a half ago, an artists colony).

    Have you been to Uptown Kingston yet? That’s where it’s at. (And of course New Paltz, where we lived until recently, and will probably live again soon).

    On an unrelated note, since you’re near Nyack, please go to Cafe Barcel and order the bunuelos. Trust me. Just do it.

  2. Tina Traster says:

    Thought the same about Woodstock — but got a different vibe that summer. New Paltz, yes, our happy place. Almost bought a house there — and we make regular pilgrimages to Minnewaska, etc. Do spend some time in Kingston — though more so in Roundout district. Know the crepe place there? Worth driving 90 minutes for. How did you like New Paltz? Why did you leave and where did you go? Is there something about being pulled north a little at a time?

    • Greg Olear says:

      We loved New Paltz. Why we left and where we went…to my NJ hometown, for a variety of kid-related reasons…but that will be the subject of a post one of these days…

      I wrote the review of Cafe Barcel for Hudson Valley Magazine. Man, that place was good.

  3. M.J. Fievre says:

    Miami, here. I don’t know the north too well. You got me curious…

  4. Tina Traster says:

    check it out. tell me what you think!

  5. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Life is too short to just dip your toes. Come West, good woman, and jump in with both feet ;).

  6. Tina Traster says:

    So much temptation. So little time. Alas I continue to dream….

  7. Doug Bruns says:

    There is so much I like about the piece, the fuzzy molded slippers, the naked lady swimming across the lake, and so forth. Thank for your a wonderful essay, so full of meaningful flights of fancy. I think place matters. Woodstock or wherever. Place matters. It is an understanding I came to only recently, at mid-life, after moving to Maine from the congested hot crowded rushing mid-Atlantic, Capital of a congested hot crowded rushing people. This is an important realization for me, this matter of place. It seems we are taught that we take our troubles, happiness, concerns and loves with us, like pieces of over-stuffed American Tourister (now there is a name Don Draper could sink his teeth into!) luggage. Not so. I am convinced. We can escape. Why else would Henry David escape to the pond? When asked, why Maine. I answer: because my muse lives here. It is simple. Some places are right. Some are not.

    Thanks for the essay. There are as many places as there are dreamers.

    • Tina Traster says:

      I know what you mean — though I’m not sure I can imagine ever saying “this place is forever!” I love to dream about getting more rural, but then my DNA is so deeply ingrained in what I’ve built here. Unlike all my city dwellings, my country (er, suburban) spread is my creation — and still creating. That’s harder to leave, except when I venture further north I feel the pull. Ah, conflict.

  8. […] West” was my advice to Tina Traster but those words don’t scratch the surface of my passion for my adopted home.¬† They slide beneath […]

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