It’s always One Thing or Another … a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.
By Mark McNease
It’s the morning of the time change, that twice-yearly, incomprehensible turning of the clocks by an hour. We’re told, as if it’s an extra treat for puppies, that we’ll have “another hour to sleep.” This is ridiculous, since most of us inhabit bodies, not clocks, and rather than sleep another hour (something I would relish) we just wake up sooner. So here I am an hour earlier than I would have been yesterday, sitting at my living room desk in the true darkness of the countryside, listening to the few sounds a small, old house in the woods has to offer this time of morning. It’s a house I’ll soon be moving to with my husband and two cats. A house I’ve loved for ten years but only experienced as a weekend getaway. That’s all about to change.
For those who’ve spent most of their adult lives in big cities – in my case Los Angeles for 12 years and New York City for 23 – the “country” often means the suburbs. People from Manhattan have a habit of thinking any place with fewer than a million residents is Petticoat Junction. They view the outer boroughs and beyond as hopelessly provincial, deprived of high culture, and probably voting Republican. To them, the country includes malls with skylights, elite childcare facilities for gifted children, and at least three Starbucks.
So, to be clear, I am moving to the country, not Queens. Just beyond our yard is a forest, the kind you only venture into with a growth-clearing machete and a hunting rifle.
There are more deer on Lockatong Road than houses, and seldom any pedestrians except those who live in the immediate area. Some bicyclists pedal by, given the location’s popularity with terribly serious bikers. There’s something about Highway 29 and the hills interweaving between New Jersey and Pennsylvania that attracts them by the hundreds. They travel in packs, appearing to swarm rather than ride, and each of them wears those Lycra outfits with numbers on their chests as if they’re preparing for the Tour de France in rural New Jersey.
There’s a farmers’ market in Stockton, the closest thing to a town we have here. Unfortunately, I’m not able to walk there for breakfast and a slow read of the New York Times over coffee. One, there’s no diner. Two, newspapers are anachronistic in the age of smart phones. And three, town is six miles away. I’ve walked there exactly once. It felt great (and this was before I got my Fitbit), but very much like a one-time effort. While I would prefer being within easy walking distance of these things, I’m willing to trade convenience for the peace, quiet and simple calm of living in the woods.
My stress melts when we turn off the highway onto the back roads leading to our house. The trees comfort me. The sounds of nature, rather than of construction, heal my nerves and call to me. I liked being a big city boy for a long time, and I’ll always enjoy what cities have to offer, but, having just turned 58, I’m ready for a change. I like change. It’s why I’ve lived in all the different places I have, and why my curiosity is still vital to my sense of well-being. I want to know what it’s like really living here. And if, after a year or so, we find it just a little too isolated, too distant from town and a diner and a barber shop, we’ll return to Manhattan or, more likely, to a place like Delaware, where we have friends and the cost of living is unbelievably low. Until then, I’ll be getting up to the sounds of … nothing, at least until the birds come back and the crickets rejoin the choir that serenades us through the summer.
Maybe I’ve always been a country mouse just waiting to get enough of the cities and their excitements to say it’s time to settle down now. I’m definitely an older country mouse, which for many people has nothing to do with it (I know some who declare they could never, ever, live outside Manhattan), but for me is key: I want to slow down. I want to walk along our road and wonder what kind of animal we just heard scurrying through the underbrush. I want our old cats to experience sunshine through a window, something they’ve never seen in the city, since our apartment faces the metal backend of a college and gives no hint of the weather—it’s always just gray. And if we get new cats, I want them to know the expanse of a house, the joy of stairs and rooms and so many places to lounge on. Welcome, country mice. I’m all yours.
Mark McNease is the author of the bestselling Kyle Callahan Mysteries and the recently launched Detective Linda Mysteries, as well as the co-editor and publisher of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist). He’s also the co-host of The Twist Podcast, and the co-creator of the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.