Sometime in the summer of 2017, I decided I couldn’t handle being in the city anymore. Not that we were living in large city in the first place, but even Portland, with its hipster revitalization and hot food scene was driving me nuts.
I have lived there since 2000, and my family has lived in the area for some 400 years. It should feel like home to me, but it no longer did.
Partaking of the mental toll was the summer traffic, making a tenth of a mile trip to our house take 20 minutes; the Brooklynification of the everything; $5 lattes and crowds of New Yorkers sitting at my preferred eating spots…
It’s only for 4 months of the year, you assure yourself.
So, that was when we started camping. That was when I started writing this blog.
There was one day I remember clearly: we had woken up in the woods and bathed in a stream, and that evening had driven to Boston, to Logan airport, to fly to a conference. Inside the airport concrete parking structure was a piece of sound art: bird song, perpetual, looping, artificial bird song. We had been hijacked into some dystopian future.
Last summer we spent every weekend up in the woods of New Hampshire, doing dispersed camping and climbing. Then we rented a house near Rumney for the month of September, and got a taste of what working outside the city might be like.
“You still need to go to the city to get the mammoth.”
So we started thinking about this: could we live/ work most of the time outside the city? Could we go into town occasionally to catch mammoths and then haul them back to our cabin in the woods for carving up and storing?
If the cabin in the woods had internet, it seemed plausible.
Now, we are lucky: our carry costs in the city are low, having acquired the situation before Portland was the hipster boomtown it is now. We could keep the tiny and perfect condo nest we had created, and button it up easily for weeks at a time. We could easily come back into the city for mammoth hunting meetings.
In addition, houses in the deep woods don’t actually cost much money, relative to the city of course. Generally, everything out in the woods costs about half of what it would in the city, and sometimes less. Our restaurant bills go to $0, obviously, since there are literally zero restaurants we eat at within fifty miles.
We have a friend, a beautiful, smart, interesting and sophisticated woman who is dating in New York City. Her tales of dating woe fascinate me. As I said, she is beautiful in that photogenic way so she has no end of interested suitors. She can go on two dates a night, and often does. She, like many people, would like to find a real partner and is using the dating app approach to cast as wide a net as possible.
The extreme plurality of choice that dating in a modern city now offers is, I suspect, very bad for creating good relationships.
Upon acquiring the cabin in the woods, we set about meeting some of the locals, as one must if one needs things like help with snow plowing and plumbing. Right away, we met several couples in their fifties or sixties who had been happily married decades and appeared still thrilled about each other.
This is interesting. I thought to myself.
This is not all to romanticize rural life. One of the carpenters we have been working with told us we should probably get a game cam or something like that because there are a lot of people addicted to meth out here, and if you aren’t living in a house full time it can become a target for theft.
We have one, I assured him, and immediately went out and bought an internet connected system as well.
Of course, cities have their equal share of addicted people, but the social layers protect us from seeing them, ironically. It is, I hypothesize, easier to be socially stratified in a city than in a rural place.
But won’t we be lonely? Daniel, particularly, is an extrovert and has always thought he needed the social stimulation of being able to walk out to a coffee shop at any moment of the day.
The irony is, especially when your cabin is being renovated, you have an almost constant stream of unannounced visitors. We are alone significantly less in our cabin in the deep woods than we are in Portland. Plus, there are no dropbys in the city. Dropbys happen all the time when there is no cellular service.
Prior to understanding how social life worked in the rurals, we had estimated that because we are located near climbing, we would be able to make as many friends as we wanted. (About a year ago I had made a rule that all new cultivated friendships needed to be with climbers anyway.)
This is, of course, still true. Climbing, one of the most social sports, means that becoming a regular makes friendship development easy. Besides, all you want to talk about is climbing anyway, so there is never any need to worry about the more divisive subjects that break up families and friendships: no work, no politics, no identities to protect. Just routes and rock.
Living without cellular service seems tricky.
Well, Wifi calling works pretty well.
Interestingly, the DSL internet we have in the cabin is faster than the cable internet we have in Portland. This is, of course, a matter of density. DSL works based on distance to the source. We have identified our source, and it appears that there are exactly two people we might be sharing with, one of whom is 85 years old, the other of whom is never home during business days. Thus, during work days, we are sharing with nobody, and unless a tree falls on the wire, we’re good.