My wife and I moved upstate when we retired from our former jobs: I from newspaper reporting on poor people’s crimes, and she from event planning for rich people’s weddings. We had an idea to take our savings and walk away, like two tired gamblers who know enough to understand that they’ve finally won all they’re good for.
We were in our sixties; we had the money, mostly Anna’s, and we had the ambition to do nothing for a while. We planned to homestead, live simply and practice doing without––Anna would grow her own vegetables and I had half–baked dreams of writing a crime novel in all of my newfound free time. I was from the city, but she was from a smaller town in Massachusetts and she had begun to say, after nearly forty years of urban living, that she couldn’t help feeling frayed and sooty, unraveling at the edges there. She felt like an imposter, although I disagreed: Anna was so full of grace that she could fit in anywhere. But she said she was coming undone, and needed to get back to what mattered, and that’s why we moved.
We left in October, imagining scenes of red and gold trees, short hikes and crisp air. Yes, we were done then; we congratulated ourselves on our homey values, our clarity of vision. We did the packing hurriedly, and within weeks we were decorating a drafty nineteenth century house set between two dairy farms on the outskirts of a podunk town near the Canadian border. I should admit that we were both enchanted at first. Our house was at the edge of the woods, and if that wasn’t enough, there was a stream that ran by, a babbling brook, if you will. Periodically, Anna would stop unpacking a box and run toward the window, whispering “Look! A finch!” or “Look! A deer!” and we would hold our breath, watching this majestic, fabled creature explore our new backyard. If she didn’t know the name of the animal, she would motion for me to get a field guide, and she would frantically look it up, repeating the name under her breath seven times: Grosbeak, Grosbeak, Grosbeak, Grosbeak, Grosbeak, Grosbeak, Grosbeak. Committing our new home to her memory.
She started buying things I had never seen her buy before: paintings of outdoor scenes, for example, as opposed to the abstract art we’d had in our loft apartment. The walls, she painted yellow. She purchased gardening equipment of course, and set to work, but perhaps the oddest thing was her new obsession with baskets. I found baskets holding kitchen supplies, baskets full of flowers, baskets of potpourri. I finally noticed enough to ask her where the baskets were from, and, delighted, she told me they were Amish, bought at a small stand down the road where a woman sat for a few hours on Fridays and Saturdays, her horse tied to a tree nearby. It was so lovely, she said, and she did adore the woman. To tell the truth, we were as much fascinated by the Amish then as we were the deer and the finches. On the paved road in front of our house, the same road where logging trucks rumbled past at odd hours, Amish families would ride in their horse-drawn buggies, like some vision from history, seeming almost black and white in comparison with the rest of the new and vibrant world.
Continued in Confrontation 118.