Get Me Back to the Woods by Starlight

*photo taken from Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music in Nelson, NH.

For weeks, Michael and I have been forced to live in separation while he works in New Hampshire and I work on our house in Olean to prep it for sale. We didn’t want to have to do this, but we need his income, and the work took him back to New Hampshire. As a traveling nurse, Michael can choose from positions available across the country, but he needs to have licensure to be able to work in any particular state. It’s rather annoying and complicated. The short story is that he doesn’t have his New York or Pennsylvania license anymore, so his current New Hampshire license became his saving grace. When we first started traveling, we stayed at a lodge outside of Keene, NH, a place in a beautiful wooded spot where the neighbors were far enough away to not be heard. It was glorious, it allowed our dogs, and it was temporary—no leases necessary. He’s back there again, renting a room in the lodge in the woods while I do my best to get the house ready for sale. For weeks I’ve been going through our junk at our Olean house, patching and painting walls, selling furniture, tiling a floor, and figuring out how to make the house look its best by using up the supplies we already have. In general, the work is back-breaking, so I was really happy to finally be able to visit Michael in New Hampshire for a short few days. The woods has been calling.

The day I drove out of Olean, the sun shone over the rolling hills, the grass greening and the trees just starting to bud. Spring has taken a long time to come to the North this year, with snow still falling far into April. Such weather isn’t necessarily unheard of in spring, but the number of times we saw snow in April this year was much higher than normal. It’s a rare occurrence to see snow and cold through most of the month, so the trees withheld their leaves and the spring flowers huddled in the ground with their heads poking just above the soil, waiting for the warmer weather. I loaded the dogs into the back seat of the beat-up Buick and put in my order for good car behavior on the trip, as the car is 12 years old and getting close to the end of its days. Taking it on a seven-hour trip might not have been terribly smart, but I wanted to take the dogs. Borrowing someone else’s car would mean I needed to leave the dogs at home, since they shed so badly no blanket would stop the fur from getting everywhere. I have yet to find a vacuum that can actually get up all the dog hair. Thus, I hopped in the Buick and away we went.

Most of the drive to New Hampshire takes me through the countryside of New York, with occasional cities like Binghamton and Albany to manage traffic and route changes, but mostly I get to enjoy the scenery on auto-pilot with the cruise control on the highways. Most of the rural regions of New York State consist of rolling hills, farmland, lakes, rivers winding through the trees, and small towns tucked into the valleys. Though I do not enjoy highway driving much, I find pleasure in at least getting to see the lovely green and occasional spectacular gorge or hilltop view of the region. I live for those moments, small jewels in the mind-numbing experience of traveling endless road. Once upon a time, I thought a seven-hour drive was a long time. After driving across the country from New York to Nevada, and then to California…seven hours feels like a day trip. The dogs were happy to enjoy the back seat of the car for once, too, since they usually spend their rides in a kennel in the back of the truck. I usually prefer to keep them safer in the kennel in case of an accident, but it doesn’t fit in the back seat of the car. This entire trip was all about taking chances.

Once I got to the state border and into Vermont, the driving changed from highway to mountain-climbing. This part of the drive is my favorite. I absolutely love seeing the boulder-filled streams and rivers churning through the countryside, the winding road like a ribbon of joy weaving through the woods. Vermont is my kind of place: small artsy towns with lots of lovely clapboard structures alongside the road, and quaint places to eat and shop in every little village. I love when the mountains rise their massive shoulders up above the few flat spaces, their heights tall enough to block out the sun as you pass along their feet. My heart sings in these moments. Every drive I take more than once becomes a series of such moments to which I look forward; the view from Hogback in Vermont on Route 9 is one of my favorites. I arrived there just as the sun began coloring the sky with sunset, and I pulled over to take in the vast view of the Green Mountains. Did I take a photo? Nope. I just sat there and soaked up the moment. Sometimes, life is better without a picture.

From the mountains of Vermont I hit New Hampshire on the other side of Brattleboro just after dark. I had just called Michael to let him know I would be arriving soon, and had only 20 minutes left to drive, when I see the lights in my rear-view mirror. As ever, my stomach lurches in concern. Is it me? Several cars behind me pull to the side of the road, as do I. The lights come closer, and I have hope it will be for someone else, but no. It’s me. Apparently I have a head light out, the headlight I had to replace once already. Ugh. I sit in my seat anxiously as the officer checks my credentials and insurance info, wondering what he will do. Thankfully, the dogs sat quietly the entire time, not a peep from either of them. When he returns to give me back my license and registration, he instructs me to get it fixed, I thank him, and on I go. My white privilege keeps me from even getting a citation for the light. I mentally masticate on this while I drive the remaining few minutes to arrive at the lodge in the woods. While people of color have to fear being shot or arrested for such simple traffic stops, my skin color gets me off with a warning, even a polite and thoughtful exchange. I hope in my lifetime all people can be treated so kindly.

In any case, I arrive at the lodge with no sign of car trouble other than the headlight, and the dogs were thrilled to see Michael and to visit the lodge again. The lovely warm weather allowed for doors and windows to be opened, the breeze swept out the stale indoor air, and I felt happy to be back in a place where the only lights were the ones we turned on at the house. One of my favorite things about living away from town is the beauty of being able to enjoy the night. Seeing stars, walking by moonlight, and hearing the night animals in the woods are as good as a restorative meal. When you live in the wild spaces of the world, you begin to realize that moonlight is more than enough to see the countryside, even tinted blue and washed of most color. The magic of moonlight still allows the eye to see, but other types of light need to be extinguished to adjust your sight. It’s enchanting and thrilling to walk through the woods without a flashlight at night, especially by the light of a full moon. When you live by the light of what nature provides, you might be surprised by what you can see in the woods.

By morning when we awoke, our plan was to take the afternoon to drive around looking at land. We have decided for certain that our home base needs to be New Hampshire. Several reasons added to the decision to sell our Olean home, one of which is the tax burden of New York State, another being the fact that when we went to New Hampshire on our first travel assignment, Michael and I both fell in love with the town of Keene and everything we could enjoy there. Immediately it felt like home to me, as if I found the last piece of a puzzle and snapped it into place. Whatever spell the area cast on me, when I drove through those mountains it took hold of me again. The smile on my face lit me up inside and I felt once again like I had returned home. We took to the roads in search of a few places Michael had discovered as possible contenders for land purchase. Our list of needs is short, but we have a few standards for what we want: several acres on which to enjoy quiet and preserve land against other people clearing the woods for building; a small structure already on the property with electric, water, and septic; and the possibility of a view of the mountains. Michael found a few places that fit the bill, so we drove around to look at them, but one in particular stood out to both of us.

A spit of land in a town called Ashuelot has been sitting on the market for a while, but it has a small cabin and a small barn on the property. The cabin is in need of repair, and the barn too, but what we did like was the fact that a small portion of land set aside as a pasture for horses or cows has a lovely view. Though the land needs a septic system, it does have a well and electric. As we wandered the pasture and took in the state of affairs of all the old vehicles and junk left behind, we could imagine ourselves there, building a quiet spot for ourselves as a harbor away from the business of the world. If we can sell our home in Olean, we would have the money for the land. Now the question remains whether or not we should immediately build a tiny house on the property, or if we should first finish the Airstream so we can live in that while we build a tiny house.

I haven’t mentioned our Aluminum Falcon for a while, as there hasn’t been much to tell. With Michael working in New Hampshire, the schedule he works there has not allowed for him to come home much. The weather has also been difficult for all of March and April, so little could be done to complete the work waiting on the mostly empty shell. One of the troubling problems with finishing the Airstream is that if we do the work on the trailer, we won’t have money for a cabin. We’ll need to save again. However, if we finish the Airstream, we will be able to keep traveling. With the purchase of land in New Hampshire, we can change our residency to relieve the tax burden, and Michael will have access to compact licensure for nursing. Since New Hampshire is one of over 30 states to recognize the licensure of nurses from the other states in the “compact,” being a resident of New Hampshire would free Michael from having to pay for licensing in those other states in the compact. As it stands now, he must go through the hassle of paperwork, fees (which often cost a couple hundred on average), and then waiting for the license to be approved. It’s frustrating to say the least.

This may seem like an easy choice, to just finish the Airstream and continue traveling, but the only trouble with the travel lately has been difficulty in finding work that pays well. Lately the market has been flooded with travel nurses, which makes it hard for Michael to grab jobs before someone else snaps them up. With competition so hot and heavy, it’s been stressful to find good work in places we want to live. So we have a quandary. If we stay put for a little while, I can network with folks in New Hampshire to get my writing career going a little more lucratively, and Michael can have a more steady paycheck for while. The drawback is that the paycheck will be a drastic pay cut. Ick. Choices, choices. We have every intention of continuing to travel, but for a short time we have this tickling desire to make a little bit of land our own, a place where we can return every so often for a sprinkle of relief from the rat races. It would be so fulfilling to have a slice of woods where we can land whenever the world overwhelms us. And so we stand, in limbo, our Olean home still unfinished while I work on it alone (though I am coming along fairly well), our Airstream patiently waiting in the parking lot, the land we would like to buy hanging in the balance. To build a cabin or not to build a cabin? “Doubt thou the stars are fire; doubt that the sun doth move; doubt truth to be a liar; but never doubt I love (Shakespeare, from Hamlet).” I love the woods without any doubt.

Maybe the stars will write me a poem in the sky and I can divine their answer about what we should do. These are good problems to have, these options. Leaving a town we have lived for many years is bittersweet, but we feel ready. Olean has been our home for decades, and the time has come to learn and grow in a new place where we feel a fresh connection to what it has to offer. The excitement of creating a new place to live, a quiet retreat away from the sirens, the thudding stereos, the screaming teens, the lack of parking, the trash, and the people pulling up my flowers or twisting branches off my trees, that is a goal worth grasping. Our dilemma is one of incredible privilege, whether or not we worked hard for it. We earned some of the privilege we enjoy with hard work, dedication, and time, but it is privilege nonetheless. I am grateful. Hopefully when Michael comes to Olean this week to get some work done, we can find our way through the maze of choices and come closer to an end point. Until then, we will both try to enjoy the quiet of the time we have alone, keep our heads down while we work, and maintain our course forward. The stars will steer us right.

*If you enjoy my blog posts, please check out my Resources, Courses and Short Stories page for more reading and opportunities to learn. Remember, even though I no longer work from a classroom, I’m still a teacher. Have fun out there, and enjoy the rest of what I have to offer. 🙂

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