As I write this, Barb and I are nearly done unpacking stuff collected over 30 years of marriage. A few days ago we left Connecticut and moved to Hudson, New York, my hometown, and close to Barb’s of Scotia. We have come home again - so poo on you Thomas Wolfe.
The move has been nearly 10 years in the making. For the past few years, we have been counting the months until the moving trucks would come, because, as Barb says, “There's beauty outside every window.”
“Bells Pond,” as we call it, is actually in Livingston, a rural town just outside Hudson. It is a 230-year-old caretaker’s cottage on the former estate of Robert Livingston, who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and administered the presidential oath of office to George Washington. The caretaker ran a grist mill on the trout-filled Taghkanic Creek, which runs behind our home.
There never was any doubt that Barb and I would settle here when we first saw the place. It’s vibrancy restores us even though its age requires non-stop renovation. We found it after my parents passed away and I wanted to stay connected to Hudson and to my siblings, who are nearby. The clincher was that our kids loved the place and still do -- Christmas coziness, Thanksgiving feasts, relaxing in the screen porch, exploring the woods and creek, sipping coffees around the fireplace. When I see the joy in their eyes when they are here, I know we made the right choice.
The creek and nearby pond give life to trout, otters, beavers, snapping turtles, crayfish, sycamores and draw deer, fox, groundhogs, raccoons, coyotes, hawks and every type of bird you can imagine, including my doppelgänger, the bald eagle.
We also love exploring Hudson, a city of paradoxes. For example, it was recently named one of the most affluent small cities in America even though nearly 70 percent of students are eligible for free lunches. It is politically progressive and conservative at the same time, which makes for interesting public meetings.
The mixture of life-long residents and New York City transplants makes for a rich cultural melting pot. What was once an “old man’s bar” recently reopened into a comfortable new tavern. Old men -- including me – now sit hip to hip with hipsters drinking craft beer.
The city’s main street is alive with tourists – tourists! -- seeking high-end antiques, great food, music, and art. When I left in the 1980s, you could shoot a cannon off on the street and not hit anyone. Hudson’s beauty was there even then, it was just hidden by years of neglect.
The cycling and running in Columbia County are some of the best in the world. Last year, I cycled the full length of every county highway, some of which I helped build during college as a part of a summer road crew. The hiking is spectacular, and my wife and children have discovered an amazing waterfall near our home that I never knew existed.
I have been everywhere in the world and no place is as pretty in summer as this river valley. It won the atmospheric, topographical and celestial lotteries, the payoff being buttery sunrises and sunsets that inspired a school of art. Then there was the defunct and aptly named Sunset Drive-In, where the sun set behind the movie screen, blinding you at the start of the first show.
There’s more. The literary shadows of Millay, Crane, and Irving. Two presidential homes within an hour’s drive. Art galleries. Music, movies and more at Helsinki, TSL, and Basilica Hudson. Parades. The art of Cole, Church, and Earl. Malcolm Galdwell checking out in front of me at the grocery story. The county fair. The children’s book festival. Winter Walk.
Every block, every inch of sidewalk, every stoop are familiar and comforting to me, not just for what they are but what they were. Each creates reverie and remembrance, some good and some painful. I find that no other place.
The courthouse park where we played. 12534. TA8. Rocky’s rectangular pizzas. Fatso’s picnic grove. The newsroom where I flirted with my future wife. “Chestnut Hill” at the middle school where I got my ass kicked in a playground brawl. The blue-collar bar where we ordered boilermakers like the regulars and drunkenly crooned “Barroom Buddies” to the jukebox. The high school football field where I tore up my knee. That 1970s Noecker Buick-Pontiac radio jingle that is caged in my brain.
Hudson is not idyllic. There is poverty, drugs, and a struggling but improving school district. Affordable housing seems to be in short supply. Thankfully, there are many smart and good people working to make it better.
So Hudson is home. I never expected to say that again when I left 30 years ago. Today, this old city makes me feel calm and peaceful but also young and adventurous. I’ll take it.