bird watching, Concord MA, David Byrne, empty nest, friendship, marriage, moving in mid-life, retirement, work
Last weekend we shared homemade pizza with friends on our back deck while a great blue heron sailed overhead. Throughout the course of the meal, we heard orioles singing and saw flashes of orange as they flitted across the yard between their nest in the willow tree and the fruit trees in our garden. A grosbeak, hummingbirds, and various other winged residents also made appearances as they went about their evening business.
When you aren’t confronted by the ticks, poison ivy, and mosquitoes, and don’t have to cut the grass, weed the garden, or shovel the driveway when you’d rather be doing something else, this place can feel like paradise.
We moved to Concord almost 20 years ago, and Paul and I still remember a day that first spring when we looked out a window to see our 10-year-old son trailing a pheasant across the back lawn, nearly stepping on the end of its long, sweeping tail.
Our pheasant-follower and his younger brother grew up here. They went to school here. And now they have both moved on to make their own homes and create their own exciting adventures. And as hard it will be to leave this house and yard behind, Paul and I are ready to move on too.
At least we think we are.
In an ideal world, we could create an oasis like this one in the middle of some city. A city that has sidewalks, public transportation, and a rich cultural life —all things that are missing and are sorely missed in our current location.
I want diverse neighbors, a corner store, a local cafe, and a bit of nightlife. I’d love to attend a movie or a concert and then walk home afterward while discussing what we’ve just seen or heard.
In his recent op-ed piece for The New York Times about New York City’s new bike-share program, David Byrne captured my idealized version of city living as he described the different routes he takes on his bike to pick up groceries, commute to work, or visit friends. And he talked about making his home in the big city.
“I just turned 60 and have no plans to retire to the suburbs,” he writes. “I love it here.”
“That’s what I want,” I thought. “A place I can fall in love with, a place that stimulates my intellect and fosters my creativity.”
But then, just below his paean to urban life was another op-ed by his daughter, Malu, who described the optimal environments of young artists like herself who have left the city because of its high cost and many distractions.
“I might have to escape New York to keep my artistic spirit alive,” she writes.
Somewhere between Byrne’s viewpoint and that of his daughter lies the crux of my dilemma. I want the bustle and excitement of the city but not the noise. I want to be able to move around freely even when—especially when — I am too old to drive, but worry that the constant press of people will grate on my introvert soul.
While any place that Paul and I are together will feel like home, I also want to find my own niche. I want to write in my office and then meet friends for coffee at a neighborhood cafe, or spend the afternoon wandering around a nearby museum.
I know that there is no ideal place, there are only places that you make idyllic. Paul and I will take a few trips, and maybe someplace will click for both of us. Maybe no place will, and we’ll decide that this is the only home we want.
In the meantime, it’s fun to weigh our options and examine the possibilities. That’s the joy of being middle aged. Even with financial restrictions, we are as free as we’ll ever be to do what we want.
I will be sad when/if we leave this house and town that has become so familiar and where we have lived so much life. And I’ll miss those birds. But I’m also ready to follow their example. Yes, they return every spring, but in the fall they leave that empty nest without hesitation. They move forward.
Heather in Arles said:
What a thought-provoking post, Judith. And as someone who grew up in the country, lived in NYC for nearly 14 years, then moved to Paris, then to a small town in the South of France, I can really tell you that no place is perfect–no matter how many people try to tell you otherwise!!! I very much agree with you that it is what you make of it and that home is where your loved ones are (as you’ll see in my post tomorrow). And I miss dearly many of the things that you long for too but I know for now at least, compromises will have to be made.
Just a thought–any interest in the West Coast? Portland or Seattle (or even Ashland) came to mind as possibilities that might fit the bill…?
I love that you are considering a move–what an adventure! Do you know Jeanne at Collage of Life? She has a wonderful blog and is also documenting her impending move…to Vietnam! :0
We have thought a lot about the West Coast. San Francisco always puts a special spring in Paul’s step. One drawback though is that we will be much further away from our son on the east coast and will be doubling the travel time if we want to go to Europe — it’s all in the mix, though!
Heather in Arles said:
It is a long haul to Europe, I’ll admit. It was one of the reasons why my folks came less from San Diego. But what a great lifestyle! SF is such an amazing town but a very expensive one. I finished high school in Santa Cruz, which is two hours south of SF and loved, loved, loved living there.
As I read this, I remembered this, after I left the city. There were so many things I didn’t do. Is it because I lived there, and always thought there was time?
Yesterday was a perfect example of the same. Living in Little Compton for almost 30 years and I did not know that treasure of a garden was even here.
Your thoughts on being able to walk places are so valid. I often think of finding a little place in Boston for the same reason.
Thank you for thinking out loud as you and Paul go through this time in your lives. It is a pleasure always.
I didn’t do as much as I could have when I lived in the city as a young person and then a young mother. Now we have more time to catch up on all the stuff we missed!
This sense of place plays such an important role in our lives and transitions. I talk about it in my blog quite a bit. [such as in this post: http://archivesinfo.blogspot.com/2011/11/sense-of-place-my-hearts-original-home.html My husband and I are thinking along the same lines as you. We like the idea of retiring to a city, giving up our cars and enjoying Culture! (Yes, I used a capital C on purpose.) When we do that, I will miss my gardens, my birds, my trees and mountains.
Robert S Gold said:
I just wrote about 500 words about the virtues of Key West, and WordPress ate my post.
I’ll try to summarize my post: You need to check out Key West. An amazing place that has only 25,000 people, but museums, art galleries, an amazing restaurant scene, writers, artists, photographers, live theatre, music everywhere, an art-house movie theater, historic architecture, history, and climate. It never freezes here, and a typical January day ranges between 65 and 75 degrees. The island is only two miles by four miles, so you can bike everywhere, and walk to the grocery store. It is never a surprise to see someone you know at the store or on the street. It is easy to forget what day of the week it is.
You can read much more about Key West at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_West,_Florida, but no writing will do it justice. I hope you and Paul will accept our invitation to come and visit and experience this wonderful place.
Thank you Bob! Key West does sound wonderful and I will make sure that Paul checks out both your comment and your blog (as will I!)
It seems that you are not the only one having problems with WordPress this morning.
Robert S Gold said:
Oh, and by the way. I recommend you and your other readers go see a little gem of a movie called “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” which is very topical to this thread.
My friend Ronnie Citron-Fink at http://www.econesting.com/ sends the following comment.
“In a similar situation, but not there yet. Funny, this mild winter reminded me how much I love living in the woods a few miles from town. But, over the last few years, the harsh winters have made me feel like a hermit, stuck in one spot. Husband is getting tired of all the upkeep and I would love the kind of social stimulation you talk about. Thanks for a great piece, Judith!”
(If any one else is having trouble posting comments, please let me know through the contact form on my “about” page.)
Fantastic piece, Judith. It is a wonderful, but overwhelming moment in our lives when we can choose anywhere to start again. You need to come visit my new place, which is not quite retirement yet, but the next stage before. Condo building so maintenance takes care of itself, but surrounded by a lovely park with birds and critters, including a coyote! I can walk to the subway but not to the cute little neighborhoods of Coolidge Corner or East Arlington as in past homes. Tradeoffs, but we all need to make the best of what we have.
Gian, so nice to hear from you! Agreed that the “perfect” place will result by making a series of trade-offs.
Kathleen Volp said:
Wow. You hit it on the nail. All the possibilities and still the question what is or can be “home”.
I envy you the birds in that part of Concord.
Carla Clarke said:
I always enjoy reading your blog. Almost three years ago Corky and I picked up our life together and moved from the Philadelphia area to Portland Maine. This is our first experience in a “city”. We live in a 3 story townhouse style home with a manageable fenced yard. We can walk everywhere, except to a good neighborhood
market. We have all the benefits of small city living; music, art, great restaurants, unlimited volunteer opportunities and the natural beauty of the area. Boston is a bus ride away. I’m not going to say it was easy. After being in the same town and home for 17 years I had some very strange physical and emotional reactions, lots of anxiety. We made our decision to move and the actual move in less that three months. I really had not taken the time to process our decision. That being said, we have absolutely no regrets about our move. Change is good! We love it here and look forward to Corky’s retirement in a few years so that we can start discovering all that Maine has to offer. Our really good friends, June and Paul Farrow, lived in Concord for years. June and I volunteer in a beginning Literacy class together.
Have fun contemplating the options!
Teresa Cleveland Wendel said:
I love big cities. They energize me.
I live in a smallish one. I like that too.
And sometimes I think of a place in the country, or maybe a cottage beside the sea.
Sabine Sweetsir said:
Very well. I love the countryside where I live with my family. I love to hear the birds in the early summer morning and the frogs in the evening, love to watch the all the different animals. And I need to have different seasons. But still need to have the opportunity to go to a big city once in a while. Luckily Germany is not that big, so a lot of different landscapes, cities and interesting places are within a short distance.
Sabine! Welcome to my blog. It’s true that European countries are much smaller than what we have in the states. Also, I’m curious: When you go into the city do you drive or is there a train you can take? I always think of Europe as having a far better rail system than we have in the U.S.