I HAVE ALWAYS FOUND it difficult to decide between living a country life or a city life. And on top of that, there is the great decision between being a beach lover or forest dweller.
I love cities. When I stepped out of the car in midtown Manhattan last March for a quick trip to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway, I was dropped right back to my book publishing career. The city immediately envelops you with sights and sounds and smells. Publishing conferences at the Javits Center, meetings with sales reps on Park Avenue to describe the new season’s books, meetings with Barnes & Noble buyers for make-or-break sales of fiction titles — it all came rushing back like it was yesterday. But perhaps I could love it because I didn’t have to be there. Most of the time I did day trips, walking down the ramp to board the Delta Shuttle still picking hay off my jacket.
But I get frustrated living in the “country” because I love museums and art shows and films, yet I often don’t go because I don’t want to spend a couple hours of my time on the road getting to and from these things. I grocery shop like I live in a city a block from the corner market. Unlike when I was growing up and my parents shopped once a week for the entire week’s meals, I have to go an average of every three days even though I live at least 10 miles from the nearest grocery store because I can’t decide what I want to eat for dinner three days from now. And lately I’ve taken to getting only the number of items in a trip that will allow me to go through the quick lane.
Every time I am in a city, however, the minute I see a dog or a carriage horse, a pigeon or a squirrel, I am drawn to them like being out of the country gives me a craving for something besides human beings. If you want constant human interaction, cities are the place to be.
I enjoy time with people — my colleagues, my family, my friends, even exchanging a joke with a stranger in Aisle 7. But interacting with animals is what makes my world go ’round. For that reason alone, ultimately, country life wins hands down. From feeding my horse in the morning, to letting my duck into his stall at night, animal behavior makes me smile. Chipmunks, porcupines, all manner of birds, the four does who have taken to keeping my horse company, bring interest to my day. Even when the animals themselves aren’t present and I am only checking out the holes they made in trees or the abandoned den or the scat right in the middle of the trail, animals intrigue me.
Every day I take the dogs for a walk; on the few days when I don’t, I feel something is missing. Lately, as often as I can, I plod through our woods on my one remaining (and favorite, thankfully) horse. It is a nice vantage point to take a walk in the woods from the back of a horse. Although you are not up in the canopy, you do have a little different perspective. And I like to wonder what the horse is thinking about, how his brain might be processing all he is seeing.
As attracted I am to the forest, I am so very at home on the beach. Although growing up I spent a lot of time at the nearby beach, I no longer walk on the beach anywhere near as often as I would like. Again, it involves a bit of a drive and the beaches of my youth have become seemingly exclusive. Maybe it’s simply the amount of time with boots on the ground that makes the forest, ultimately, win out. Oceanside may seem more glamorous and better remembered, but growing up I also enjoyed an expanse of undeveloped forest as my backyard. Clearly the forest is what I picked for the surroundings of my adult life.
Every time I step out onto a leaf-covered trail, I am reminded of my father who died in 2001. A family thing to do on Sundays was to climb in the car and go somewhere to walk — Mount Agamenticus or “Third Hill” (I have never figured out where this actually is) and other spots my dad knew from hunting. And just like the cities — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami — that remind me of my publishing career, the minute I step in the woods, the sights and sounds and smells surround me and take me back to fond memories of those walks with my dad.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.