How I found myself in the country after twenty years of living in New York City

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I'm still amazed to find myself living out in the countryside, in a rural pocket that's managed to stay in farmland despite the encroaching development that has spread all the way up through Bucks County, Pennsylvania. We live right on the Bucks County borderline, which goes through our front yard and bisects our stone barn.

A little more than ten years ago my husband and I had just returned from living in Dublin, Ireland for eight months. I had happily gone off with him to live there; he was sent by his job and was to manage the implementation of a new home-phone-security system that was to be offered through Telephone Eirann. We had been over there for two weeks before the big move, so that we could make living arrangements, and I found a house in the Ranelagh section. It was an attached row house, with a garage and a small front yard, and a large back yard surrounded by a stone wall.

During our stay in this house, we learned to live within the luxury of space, something we had sorely missed when we resided in our tiny West Village apartment. The Dublin house had two living rooms separated by sliding wooden doors that we could open to create one big room, or close to allow the fireplace warmth to be contained in a smaller space. There was a sectional sofa that enabled three people to stretch out fully to watch television. My husband's daughter came to stay with us for a while, and because she possessed European citizenship, was able to get a job down in the city of Cork.

Both my husband and his daughter worked while we were there, and I filled my days with making paintings--turning the garage into my studio space, exploring Dublin, going to poetry readings, going to AA meetings, and in the warmer months that we spent there, trying to grow salad in the back yard. Because it was not our house, I was reluctant to dig up any part of the yard, but in the back, at the very end of the long, green expanse of grass where the pine trees grew up to screen the neighboring houses, I created a narrow garden in which to experiment.

As a child growing up in Rhode Island I had no interest in gardening. I had no interest in food, except for the toll-house cookies my mother made, and the penny candy we used to buy at the neighborhood store. And not to forget the ice-cream truck. But vegetables and herbs stayed well outside of my consciousness, and I ate them only to please my mother and to be able to get dessert. Years later, I totally agreed with Andy Warhol who said that eating the main course was only to be able to get to eat the dessert. (Recently there have been studies linking alcoholism with having a sweet tooth.)

Rhode Island was for me, the beach, and later as a teenager, someplace to get out of. New York was the main attraction for me. No garden consciousness for many years, although an awareness of food started to develop as soon as I left home. When I worked as a "mother's helper" in Greenwich, Ct. with a nice wealthy family, I was introduced to all kinds of new food: yoghurt, wheat germ, calves liver are some I remember from that period.

later in life, when my younger sister died of cervical cancer, I became phobic about what I was eating, and experimented with Michio Kushi's macrobiotic diet, as well as eating only organically-grown food. It was shortly after I entered this strange phase of my life that we became acquainted with Pumpkin Hollow Farm, in Craryville, New York.

Someone from AA told me about Pumpkin Hollow, as a place that welcomed visitors who wanted a country weekend, without any hassles or commitment. My husband and I began to go up there on weekends, at first once in a while, and then later, more regularly. After a while, we became part of the work crew, giving up some hours of our weekends to work in the kitchen, or the garden, or the trails, in exchange for free room and board. Pumpkin Hollow was a Theosophist camp, and they believed in many things that did not attract me. But what did attract me was their acceptance of people, their love of nature, and their search for something deeper.

It was at Pumpkin Hollow that I began to work in the garden. At first I was given the task of weeding lettuce.

I can't believe today how afraid I was of weeding the long rows of lettuce, but they were planted thickly, and needed to be stringently weeded. After learning how to weed, I worked in other areas of the garden spreading compost, going on manure runs with members of the work crew, harvesting, etc. I also worked in the kitchen prepping vegetables for the cook. Pumpkin Hollow Farm was a vegetarian place. My stepdaughter was also vegetarian, and after a while, my husband and I did become vegetarians for quite a while.

Back to Dublin
I bought some seed from some store, and planted lettuce in my little strip way in the back of the property. I assiduously watered (Ireland was having a drought that summer!), and carefully tended my little garden. When the seedlings had grown to a respectible size, I went out one morning to find that they had been savaged, eaten away by something! What a trauma! The way I reacted, you would have thought I was the recipient of a violent criminal act (a pattern I repeated often in the ensuing years when someone or something brought grief to my garden).

I did see slimy trails, however, which led me to believe that slugs or snails were the culprit. So later that evening, my husband and I went out in the back to see what was up. And we learned the story--there on the stone walls surrounding the yard was an army of snails that were slowly but determinedly and endlessly crawling down the walls in waves of spiral-shell-encased bodies. Wave after wave they came--my poor lettuce didn't stand a chance.

Then my husband got a brilliant idea!

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