Thursday, April 12, 2007

Perhaps I Haven’t Explained This Properly

Exurbitude refers to my state of mind: with my family, I’ve purposely moved outside the city, out beyond the suburbs, to the exurban fringes. From here, only the mad commute. And all of us, though we came from Brooklyn, or Queens, the Bronx, Yonkers — even Manhattan — no longer feel quite like city folk. And we’re not quite suburbanites.

In my case, it was a love for the green stuff (trees) that brought me this way. A love for North. I’ve traced my way back and forth up and down the Hudson Valley more than any other trip I’ve taken — I schooled up there in Albany, I’ve gone to a little resort in the Adirondacks on and off for more than thirty years, I’ve hiked to the river’s source and I have friends and family up and down its reaches. Those happy accidents of geology that gave us this valley, and the climactic changes that gave us this river, have shaped my life. How could I stay in the concrete lands with a family, given that fact?

And so we moved – first to Tarrytown, then to Monroe, and now here. Each time placing distance between us and New York City…mental, physical, cultural distance. The unbroken tie remains the economic. So I go to New York five days a week or so, and I work in the office, and I am among the city people, and they are attuned to different cycles than I am.

I come to work in my boots and down vest like some kind of idiot hiker lost in town, with stories of turkeys gobbling off in the woods that very morning while I was out for a run. They look at me doubtfully when I tell them about the bear. They think I’m talking about coming back from a business trip when I mention that I watched the sun come up over the mountains that morning while I rode the ferry. We get the organic farm, they get the organic farmstand. They get rain, we get snow. They get heat, we get tomatoes. They get rats, we get deer.

But here’s me (writing from the train, in fact), suspended between those worlds. I’m us and them. The clown and the slicker. Sometimes I feel like a messenger, a mailman, a bridge between two mindsets. I want to tell the human vibe and the hum of the city about the natural flow of the water through my cellar, or explain the waft of skunk that arises at evening while you’re out looking up at the stars for a moment after taking out the garbage. In town there’s the powerful thrill of money and art — I was immersed in it just two hours ago! — that’s hard to map onto the lone convenience store spilling its flourescence onto the sidewalk.

Tonight a friend and I went driving around town, looking for the right combination of elements to spot eastern Tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) coming downhill to breed in vernal pools.* We didn’t find any, and I’m almost thankful. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with the information.

* Interestingly, that link says they don’t occur further north than Long Island, but my friend has seen them not far from here in past years. And he’s a scientist.


Bill Braine said...

Edited for length (believe it or not) is evenfurtherupstate's comment:

Your latest post has me singing the Rush song "Subdivisions" and thinking about the distinctions between city, suburb and country. Here are the lyrics to the tune:

Released in the early 80s, when I was 12 or 13, this song captured much of the spirit of growing up in the 'burbs -- the sprawl, the malls, the houses that are "detached and subdivided" (as compared to the row houses and tall apartment buildings of the city) -- and things pretty much the same everywhere in the "mass production zone." Just as importantly to me at the time, at least, it also captures the feelings of teenagers in those 'burbs -- told what to think ("opinions all provided") in a place where dreamers don't fit in, and of course the castes and peer pressures of high school in those 'burbs("conform or be castout"). . . . So what do those teenage dreamers do about it? As soon as they get a chance, they head to the "action" of the Big City ("drawn like moths we drift into the city"). But alas, many who stay in the City get caught up in the rat race, the "ticking trap" of work and sell their souls for the economic benefits of working in the City ("some will sell their dreams for small desires"). Ultimately they "lose the race to rats," and tired of it all, they start to dream of somewhere they can slow down and "relax their restless flight" -- to stop moving and to establish roots. Ironically this often leads them back to the 'burbs from whence they came -- and had fled: "somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights."

You've followed this path yourself: growing up in suburban Nassau County only to be drawn to the action of the City in young adulthood. Alas, the pace, the "hum" of the City, the vibrancy . . . all that energy and excitement is wonderful when you are relatively young and full of energy yourself. But the energy that comes from that mass of humanity has its downsides -- it can become tiresome, and so many people makes for tight (and expensive) living. You seek the solace of a place where you can actually see the stars or smell a skunk or confront a snake in the basement or a salamander under a rock. You long for open spaces and fresh air and your own little patch of green grass on which your kids can stretch out and play. Suburbs to City to Suburbs to Exurbs. Your children will likely repeat a similar cycle. As Kurt Vonnegut would say: "So it goes."

------ end evenfurtherupstate's comment -------
...And I can't believe you put the lyrics to a Rush song on my blog.

wcs said...

I don't know... I think you explained it quite properly.