The September nights are cool now and I ponder what winter life will be like when it is too cold for backyard visits in Boston with children and grandchildren or for brief stopovers on the deck of a friend in Rhode Island, as we did this past weekend. The ocean-side picnic tables in Noank where we ate our lobster rolls on the way home won’t be available when snow is on the ground. Crisp fall days may be wonderful for walks under the red and orange foliage, but freezing winds and icy streets are another matter.
Last April, just after the worst of the pandemic in New York City, when it seemed that we might not die from the virus after all and experts began talking about a second wave, I told Rosemary, “I can’t do this again. If there is another wave coming in the fall, we must get out of the city.” The first wave had been so awful. It was that time before we knew how the virus was passed, when we were hiding behind closed doors and washing down our groceries, when, terrified, I expected that Rosemary and I would each end up alone on ventilators at separate make-do medical sites–on a ship in the harbor or a tent in Central Park. We didn’t know then that New York City would become one of the safest places in the nation.
Rosemary hadn’t wanted to leave the City. She was reluctant to be away from her doctors, and she didn’t know if she would feel well enough to journey to or settle into a new place. The ease of life in a place without stairs, with staff to call on when the dishwasher fails, or a doorman to accept packages, is appealing. Generously, though, she agreed to rent a place outside the city, as long as we could drive back for her treatments and stay in the city until she was feeling well enough to travel. So, we dipped into our retirement savings and here we are, an hour and a half from the City, in a little rented hobbit house on the Farm River, pondering the months ahead.
Four years ago, we bought three photographs of the Farm River, a short, but charming river that starts in southern Connecticut and flows into Long Island Sound. The artist, Linda Cummings, an acquaintance from our Hartford days, greeted us at her airy studio on the River and invited us in. Large photographs of the patterns of water, marsh grasses, and cloud reflections hung on the sunny white walls and seemed to be an extension of the tidal river flowing just outside.
Rosemary and I were both drawn to the row of windows across the front of the studio, and we exclaimed over the view. Outside, on the opposite bank of the river, an old-fashioned trolley car from a near-by trolley museum was magically making its way among the grasses that lined the opposite banks of the river. After we selected the pictures we wanted, I said, “We’ll buy the photographs, they are lovely, but what we really want is to live here!”
Rosemary chimed in at almost the same moment, “Imagine waking up here!”
The three pictures now hang on the wall over the couch in our Brooklyn apartment. And our get-away house is three houses down the street from Linda’s studio.
We found the Farm River house on a site for academic rentals, for scholars on sabbatical. Because of the pandemic, we rented it without seeing it. It is charming—quirky in a way that delights me, but isn’t always practical, with crooked stairs down to the gazebo by the water, a draped window seat, and unexpected rooms. The living room walls are panels from Yale University and date to 1920. The balcony off our bedroom, on the second floor is covered with acorns from the large oaks that loom over the house. From there, we look down on the cormorants sunning on a neighbor’s dock and a congregation of egrets wading on the opposite shore. We study the currents on the river, which flow with the tide, for we are within walking distance of the Sound. I go to sleep at night listening to the crickets and katydids, rather than helicopters and sirens.
Last night, when we returned to the Farm River house from our weekend in Boston, I saw a katydid behind the empty trash cans I was putting into the garage. He was large and green and he looked up at me, audaciously daring me to do something. He reminded me of the summer when Rosemary and I first got together, when we spent as much time as we could hidden away in my green and lilac sky-lit bedroom delighting in our new relationship, and of the katydids that several times slipped into the bedroom. I don’t know how they got in, but I lived on the top of a hill with grass, bushes, trees, and gardens, so I wasn’t surprised. They got larger as the season progressed, as our relationship grew. Rosemary would catch each one in the empty paper cup I kept on the bookcase for this purpose and put it outside. I think she enjoyed showing off her bravery and I found her rescue appealing.
I also have several recordings of insect, peeper, bird, and katydid concerts that I taped in Maine before we sold our house there. I know, it is a dubious occupation to try to capture the ambiance of a place, hoping to be transported back when one can no longer be there. Here on the Farm River, though, I experience a hint of Maine, when I close my eyes and listen to the night songs.
We watch the rising cases of coronavirus in Europe, listen to predictions of the arrival of the second wave here, and bemoan the politics that thwart good public health policy. Rosemary and I sit across from each other on little couches in our new dining room, a glassed-in porch. I watch a woman, paddle-boarding against the current—her backdrop, the pink clouds of the setting sun. I push the Covid concerns from my mind.
Before the winter is the autumn, and the deciduous trees that line the banks of the river will color and fall. Before the snow flies, Rosemary and I will sit on our acorn-covered balcony and drink morning beverages. Before icy frost covers the windows are crisp days sitting in the fresh air of the gazebo with family and friends. And before the calendar changes to winter, we will work to elect a new president. Right now, I am busy listening to the crickets and katydids.