Living up in the Hudson Highlands in the core of the Appalachian Mountains has put me in touch with the world at my feet in a physical and tangible way. That I expected. What’s surprised me is the odd touches of metaphysical mysticism thrown into the mix.
Until now, I lived in teeming cities as an adult, quite close to my human neighbors, but far from anything wild, untamable and furry, and I lost touch with that side of life: the mystery, the excitement, the inherent strangeness of woods and non-domesticated animals.
Here, there’s wildness at my doorstep; often, I suspect it wants to come inside with me. Sometimes, I suspect it has even more ominous plans.
For example, the 16-foot tall and 30-foot wide Rhododendron outside of our sun porch is clearly trying to eat our house. I beat it back with holy water, prayers and my sharpest shears every once in a while, but it’s like a Chia Pet Rhodo that has spent too much time in the Pet Sematary, fed by some evil subterranean source of Rhodo protein, bulging with buds even when the mercury dips below 0, quaking with supersonic leaves the size of my head even after Nor’Easters shave the green off of every other bush in our yard; it’s bad, possibly malevolent.
Luckily, there are plenty of auspicious natural delights to combat the Rhodo jujitsu.
When I get up in the morning to cook my breakfast, sparkling, pristine, diamond shards of frost coat the windows overlooking the yard in our kitchen. I scan the backyard, searching for the herd of deer that leaves trails of pellets near my compost pile, or the rabbit that Penelope almost caught on our first week here, the groundhog that lives under the big boulder halfway to the beginning of the woods, the shrews and field mice that like to jump and scamper when the sun peeks out, and most of all, the family of coyotes that welcomes me home every night with a bone-shattering series of shrieks and howls. When they howl, there isn’t room for anything else in the world. I sit in the dark in my car, and their compact, small fierceness fills the night around me. It’s beautiful, bold, otherworldly, here, at my feet.
Every time, I curse myself for forgetting to leave the porch light on. I poke my head out of my car, grab my iPhone, massive purse and run for the door, terrified I’ll run into a coyote and yearning for just a glimpse. I saw one once when I took out the garbage, but I screamed, puffed up and it ran away before I could really get a good gawk in, a patch of wildness mooning me in the Hudson Highlands night. I went inside, hugged my dog, quaked in my double-wool socks, lit a fire and waited for Stephen to get home.
Maybe it’s the closeness to the land and creatures out here, maybe it’s the winter – but my food cravings have changed drastically since living here. Instead of froofy, pretty salads, rich cheeses, flash-fried fish and sky-high chocolate mousse, I crave root vegetables braised in buttery stocks, simple farmer’s cheese, funky meat stews and cookies with a decidedly Eastern flavor.
This week, I made a super simple, but uber yummy cheese and sausage lasagna. It only takes about an hour to make, making me feel vaguely Sandra Lee-ish and lame, until we tasted it. We both love the lasagna – and the fact that there was plenty of extra free time for frolicking in the Hudson Highlands. The cookie? That was just for me. To Stephen it tasted like a digestive biscuit born in the health food aisle at the co-op – his worst granola nightmare, realized, on a plate. To me? Like a carefree run in the fields with coyotes; earthy, deep, strange, rich. Click on for recipes!