I may be a homosexual but, let me be very clear, I am not a homosexual who camps. Like a lot of people, I experimented with camping in my youth but eventually realised it wasn’t my thing. Still, a few years ago, I found myself camping in New York State’s Catskill mountains for a friend’s birthday. Due to some logistical errors (I forgot to take a sleeping bag) and an incontinent dog called Audrey (long story), it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience. I did, however, fall in love with a cute little Catskills hamlet called Livingston Manor that we drove through on the way home. “Maybe we should leave New York City and move up here?” I said to my partner. “We could grow vegetables and breathe fresh air! Hicksters are the new hipsters, apparently. We could be hicksters!”
We did not become hicksters. We forgot all about our alternative Catskills existence as soon as we got home. But when the pandemic hit, the fantasy of country living returned with a vengeance. Of course, we were far from the only people cooped up in a tiny urban apartment dreaming of more space. Rural house prices went bonkers as stir-crazy New Yorkers snapped up homes upstate; living a “simple” life in the country rapidly became unaffordable. So we stayed in our one-bedroom city apartment and stewed.
You know what, though? While the city hasn’t been the easiest place to be lately, I am over my bucolic fantasies. Rural living, I have decided, is overrated. I have come to this conclusion after a long empirical study on the countryside – otherwise known as a summer holiday. To be more specific: I have just come back from three weeks in a riverside house in the Catskills with my wife and three-month-old child. Idyllic, right? To begin with, yes. For the first couple of days of our holiday I was like Fotherington-Tomas from the Molesworth books. I skipped around saying, “Hello clouds! Hello sky!” I was ready to become a lady farmer and live off the land. But being in the middle of nowhere got old very quickly. There are only so many trees you can look at before you are sick of looking at trees.
Being in the middle of nowhere also gets creepy very quickly. I once went on a weekend away to the country with a friend from Queens who was so freaked out by the silence that she slept with a knife under her pillow. I am not quite on that level, but there is something about countryside quiet that makes it difficult to relax. Every time I heard a creak in the middle of the night I worried about intruders, or thought that a local ghost was paying us a visit.
The countryside is always eerie, but there is something extra sinister about the Catskills because of all the kill-ing. The house we were renting, for example, was by the Beaverkill river surrounded by a bunch of towns with kill in the name. There’s a very boring reason for this: kil means creek in Dutch. Still, that didn’t stop the animal rights group Peta from once (unsuccessfully) demanding that the New York town of Fishkill change its name to something that was less resonant of cruelty to marine life – such as Fishsave. While that was obviously ridiculous, I have to admit that names matter: had we had been staying in the Catsave mountains, it’s possible I would have been less creeped out. As it was, I spent much of the holiday missing the security of the city and the sound of sirens. This is all personal opinion, of course; I can’t help loving the city. If you love the countryside then good for you; there is no judgment from me. Love is love. Your feelings are valid. Just, please, beware of the ghosts.