“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains! And then I want to go somewhere quiet where I can finish my book…” -Bilbo Baggins
Ayako wants to move to the countryside. She says she is done with the city. She is tired of the grinding commutes, the insane work hours, the exhausting bustle. She says she wants to be surrounded by nature. She wants to hear the babble of a brook as she goes to sleep, wants to look out her bedroom window and see deer. She wants to live again in the green shadows of mountains.
I don’t feel like I’m done with the city yet, but I understand her longing. Chicago is a great city, but there are few places on earth farther from mountains and true wilderness. You’d have to drive about seven hours up into northern Wisconsin to get to anything close to a wilderness (“wilderness” here being defined by a complex algorithim based on the number of bears vs. the proximity of the nearest McDonald’s). The nearest real mountain is so far away I can’t even tell you where it is.
Ayako’s desire for the simpler life only increased over the Fourth of July weekend, when we visited the Hill People. Lara and Doug, that is. The Hill People once lived in Chicago, too, but last summer they left the city behind and moved to the countryside of Massachusetts. I mean, the real countryside. Like, the mile-long-unpaved-driveway kind of countryside; the a-black-bear-ate-their-birdfeeder kind of countryside.
The Hill People live in a green dell at the foot of the fabled Mt. Greylock, in the back-half of a colonial farmhouse so old it was built when people considered powdered wigs fashionable and facial hair a sign of decadent barbarity. A time before the invention of trousers. So, quite old. The house is charming, the dell peaceful and pretty. Lara’s writing room has a picture window that looks out over the meadow that serves as their front yard and then the hump of some wooded hill rising up toward Mt. Greylock’s bald, windswept head.
I kept thinking it was the perfect place for a writer, peaceful, natural and Romantic, but near enough to a college town (Williamstown) that the wafts of cheap coffee and angsty desperation on which all writers feed are still easily accessible. Not to mention that Mt. Greylock is America’s nerdiest mountain, seeing as it was the vacation destination and frequent inspiration of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, Henry David Thoreau, and many more. Greylock was to great American writers of the 19th Century what the whiskey-soaked bars of the Left Bank were to the greats of the early 20th. A sanctuary.
I thought about that again as we drove up into the Green Mountains of Vermont in the back of the Hill People’s yellow Jeep. Old a state as it is, Vermont has a wild feel to it. The human settlements still feel like settlements – small villages carved out of narrow valleys, forested mountains looming on all sides. As I said, it takes hours of driving to reach real nature from Chicago. In any town in Vermont, it’s a matter of steps. Every turn promises a glimpse of a moose, or a black bear.
It would be a great place to be a writer, at least in my romantical notions. Peaceful, quiet, full of inspiration, and perhaps most importantly, free of the distractions ever present in the throbbing, pulsing city (though probably not free of the ultimate distraction, that thing you are using right now). A nice quiet place to finish (finish!) my book(s).
Still, I’m not done with the city yet. I’d miss its vibrancy, its electric rush, its cheap and readily available Korean food (I’m not sure how Ayako and I will work this out, though I’m sure we will come to a reasonable compromise, like turning our apartment into a biodome). But someday I think I will be done with the city, and then, like Bilbo, I’ll want to go see the mountains again.