As we clop across the Northeastern United States – Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, I feel as if I have stepped out of a time machine into a future I neither understand nor like very much. People’s motives here don’t make sense to me. The stress, the pressure they are willing to live under. Their anti-depressants. Their attack reflexes. Why? Why would people choose to live like this? Why would they do this their children?
The land itself is physically beautiful beyond measure, at least in May. Green and pleasant with little Grandfather Frog ponds sprinkled through the leafy woods and woodchucks scurrying across the road. And the Strivers get to live here. Is that why they make such sacrifice?
Reminds me of that Bob Marley song:”Think you’re in heaven, but you living in hell.”
Thursday we said goodbye to our home on Rhode Island’s south coast – how delightful it looked as we drove away – the wisteria and rhododendrons were in bloom by our cottage’s front porch. We traveled just a few miles before we stopped to admire the Pawcatuck River flowing sleepily toward the Atlantic a few miles away. Just the place to bring your best girl or your bride for a picnic. Or for a young man to gaze moodily into the flow and dash his cigarette dramatically into the passing waters.
But something about the South Coast doesn’t feel like home for a Pondering Pig. It’s a flat land, mainly about its beautiful beaches and the vacation industry they generate, plus some little sixties subdivisions without charm hidden away off Matunuck Schoolhouse Road. The schoolhouse, though, was gone these many years. Lots of water everywhere – sparkling little ponds and nameless streams dapple the landscape – and ducks and geese and blue herons and fisher cats and foxes make their homes hidden from men.
As we crossed into Connecticut we kept to a line north of the big coastal cities of New London, New Haven and Bridgeport, and south of the big central city of Hartford. These are the engines of prosperity that make the rest of the state so green and polished and civilized. The interstates run right through these cities and we have only seen them from the windows of racing auto machines. I’m sorry we missed them though. I love cities, but now we are heading on.
We traveled through miles of leafy green spring woods – so much wild space for a swath of land between great cities. The road just winding quietly along, then a little village, once we happened upon a pizza-grinder joint and its sudden glimpse of another hidden world of guys in trucks driving to carpentry and roofing jobs. But mostly the woods, a crossroads, then the road continuing its windy way west.
We crossed the Connecticut River by ferry. Towards New Haven the woods began to be replaced by trim, clean lined suburban homes from the Seventies and Eighties – each on a big lot with a big lawn and flowers and no one inside but the dog. The winding lanes became surburban “drives” swirling in and out of each other. I had to take out my GPS unit and take a bead on our destination in New Jersey to keep us from wandering forever in circles like travelers lost in the woods.
And all those beautiful modern homes for miles and miles and miles cost between half a million and a million dollars each. I just don’t understand the economic model. How do the children and young marrieds and one wage earner families make a start here? Yet my bright memory of those districts is the sight of a woman standing in the tawny dusk holding a hose and watering her garden, lost in a dream of contentment.
We passed through Wallingford, north of New Haven, which looked exactly like my idea of heaven. Everything I know about heaven, or about the way the world is supposed to be – comes the books I read as a child – and here it was. Wallingford, CT. Just clopping though it in our gypsy cart, not knowing a soul here or anything about their lives of delight or desparation – the town looked like a big relief. Finally – home again. Solid. Victorian. Trim. A dependable town of bricks and quaint shops. On the main street three teenage girls came out of the dressmaker’s shop, squeeking excitedly. It made me happy to see them.
We turned onto the road leading west out of town and passed the great Victorians where the doctor and the mayor and the Magnificent Ambersons had lived and they were all perfectly restored by people who, like Patrushka and me, love old houses and love to live in them. I think maybe those teenage girls were wearing long white dresses and carrying parasols.
I’m writing this on the deck of my daughter’s house in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. I’m not really sure how the people of Connecticut live, but here in Hunterdon County, the emerald paradisical land is filled with strivers. I hear the roar of their SUVs driven too fast for these little country roads beginning at 5:30 AM as their drivers race into the dawn, to what corporate headquarters to fight what marketing wars?
Here you can find great 50,000 square foot country palaces, suburban castles built last year on cornfields and great estates cobbled together from eighteenth century farmsteads and greystone outbuildings. And again it is beautiful beyond belief here in May.
Last night at dinner Jenny’s husband Dave told about a run-in at the supermarket. He had spied an empty shopping card in an aisle and put his hands upon it. He was immediately attacked by a woman brimming with anger and outrage and high blood pressure. “I would like to continue to push my cart please!” So tense, so ready to attack at the slightest provocation – what a price to pay to live in these beautiuful surroundings.