By Tina Traster
January 4, 2007 -- Winter's chill is teasing us with short days and biting winds. The tree folks recently delivered our wood for the fi replace. As my husband and daughter went outside to supervise the dumping of the logs, I watched the scene from my second-floor bedroom window. And I actually started to cry. These were tears of joy. The delivery was the first repeat ritual we’ve had since moving into our renovated 1850s house a year ago.
My husband, young daughter and I had rounded the four seasons in our home atop a mountain ridge in Rockland County, marking an extraordinary one-year anniversary.
Anniversaries are all about reflection. Where was I a year ago? What was the journey between here and there? The mind scans the months, like fanning chronologically through a date book, stumbling over memorable, ordinary, funny and painful moments.
It's odd that house-purchasing anniversaries are not a Hallmark concept. Just about every other passage of time is, and yet buying a house, one's first house, is such a significant event. Maybe I will start a card line in my spare time.
The revelations of living in a house for the first year are similar to the mystery that unravels when you move in with your spouse. The house and its environs have a personality, a character, smells, noises and needs you just didn't know about.
We sold our one-bedroom co-op on Manhattan's Upper West Side and bought this old farmhouse because we wanted space and peace. Suffering urban fatigue, we chose a depressed house on a hillbilly road that hints at Appalachia - even though Manhattan is 30 minutes away and typical suburbia is within easy reach.
After a four-month renovation, the old house that sits on nearly an acre of untamable terrain seems shiny and new. But its beautiful old bones, a 1920s massive brick hearth, salvaged 100-year-old wood floors and paneling remain, and we know that we're just part of this property's long history.
During our first autumn, we learned that the catalpa trees that line our land are the first to lose their large, elephant-ear sized leaves, and that the maple on the side of the house blazes fire-engine red.
By the time the trees were bare, we'd wake up in the middle of the night to earth-crushing noises. Sometimes they'd grind on for hours. Other nights we heard nothing. We eventually learned that we were not the only residents being disturbed at night by a mining quarry about a mile away. We've joined the fight to get this mine to act like a good neighbor and limit its overnight operations.
Our first winter, we understood why folks say our serpentine road during a snowstorm is nearly impassable. During one nor'easter, a driver abandoned her car in our driveway and walked the rest of the way. We lost power twice during storms and a large tree fell, missing our car by a hair. But the white blanket of snow coated the house like a Christmas confection and my daughter got to make her first snow angel. We stayed warm at night by a roaring fire.
The morning after each storm, a band of youngsters appeared at our door with shovels in hand. We graciously paid for their services. They worked as we stayed in our pajamas and fuzzy slippers.
On New Year's Eve, friends joined us for a celebration. For us, it was more than a new year - it was a new era in our life.
Spring revealed the miracle of deer and wild turkey tending to their young in our woods. We watched from our windows as weeks-old fawns frolicked and poults marched in lockstep with their elders. The massive fowl were grateful for seeds falling from the bird feeders we've hung from trees. And we're thankful for the loyal population of bluebirds, northern red cardinals, chickadees and nuthatches that amuse us and our three cats daily with their pecking, flitting, squabbling and quiet moments of contemplation.
One night, the fire/carbon monoxide detector in our bedroom began bleeping at occasional intervals. We called the police, who called the gas company. We had to evacuate and wait in the car. The detector, the gas guy said, needed a new battery, but he also found a carbon-monoxide leak in the basement coming from the hot-water heater. He turned off the heat, and the next day a heating guy came and charged us $500 to replace a raisin-sized widget in the old fuel tank.
Summer brought a cacophony of crickets and a wild pack of coyotes whose pups make a terrifying high-pitched scream when they are making a kill. August showed us that the temperature had to reach 100 degrees before we needed to turn on the A/C in our tree-shaded house. We ate many meals on our porch, but by early September the yellowjackets ruled.
During the summer, our 15-year-old Honda died, my daughter turned 4 and went to summer camp and I began painting landscapes. After living in apartment buildings with thick walls for most of my life, lightning and thunder seem so much louder and brighter and closer when you're in a house filled with windows and skylights.
My house continues to show its secrets. The greatest surprises, though, have been what I've learned about myself. For the first time ever, I only want to cocoon. And the Norman Rockwell childhood I didn't have might just be a possibility for my daughter here in our old farmhouse on the hill.
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