It was Memorial Day weekend. For months I had fantasized about my country life by making etchings on Saturdays at the Art Student’s League, just waiting for this day to come. Now we were on our way to open up our country place. My husband, Joel, and I drove the two-hour trip from NYC to Saugerties, my childhood hometown. We exited the Thruway at exit 20 onto Rt. 212 toward Woodstock, passing the Smoke House of the Catskills in Veteran (great meat store), and turned right onto Blue Mt. Road to Rip Van Winkle Campground, our gated community for the past 15 years. We slipped our card into the lock and the gate lifted. I took a big deep breath, exhaling six months of city soot. Like Christmas sachet, the air was filled with hemlock, the crows cawed high in the trees, and pinecones were strewn across the well-traveled dirt road. Up the long driveway we finally reached the 2005 Sunnybrook Titan 33FKS, which we had been customized in August 2004 at the place where we bought it, Camper’s Barn. We’d gotten the “convenience package”: two slide-outs, air conditioner, microwave, digital AM/FM stereo with CD, oak double-door refrigerator panels, oak table and four chairs, queen sleeper sofa, queen bed, tinted windows, porcelain toilet, glass-enclosed corner radius shower and skylights in every room.

It’s the ultimate cabin in the woods, costing less than $3,000 a year for site rent and utilities. Ironically, it is better equipped than our apartment in the city. The price ensures my emotional equilibrium and a happy marriage to a man bred to love concrete and bus fumes. While Joel raked the yard and swept the deck, I connected the water hose to the trailer and flushed the system with a bit of Clorox. Then I turned on the gas at the propane tank, opened the windows and skylights, and we pushed both buttons to the slide outs that converted the interior rooms to chalet proportions.

The bowls and socks we’d stuffed with cedar shavings worked well over winter to discourage spiders and mice, and the Damp Rid again kept moisture to a minimum. Yes, I felt back home and ready to start the summer season.

I looked forward to visiting the many friends I’d made at the campground, who’d also discovered this amazing alternative to the Hamptons. On the other side of my fireplace I could see, down the hill, Leigh — who has a Ph.D. and is the head librarian at the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan — sitting with her 97-year-old mother in their screen room. But before I could turn into a social butterfly, we had to stock the fridge from Price Chopper four miles away in Saugerties and rent some DVDs for diversion to the campground satellite cable TV.

Joel settled into reading the New York Times in our 22-foot screen room. I took off on my bike feeling like a 15-year-old again, peddling down the dirt road under the canopy of oak, hemlock and pine. For me, it’s all about the sensual experiences of being in the woods.

Photo: Daniel Case. Wikimedia Commons.

After a visit with Leigh and her Mom, I peddled past many campsites with tents to the creek side of the campground and found Michele and her husband, Peter, who were preparing dinner on their fireplace grill. They camped in an older 18-foot RV that Michele inherited from her Dad. They were awaiting the arrival of some of their neighbors in Park Slope, Brooklyn — who last July they’d talked into buying the 36-foot RV two sites from theirs, so their children could continue play dates in the country. Meanwhile, Michele and Peter’s two kids were already playing in the Plattekill Creek, which is well stocked with trout and is an awesome swim hole surrounded by beach, birch, boulders and hiking trails nestled amidst the hemlock on the distant shore. By the time I returned to the top of our hill facing the mountain, the couple in the RV opposite our driveway had arrived for the weekend. Linda retired last year from a career as Superintendent of Schools for her school district upstate. They looked forward to enjoying the living room atmosphere they created in their screen room, where they love reading and listening to their collection of audio books. We ate our dinner of Price Chopper’s delicious “original recipe” baked chicken with a huge salad, and then Danny, head of the campground’s owner-family, came by to chat and make sure all our facilities were up and running. Comfortably at peace with my sense of place in the world, I nestled into my chaise recliner at the corner of our screen room to watch Joel build his fire and watch the sun’s setting rays dance between the pines. For Joel, it’s all about building the best fire and being a Boy Scout again, but one or two overnights is all he can handle without going batty. By eight o’clock, the evening frogs around the nearby lake began their serenade, filling our paradise with their joyful call-and-response mating songs.

Our kayak, for the next adventure.

After a few hours tending a roaring fire, we let it die, closed up for the night and watched the late news on TV, curled up in bed. But from under my open window with nose tipped toward the forest’s fragrance, it was the frogs’ crescendo instead that carried me into dreams of languorous months to come. I dreamed I was floating in the creek and kayaking on the Esopus and Hudson Rivers, looking for eagles with my high school girlfriend, Judy. I awoke at 4:30, just before daybreak, to what sounded like a thousand birds singing syncopated melodies announcing another wonderful day. And they reminded me also to thank my mother for her lesson that it doesn’t cost a lot of money to be happy.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Nan POtter January 3, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Loved your article, just took to new years to clear my emails from the year. Sorry I didn’t get to it sooner.. You truly captured your feelings and the love you have for your country experience..
    John got me a new bike for Christmas. I can’t wait till spring..

  • Barbara Thornbrough June 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    I love your description of the experience in the woods. It is always a treat to hear that folks are enjoying the outdoors. It does renew ones soul- for sure. No matter how bad things get the outdoors is always a joy. I did learn from you when you talked about stuffing the cedar in the socks. Who knew this would work for mice? Great idea. We are in NH in the mountains for the summer and it is a glorious place. Come on up and hike the trails maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Actually, the trail goes near to where you are I believe. Whatever— always enjoy the pines, the sky, the smells, the animals, the stars, the air, the froggies, the deer etc.
    Thanks for the article. It was a treat.

  • Michelle June 9, 2009 at 11:13 am

    The campgrounds has been a magical experience and wonderful memories for me and my children. It is the people, the woods the creek, the store where you can always get a free tootsie role and much,much more. We have our summer friends which with an occasional e-mail stay close to and plan when we will see each other.

    Michelle (The messy old trailer picture and proud of it)