The word “cidiot” refers to a hardened city person who moves to the country and acclimates through experience. After 20 years in Manhattan, my husband Brian and I purchased an 1847 cottage in Dutchess County and have been shifting our lives here even as we clearly have much to learn. For me, it’s reshaped what I see, how I spend time, how I look after myself, and even what joy feels like. It all starts with the farms:
We first got a whiff that animals were for real in the mortgage paperwork. Dutchess County has a clause which states we understand we’re buying in farm country with active livestock. Our attorney said the wording was added after city folk ignited lawsuits over “farm smell” — that bouquet from the barn, familiar if your property, like ours, is downwind.
The house is next to two farms and an orchard, so we’ve grown used to smells, sounds, and spontaneity. Sheep and goats graze up to the property line, and I recorded the sheep bleat as a ringtone. One goat jumped a broken part of the fence into our driveway. I was paralyzed with fear and excitement as it blinked at me until, hearing a car approach, it jumped back over.
The first year, we visited one farm with our puppy Nora to see Ernie, a donkey. Ernie lives in his own outbuilding, and when he saw little Nora approach, he trotted down to the fence. We fed him carrots, Nora’s tail wagged, and Ernie — feeling flirty — kicked.
On top of making friends, being closer to nature has improved my health. I have an alphabet of food allergies, and here I’ve been able to pay attention to ingredients and sources. Like many we have met, we’re biased towards farms where we know the people by name.
Unsurprisingly, apartment life doesn’t prepare you for houses. The generator was our first big purchase. I insisted, panicked by frequent outage reports and a fear of isolation. Insulation is also an issue, leading to crash educations in the merits and expenses of oil, gas, and electric heating. Air conditioning is a game to see how many seasons we can go without installing it. So far, four.
Learning to fear and care for septic systems is the most humbling. Ours backed up over the Fourth of July, and it took an excavator to discover the pipes were crushed and needed total replacement. Twenty phone calls and angry emails to insurance providers revealed that septic systems outside your home aren’t covered. That’s $3,000 gone in two days.
“Cidiot” is a term I wear as a badge, hoping to graduate from it. “Weekender” sounds neutral, but implies the default home is elsewhere. Brian and I have a suspicion there’s a mark-up on services and perhaps a double mark-up for gay couples like us. We got a local phone number so we can make a local first impression. We switched our driver’s licenses, voting, car registration, and mail. We volunteer in local politics and attend charity events, even if it is to see inside the big river houses. Manhattan is a place we spend part of our time, and increasingly, as little of it as possible. We are here five days a week. One local gave us a new word to try on: “Resident.”
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Mat Zucker is a writer and marketing strategist in Dutchess County and host of the podcast “Cidiot.”
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