It is our last day in New York City. We’ve returned from our anniversary dinner and now it’s time to clean the apartment and pack our suitcases and the car. We’ve squeezed so many things into these last few days; birding, shopping, eating, sight-seeing, and more. We took in a play one night, and wandered the streets at will. But now as we collect dirty laundry or fold unused clothes back into our bags, it feels as if a great heaviness has settled on all of us. None of us wants to leave. I feel as if I have been in another world these past five days, but I am nature’s child, so why would I want to stay?
My brother has taught me to see New York City with new eyes. No longer do I fear the tall buildings and the endless asphalt. I have learned there is nature here as well, peeking out in-between bricks and mortar, or consuming multiple city blocks in the city’s vast parks. But it is not nature or lack of it that makes me reluctant to leave. So what is it? Is it the art I find everywhere and so readily accessible? Here in New York even dumpsters and donation boxes are painted artistically. Is this what I crave? Art at every corner?
As I glance out the apartment window I look over the tops of trees that line the streets. This, too, amazed me about the city. I expected it to all be bare bricks, stone and asphalt, but I have learned that it is not. There is not a lot of space in this studio apartment with its 500 square feet, yet suddenly it hits me. Life is very simple here. Everything we need to live is contained within these 500 square feet. There is a bed, a bathroom and a kitchen. In one area we have a table to sit at, in another there are a couple of stuffed chairs for relaxing. This small space is so easy to clean, so more time may be spent outside watching birds or viewing art. If we needed anything to eat while we were here the grocery stores and restaurants were all within walking distance. If I want to be alone in nature, Central Park is just down the street. If I want to see a play or a movie, they are just a few steps out the door. In the first three days we were here alone and during that time Gus and I never took a cab or the subway, yet we never ran out of things to do! So this got me thinking; could one live as simply in the country as one can in the city and vice versa?
While I am not ready to actually move to the city, could I replicate this simple life where I live? What if, instead of wanting a larger house, I lived in something smaller? I know I have friends who have done this in their own way by living in motor homes. Could I do that? Or, could I buy a piece of land and leave it mostly natural and just build a small house on it? We live in a world that teaches us bigger is better, but is it really? Or is it really just more time consuming? Life is so short. How do I want to spend my days? Polishing floors and mowing a lawn, or would I rather be outside hiking and bird watching? Would I rather spend my time with my family or working to pay for a big house? It makes me wonder if I have to
“own” the place I love, the things I love, or is it enough to just enjoy them while I can and then move on, keeping only memories?
I am not the first to say that we are only passing through this life, so as we drive away from the city I am left to ponder if I can have “more” in life by owning “less.” I used to have a bit of reverse snobbery, thinking of New York and New Yorkers as somehow having a more complicated and diminished life. I now know that living in New York can be one of the “greenest” things one can do for the planet by living in such compact housing and walking everywhere. Yet, this I know, I still need the sounds of nature around, and the wide open expanses of an unaltered earth. I need times where I cannot see or hear a manmade thing. Being in the natural world can sooth my soul. New York is another world, one which I hope to visit again. Nature and New York, I think I need them both. Besides, after this trip to the city I now know that there are warblers there!