The Start of Something: A letter to New York from the Berkshires

A transplanted New Yorker on the process of laying down roots in the Berkshires.

The thing I miss most about riding your subway are the lines of poetry skimming the rails, like urban fairies, little bright points of light just waiting to be discovered in the contrast of a gray landscape. Thank god for iPhones, a way to net the beauty and slip it into a pocket. Sometimes I would find the words in the tattooed rhythms of jostling passengers, our bodies swaying as one in disjointed unison, our focus inward and away, a hundred islands in a metallic shoe box. How many letters did I write you then? The memory makes my heart stutter.

It’s different in the Berkshires. You breathe here. You breathe there, too, of course, but the subtext lingers with a disparate scent. I won’t bore you with trite descriptions of fresh air. It’s fresh among your spires, I am sure. This is something else entirely. The difference of three hours might be three miles or three continents. Can you make any sense of that?

Still, I miss you. And I remember the last time I saw your face, turning uptown in the rain, the smell of cement heavy, pulling dust from the chilly breeze. It was as though, in the nostalgia-soaked moment, those rain drops would hold us both forever. What is forever? A day? A decade? It’s like I knew you in another lifetime, when I rode the subway and wrote poetry, unraveling my heart one string at a time, wrapping the stands around my pinkie as I chewed gum and turned up the volume on my iPhone, vibrating my brain into the soles of my feet against the dirty, pissed-on floor. You are nothing if not sensual, sensual meaning indulgent, a barrage of sight, sound and scent. There is even a feeling of you on my skin. Do you remember the feeling of me passing through your alleyways?

Now I pass through mountains, gentle slopes of rock and pine that touch the sky’s cheek, her countenance pierced with giant white windmills like a hipster’s nose ring. It snows here with a lack of precision that is laughable. Where you cut everything into neat, even lines, the Berkshires rolls around in spirals, revels in messy swirls. The mud of my childhood has nothing on the season here. There is a season for it! And for sugaring and buckwheat pancakes drenched in butter. For skiing through the woods and snow hiking, single digits be damned. The Berks are a hearty stock.

When I first arrived someone said, go outside. No matter what the winter brings, you must go outside to survive. I thought, I have spent my entire life outdoors! Between endless Texas summers without AC and hours of strolling your streets, I have probably lived outdoors more days than in. But she was right. You must press into the wind here, stand up to the cold and shake hands with it. Tear open your drapes in defiance. Leave your desk and visit the crocuses, despite looming deadlines. You must follow the signs of the wild, the fox droppings and bear sightings, the smattering of bunny prints on the front lawn. I once saw a group of deer strolling down my street, and I nearly called them tourists before realizing my mistake.

Queen Anne’s Lace: “The Berkshires wear spring like a full-skirted ball gown.” Photo: Elizabeth Nelson

It is spring now. The entire world has fallen into lush, verdant foliage and snappy pops of bright color. Birds wake us in the early hours, conducting a predawn orchestration, so similar and so different from your white noise drone of ceaseless movement. The Berkshires wear spring like a full-skirted ball gown, like a woman dressed up for the pure pleasure of beauty against her skin, her many folds of fabric twirling and rustling down the dew-soaked path, robins and chickadees forging ahead. I see her flit a smile over her shoulder as she darts toward summer.

New York, old friend, I can no longer spy on you out my window, past last season’s sparrow nests, but I still feel you in my bones. You live in the cells of my skin, however hard I might try to shed you. And now the Berkshires sprouts tiny tendrils, a fine, delicate net of roots seeking foothold. This place is growing moss – so kinetically green your heart aches – across the surface of your reflection. My memory of you is not the same, remembrance being made of mercury, that tricky substance taking the shape of least resistance. And you still smell wet, only cleaner now, and perhaps that is the difference between you and the Berk.