My brother lives in the place that Washington Irving stories are made of. And Jake taught me Washington Irving back when I was 19 and I've always wanted to see that distinctive part of the world that had somehow forever eluded me until now. Then. This was two weeks ago. Or three.
My brother lives in a place that has names I've only ever heard mythologized. Catskill. Rip Van Winkle. Sleepy Hollow. This is a real place. Upstate New York. The Hudson Valley. We went to a waterfall where people die by slipping and plummeting into the rocks below. We tried to feel relaxed while forcibly erasing our own memories of trauma, our imaginations, trying to ignore the bodies that slid up and down the path to the second, most precarious level of the waterfall. We watched an annoying couple feed each other hippie snack food. I stood under the freezing water and hoped I wasn't standing under the run off of dead deer trapped in the river further upstream. No water is clean.
The town of Hudson is a strange place. It is not where my brother lives, but it is where my parents stayed while we visited him. It's a town for rich New Yorkers, but it's small and quaint and filled with houses from other centuries, some of which have been renovated, others have not. There are hipster coffee shops and expensive restaurants with craft cocktails and east coast oysters [which are disgusting--west coast 4 life]. There are so many furniture stores. There is too much furniture in Hudson for the people living there. An excess of furniture screams at you as you walk down the only main street, and feels completely inappropriate in a town that is otherwise surrounded by other small, blue collar towns with no need for $16,000 neon plastic sculptures with tiny human figurines glued to them. But I guess really no one has a need for that.
My brother does not live in Hudson. He lives in a town much smaller than Hudson with only one restaurant and a gas station/convenience store where the people of the town eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The ice cream they sell is their brand, and it has names associated with the Hudson Valley. We bought some graham cracker caramel ice cream with a name like "Crumbs over the Mohawk" or something, the Mohawk being an area or a mountain or whatever in the surrounding area. Every night, my brother and I ate that ice cream. I added to mine a slop of marshmallow fluff and some cosmic brownies. Every night we watched Friday Night Lights on my iPad before parting ways and passing out. The next morning, he always made me breakfast.
I've never lived in a small town, but I always imagined that I'd like to. I think Salt Lake City is the smallest city I've ever lived in. I was raised in the mountains, and that was a relatively small neighborhood, but our neighbors' houses were still five feet away from ours and we were still a suburb, not a town. My brother wakes up on his days off from fixing up houses and kayaks across the Hudson either to an island in the middle or to the town of Hudson itself. This avoids having to pay the toll on the Rip Van Winkle bridge. It's a beautiful, peaceful means of transport. We kayaked over to meet our parents for dinner one night.
On a day my brother was working, my parents gave me the tour of his life up there. Where he'd gone to school. What towns he and his various friends have lived in. A whole world of his I never knew. We stopped at a farm stand and bought a cold chai latte in a mason jar and some plums from the area. My brother takes his coffee to work in mason jars. They litter the floor of his truck. I can't imagine they're comfortable to hold when filled with hot liquid. But they fit a lot in them.
I talk to my brother about what it's like to live in a small town. He tells me it's great, but it takes a lot of imagination. Imagination he feels he sometimes doesn't have. He seems happy. Which makes me happy. I can picture a life up there. Kayaking over to Hudson for work in the early morning. Kayaking home in the evening. Drinking locally brewed beer at the restaurant/brewery across the street. Reading in my living room. Watching the sunset from the park bench on the Hudson River a block away. Picking up ice cream on my way home. From where I am in the middle of Los Angeles right now, that sounds like a nice life. Reading and writing and small dinner parties with friends from five different towns in the area. Playing cards. Being outside a lot. Then I imagine the winter. I've never been good at winter. I imagine surviving a winter up there feels like its own particular kind of miracle. That's something I'd like to experience, too.
But I'm here in LA now, away from my family in Colorado, away from my brother in upstate New York. And this is the life I chose, and most days, I love it with my whole being. But after 46 days with my family, most of my being wishes it was still driving through Catskill on the way to meet my parents for lunch or sitting on my back porch in the valley watching the sun light up the clouds over the mountains in my backyard.