City Girl Gone Wandering
My current Facebook feed is an assortment of such comments:
They’re not wrong. Rain in New York City is unpleasant; awful things happen when it rains. Puddles form along the edges of streets. Drivers barrel through them and drench pedestrians. Your feet get wet. Even if you’re wearing rain boots, somehow, your feet always get wet. When it rains in the summer, your naked feet become a magnet for the abundance of filth that thrives on city streets. By the end of the day, your skin darkens several tones just because you walked from work to the train to your apartment. When it rains in winter, your damp socks turn to icicles. Your feet, once a tool for moving yourself around, become an unbearable weight that pulls you down toward the cement. No matter what you do, at some point, your umbrella breaks—it turns inside out and snaps. When that happens, you cannot even throw it out because all of the trash cans are already overflowing with other people’s broken umbrellas. After it breaks, you get wet. Not just your feet this time, all of you. You get soaked.
You must immediately run inside and get away from Mother Nature’s punishment.
That is not to say that there is no redemption for rainy days in New York. Storms are lovely when viewed through from the safety of your apartment window. Outside, the droplets fall from an overcast sky while your fingers illicit a brilliant clickety-clack from the computer keyboard. Perhaps a fragrant eucalyptus-scented candle burns on the table in the corner, creating the illusion that you are actually in a distant cabin somewhere in the hills of Northern California. You’re not even bothered by the pile of laundry that you haven’t put away, or the obscene honking sounds that have been blasting for ten minutes now. You are away from the sidewalks, your feet are dry, and The Rubber Knife Gang are crooning to you softly. Rain in New York has its perks.
But what if you were in Vermont? Or Maine? Or Oregon? What if, instead of the hollow dribble of water on pavement, you were actually in a cabin in Northern CA—listening to the sound of the rain bouncing off the trees?
Growing up in New England, I always loved rainstorms. There was a sense of renewal in them; a feeling of washing away the old to make room for a resurgence of the new.
In my teens, during summers at Rowe Camp in the Berkshires, I spent a multitude of rainy days curled up in a sleeping bag on my bed in Lee Cabin. I loved sitting next to the open window, lost in the sound of the leaves and rain dancing. They swished and swirled in a magnificent opus of botanical life. Occasionally, feet shuffled by, attached to those more willing to brave the wetness. But I sat. And listened. And wrote.
It was pure magic.
The thing about rainstorms in the country is that, afterwards, the earth smells fresh. You walk outside and the scent of grass, and dirt, and water works its way through your body like an invigorating massage. It purifies you.
In New York, when the rain ends, you are just happy to return to walking the streets without fear of losing an eye to a stranger’s poorly aimed umbrella.
My first few years in New York, I still carried my love of rain with me. In the summer of 2007, I lived in a small two-bedroom in Yorkville. I remember a particular day in that apartment when a gentle rain cascaded from the sky. When I heard it, I threw a flowing skirt over my leotard (I was working on a dance routine) and ran outside. Among a sea of men in black suits carrying black umbrellas, I lifted my arms to the sky and smiled. And I danced—well, really I just spun in circles on the corner of 81st and York, but it still counts. The suits were not pleased with the dirty hippie dancing on their illustrious Upper East Side street corner. Each one threw me a viscous stare as he passed, angry at my blatant challenge to their love of conformity. But one of them, peeking out from under his umbrella, smiled at me. He gave me a look that said, “I want to dance in the rain, too!” But he didn’t do it. Instead, he kept walking, not knowing how to break from his mold—how to put away his umbrella, look up at the sky, and go for it.
At the time, it seemed so silly to me. “Just do it!” I wanted to yell. But now, I understand how years spent listening to rain and snow falling on concrete can remove one’s ability to give into the urge.
The rain outside my window is nice, but I do not hear it permeating the earth. I have no visual reminder that plants are absorbing the water to stay alive. Instead, I hear the rain pitter-patter against the plastic of trash cans, against the metal railing of the fire escape, against the man-made creations that define life in New York City.
It’s just not the same.
I wonder what this does to New Yorkers as people. We are so removed from the natural world that nature itself has become little more than an obstacle. When it rains we grow cranky, bitter at having to carry yet another thing throughout the day. We are frustrated because the trains will, inevitably, be delayed, rendering our overstuffed schedules impossible to keep up with. And when it snows? Oh, forget about it! It’s pretty, for a minute, but the white powder quickly repaints itself in an uncomfortable shade of grey, or yellow, or brown. We refuse to look at it, unwilling to ask the difficult questions of: “how did it become that color?” or “was it an animal or a human?”.
When it is sunny, everyone in New York runs outside as though they have been freed from a cage. We crowd the parks and waterfronts, the sidewalk cafes. After all, it is no longer necessary to lock ourselves into apartments; the great challenge of waiting it out is over.
I’m tired of waiting it out.
I want to live in a place where nature is a blessing and not an obstacle; to, upon hearing the first drops of rain, forget everything and go gallivanting through the woods. I want snow to be snow, not some disgusting melding of rat feces and urban grime. Mostly, I need to stop thinking of nature as “it”, as this thing that is somehow outside of me, and my life, and my world.
The list of why I am leaving New York is infinite. I couldn’t write it if I tried (and, trust me, I have). But this disconnect is part of it.
Isolation from nature breeds isolation from reality. At some point, the memories of earthiness, and the occasional trips out of the city, stop being enough. It is then that you have to ask yourself what really matters more: access to an abundance of world-class cultural institutions, or the luxury of curling up next to a fire and listening to the sound of raindrops falling through the trees?