Tom Waits sings that, “I never say my hometown until I stayed away too long.”*
Me neither. More than a decade ago, alone after a divorce, I bought a tiny wreck of a cottage in Sandisfield, Massachusetts—a small hill town in the southeastern corner of the Berkshires.
I knew not a soul in the sparsely populated town, but the house was the only one in the region that I could afford. I spent a decade scraping and saving to do the next round of repairs—all while fearing the house would just collapse around me. Too poor to hire people, I did a lot of the work myself, learning on the job.
Alone, in a small town, with fairytale neighbors (the woodcutter locally known as Crazy Joey, the Olympic gymnast who owned the only other house within sight, a Pop-Tart eating bear named Emily), I worked and struggled and worried. My friends, declaring the house too small to be a money pit, called it The Money Puddle.
It often seemed more like I lived in a tent than a house. The 771 square foot, poorly insulated cottage has 14 exterior walls, 12 windows, two doors, three rooms. Except in winter, when I struggled to heat it (with a woodstove), every window that could be open, was. Coyotes called through the nights, owls hooted across the woods, deer paused and stared in the windows, bears ambled by. Nights, with not a streetlight to be seen, the Milky Way divided the sky.
The two lakes next door, and the state forest that contains them, became my playground. I hiked, swam, watched birds migrate, watched deer bring their fawns to the shore, watched herons in the shallows.
I didn’t realize what had happened until I took a job in Maryland. Driving back, I crossed the river and burst into tears. Somehow, busy worrying, I’d failed to notice how much I’d come to love this, the first home I’d ever had, in this quiet, beautiful little town.
I unpacked, threw open the windows, brewed tea, went for a walk in the woods.
* Song title is San Diego Serenade, Tom Waits composer. From his 1974 album Heart of Saturday Night, Asylum Records)