Ask A Wench: Where do we live, and why?

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Okay, no one actually asked us why we live where we do, but a discussion was triggered by Joanna Bourne’s recent move into an aerie in the Blue Ridge mountains.  It was such a fun discussion that we thought we’d share it with you. 

I'm very lucky.  I don't have to dream about where I want to live.  I can Backyard 5have it.  For me, this means high up in the mountains, in the deep woods. 
I lived for many years in big cities.  Those were good times in a lot of ways.  City life is exciting and rich and varied.  But I never got used to the car exhaust and the dirt — the paper litter — and worse — underfoot.  I get pummeled by the noise.  I'm offended by the endless yammering of advertising.  There are just too many people.

I'm escaping all that.  I'm not Thoreau with his  "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach."  I'm not so philosophical.  I just plan to enjoy the place.

Morning mist 1My little house up here is surrounded by silent air and rocks and the green things making a hard living from rock.  There's nothing meretricious.  Nothing false or mean.  You can put out your hand and under it is meadowsweet, clover, pussytoes, moss and the grey slate that's rested there a million years.  There is no square foot I walk on that isn't subtle and true to its nature.  Nothing has been reduced to the horrible simplicity man imposes on his surroundings. 

This is all just achingly beautiful.

I lived in a small town for the first few years of my life, moved on to cities for the next twenty years and then retreated to country villages when the city bustle became too much. Now that I am getting older I am planning the move back to a small country town, so I am going full circle. Our current cottage is in a hamlet of 25 houses. It's designated a hamlet not a village because there no shop, pub or public transport. It's a drive of about 8 miles to the nearest town. We've been cut off by snow in winter before now and also by floods.

Mompesson_House, SalisburyI enjoy the community feel here, I find the beautiful countryside inspiring but it can also be an isolated place for someone who works alone. I'd prefer to be closer to shops, restaurants and cultural activities. I do like people around me, but on my own terms. Where would I live if I could? I'd divide my time between a house by the sea and Mompesson House in Salisbury, the perfect sized Queen Anne town house with the amenities of the city but tucked away quietly in the historic cathedral close. The only problem is that I doubt the National Trust would be prepared to give it up to me!

I grew up shifting house (and school and sometimes country) every  couple of years because of my dad's job, so I was keen to settle when  I grew up.
     I live in Melbourne, which is ranked as one of the world's most livable cities.   It's the second largest city in Australia (4.1 million) and was founded in 1835. It boomed after the 1850's gold rushes and was for a  short time in the 1880's, one of the world's biggest and wealthiest  cities. That Victorian-era wealth is still visible in the many public buildings and terrace houses in the inner city. 

Anne--Melbourne CreekMy house isn't far from the city centre but it's in a quiet area, close to parks and a creek and nature trail, where I used to walk my dog every night. This is a painting of the Merri creek at dusk — my  local creek— done in 1885 by Tom Roberts. There are more trees now, and just over the horizon there are houses and flats. But it's still  lovely.

I can walk to shops and cafes, it's a quick trip by public transport into the city and there are wonderful restaurants in all directions —  Melbourne is a "foodie" city. I'm close to the university, and the museum and have four public libraries at my disposal. I have a house in a small, tangled garden, and though if I listen carefully, I can hear distant traffic, I usually wake up to the sound of birds singing in the trees outside my window— rainbow lorikeets and magpies, usually, which is magic. This is the sound of lorikeets.

If I moved, I'd probably move to the country near the beach. I used to live next to 800px-A_holiday_at_Mentonethe beach, near here — this is Charles Conder's 1888  painting, "A Holiday at Mentone."  I do miss my nightly walk along the  beach, which is these days populated with joggers. But really the only  thing I want to change about where I live is my house — I need to renovate or rebuild. But it's such a disruption I keep putting it off.

I could write books about dream homes. Probably already have. <G> I'm a house-aholic, as anyone who has followed my career can attest. We're ever in search of our dream home. But after going through so many of them, we have become jaded. Every home has flaws. They're things, just like the furniture in them. It's the ideas populating your head and the people populating your life who are more important.

I hope. Because we'll be dumping 40 years worth of collections and making the final reduction in scale from our peak at about 6k square feet and a quarter of block of land to 1400 sf on a postage stamp.

I think we'd need at least four houses to cover all our desires! minimum.

New Orleans '06 and Porch 046Mary Jo:
Joanna's aerie is gorgeous, but I wouldn't want to live in such isolation.  Like Jo, I prefer to have people around as long as they're not too close and they don't bother me. <G>  In fact, I'm a born suburbanite—I want trees and a country feel, but with lots of upscale conveniences nearby.  I grew up on a farm in homogeneous rural country which was lovely, but—homogeneous.  I certainly didn't hate it, but I couldn't wait to get away (and skipped a year of high school in order to get away sooner.)  I yearned for exciting diversity and crowds to disappear into and a chance to find my own tribe, though I wasn't as articulate about it then.  So I went to a fairly large university and found that broader world and never lived in rural western NY again. 

I lived in California and England before docking in Maryland, and I like it here. There’s great diversity in the terrain, from ocean to mountains.  It’s in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard and has a moderate sort of temperament that appeals to me.  My present house is surrounded by trees and feels rather rural, but everything one can need is within a few miles.  Perfect! 

Growing up in the Adirondacks in a small town near Lake George NY, surrounded byLake_george_susanking_photo spectacular views of mountains and lakes, where the air is sweet, clear and tangy with pine, kind of spoils one later for a great place to live — especially if one has to leave, as I did as a teenager when my father was transferred to a company in Maryland. In some ways the Adirondacks reminds me of parts of Scotland, one reason my heart is in both upstate NY and Scotland.

I still live in Maryland, a great place with some very pretty scenery…but I will never ever, being Northern born and bred, acclimatize to the ghastly humidity or the long, hot summers — and, being Northern, the winters here are dampish and icy rather than snow-globe beautiful (okay, and winter can be treacherous and bitter in the north, but writers can stay indoors and dream instead of venture out on snowy days!). So I wouldn't say I'm living in my dream place. I'm here more or less by default, and my family is here, in a nice suburban home with all the amenities and Abbotsfordconveniences. I go up north (and off to Scotland) whenever I can, which helps balance living with beastly humidity and a low mountain profile in the distance.

What's my dream home? A castle. A manor house. A cabin by a mountain lake. If I could pick one home, any home, that could be mine … I think I'd go for Scott's Abbotsford. To me, that's a little bit of what is surely heaven.      

Image005Whipmistress Sherrie:

I grew up in suburban Tacoma, within walking distance to school, mom and pop grocery stores, the neighborhood park, and streets so safe kids could play in them. But it was definitely “city,” and my sister and I yearned for the rural life since early childhood. Maybe we were influenced by the popular Westerns on TV that glorified the pioneer life.

While a city can be alluring and exciting, it can also be draining. I never feel drained in the country. Instead, I am energized. The country life fills a deep primal need in me.

Where would I live if money were no object? Smack in the middle of a national forest. I’d like about 100 acres of forest and meadow of my own, surrounded by a 10-foot chain link fence. I wouldn’t forsake my social life, because there are very few places left anymore where you are completely isolated. I’d still attend my weekly critique group meetings and do things with my sister, and participate in holidays and go out to dinner and movies. But my deepest desire is to live away from the city’s fast pace, invasive lights, and intrusive security cameras. I want a place where I can shed the city trappings and feel closer to Mother Earth.

I’ll never forget the time I was riding my mare in the woods on one of the old logging roads behind my barn, when she suddenly stopped and looked up. I looked up too, and saw a huge owl glide by, just over our heads, coasting silently with wings outstretched. It landed on a dead tree several yards ahead, then folded its wings and turned to look at us.  It was a magical moment that both my mare and I enjoyed in reverent silence. You don’t get that in the city.

I think I’m the only Wench who is living just a few miles from where I grew up. Andrea--wildraspberriesNow, I  haven’t been here all my life—for a number of years I lived right in Manhattan, and unlike some of the others, I find a lot to like about big cities. One can often feed off the bustle and energy in a positive way. And then there are the wealth of cultural attractions and opportunities, especially in New York, as well as the restaurants, theaters, shops and all the quirky little places tucked away in unexpected places that surprise and delight.

But at heart, I find the simple beauties of nature even more appealing, so I’m up here in the woods now, where I can see deer and foxes and a gaggle of funny crows who often come quork around in my front lawn, just below my writing window, and make me smile. The subtle hues of a sunset over the nearby Long Island Sound, the textures of a country stone wall, the way the sunlight plays on the wild raspberries growing in my backyard—these all make me stop and appreciate what really matters whenever I start to let myself get tied in knots by life’s everyday stresses.

Andrea--stonewallSo, despite having not strayed too far afield from my roots, I feel I have the best of both worlds. I have the country and solitude, which suits my introvert nature. But the city is just an hour away, and I’m often there for the day. A half hour in the other direction and I’m in New Haven, where I can take advantage of all the fascinating lectures, art, music and films that go on at Yale University.

As for where my dream home would be? A villa in Tuscany, where the light and the deep connection to the earth and to history is very powerful, would be wonderful. So would a chalet in the Swiss Alps—I love the majestic sense of space, the quiet and the vistas of mountains.


It's so interesting to think about why we choose places to live. I already knew that I like to be close to things whereas others value solitude, but when Joanna claimed her cabin was fine because "There's a grocery store,  library, and restaurants about ten miles away…" I cyber-shrieked, "Ten 
miles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" We live in a small town within walking
distance of shops, library, doctor etc etc. Our nearest city, Exeter, is 12
miles away, but we need a really good reason for such a Big Trip.

I  grew up in Morecambe, and we walked to nearly everything. Lancaster was
about 4 miles away and going there was an occasion. Mind you, we didn't have a
car. I wonder how many people in North America grew up without a car. That
shapes our patterns.

There's also a cultural pattern in our perception of distances. Apparently most
communities  in England (hamlets, villages and such)  are  less than four miles
from each other, leaving aside  moors and such. To illustrate, as I said, the
Big Smoke is 12 miles away, but between are Starcross, 4 miles away, Kenton, 6
miles, and Exminster, 8.

My other requirement for an ideal location is the sea. I was born in a room
overlooking the sea and grew up on the beach. Everything is different when
we're close to the sea — the air, the light, and perhaps even the earth.
Seismometers can pick up the waves hitting land from hundreds of miles away, so
it's possible we can sense the earth's heartbeat beneath our feet. And miss it
if it's not there.


MJP again. Deer behind MJP's house"Home" is a profound influence on our lives and souls, whether it's a home of the heart or a home of circumstances.  How do you feel about where you live?  And where would you live if you were free to choose?

Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill….

Mary Jo, who lives inside the Baltimore Beltway but can watch deer right outside her living room windows