Moving to the Hudson Valley from Brooklyn? Here’s what you must know

(Photo by Will Dendis)

(Photo by Will Dendis)

My roommate said to me last night: “I was just awakened by the wind.” I lived in Manhattan 35 years, and no wind ever woke me up. If you move to the Hudson Valley, you’ll be amazed how much moving air can sound like a massive battleship 300 feet high crashing into a mountain.

In fact, there are many surprises in the Catskills. If you’re considering moving up here, read this article carefully – perhaps even twice!

For one thing, bring a sweater. The whole climatological system in Ulster County is like a massive air conditioner. I sleep under two blankets, two quilts, a heavy green curtain, a thick bedspread, plus an unzipped sleeping bag – and that’s in August!


You will never be disturbed by upstairs or downstairs neighbors, because you won’t have any. The closest humans will be about 50 feet away, and will be perfectly benign, except for playing a little heavy-metal music on a Saturday night – and even that you won’t hear from your bedroom.

Also, time is different here. Out in Western civilization, everyone complains that they “have no time.” Here, time is generous and abundant. A typical Tuesday evening is as interminable as your brother-in-law’s slideshow of his recent visit to Poland.

Here in Phoenicia, we have too much water and too much time – especially in winter, when the hours stretch endlessly in all directions, like the great icy plains of Antarctica. I suggest you stock your garage (or attic) with piles of books: Latin-American history, rock biographies, feminist mystery novels, opera librettos. And not just books. Also CDs, cassette tapes, DVDs. You’re going to need amusement, and it should be varied.


Visual art is different in these parts. What lower Manhattan calls “art” means nothing up here, and vice versa. A person who can paint a landscape with a red barn that nicely captures the afternoon light is considered an artist in Woodstock. Down in Chelsea, such people are derisively called “Sunday painters.” City artists must study the history of neo-conceptualism before they attempt their first art installation. (No one paints in Brooklyn any more, except ironically.)

Even if you aren’t a menstruating woman, you will develop a very close relationship with the moon. Three nights out of the month, the moon is unimaginably lustrous, so bright it casts a shadow. On the other hand, for three nights out of the month the night is completely dark. You can get lost in your own back yard.

Warning: trees may begin speaking to you. It happened to me after six years here. Nowadays, a tree in my back yard offers me advice almost daily. I asked her if she wished to speak for this article, and she said (to all of you), “Do everything slowfully.”

You will go years without seeing an airplane overhead, though occasionally a black helicopter will fly mysteriously low over your valley, which will plunge you into 20 minutes of anxiety about the NSA.

Which reminds me – all of your new friends will be conspiracy theorists, and you’ll “learn” a lot about the Federal Reserve. Remember: whenever anyone says, “I’m doing a lot of research on the Internet,” it means they’re losing their mind.

Upstate radio is quite odd. During the day in Phoenicia, only one station comes in clearly: K104, hit radio for teenagers, from Poughkeepsie. At night, however, tantalizing frequencies from distant cities suddenly appear: French news from Montréal, Cleveland Indians baseball games, 1930s radio serials rebroadcast from Toronto, WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia (now entirely Christian), Chinese voices, Bloomberg Radio. Often the stations appear, flourish and dissolve into static within minutes. It’s like new outtakes from the Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9” every night!


The good news is there are no cockroaches in Ulster County. The bad news is the mice. You’re up against a long and arduous battle with rodents, unless you give up completely or adopt a cat. Each night you must scrupulously sponge the stove. Otherwise you’ll awaken to tiny cigar-shaped turds beside your burners.

My wife and I have evolved past have-a-heart traps, because we’d compassionately carry the trapped mice outside, release them, and watch them sneak back in the kitchen. So we bought old-fashioned murderous traps. Our long-tailed enemies grew smarter and stopped getting caught. (Still, they manage to eat the peanut-butter bait. By setting mousetraps, we’re feeding the mice!) As those who have followed American history in the last 40 years know, it’s very difficult to win against a disciplined guerrilla army.


In the city, one sometimes sees a celebrity. In the mountains, one occasionally meets a bear. Bears have essentially the same digestive system we do, which means they eat exactly the way you would if you’d never read a book on nutrition. Their preferred diet is pizza, chicken nuggets, Snickers bars – and every day they go dumpster-diving in Phoenicia, searching for these delicacies.

This has been a big bear season for me. My friend Mack and I went walking in Phoenicia Park one day, as a “teenage” bear cavorted nearby. He stood on his hind legs, reaching up to a tree. He lay on the ground, and he paced about. At one point – as we sat on a bench – he walked right towards us, either through aggression or myopia. We didn’t flinch, and he drifted off to the right. A bear is a fine companion on a Wednesday afternoon, I learned.

The next week, the smallest, cutest bear I’ve ever seen bounded in front of my car near the Salamander Pond in Allaben. I’d heard that many cubs have been abandoned this year. This was one such orphan.

New York City gets impressive sunsets, due to the thickly toxic atmosphere of New Jersey, but in the Catskills a mountain stands between oneself and the setting sun, so all you see are vaguely pink patches above. But at night, the stars are close – closer than the ones on the ceiling of Grand Central Station. And dawn is glorious, with its chill air and voluminous dew. It’s like the birth of the world.

So move up to the Hudson Valley. But if possible do it slowfully.

There are 13 comments

  1. Stacie

    This is so painfully and obviously written by a city dweller. I’ve lived in the HV for 22 years. You make us sound like country bumpkins. I have never seen a rat in my time here, I see one at every subway station in Brooklyn. When a bear was in our neighborhood, it was a huge deal because it’s so rare. If you’re wearing that many blankets in August, I’m not sure how you’er not having a heat stroke- we’re 100 miles north of the city, it’s not that big of a difference. We are not conspiracy theorists- we see the same people you do coming into the library and prattling off to the clerks about how Obama is a terrorist and think the same thing you do- they’re crazy. I’ve had more encounters like that on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan in a day there than I will in a whole year here. And our radio is not “odd”- we get the same stations you do, with just as much variety. Perhaps you hit dead zones, but we are in the mountains. I get K104 all over the HV, and Z100, and plenty of stations. If you’re hearing Montreal radio on AM, of course you’re going to hear weird things on AM radio.

    Thanks for trying, but this whole article just sounds condescending. “Oh those Hudson Valley folks are so simple with their bears and rats and cold air.”

  2. Susan

    Comments above are hilarious, as this was written by someone who’s long lived upstate. Don’t be so tetchy, upstaters. Revel in our difference since it’s exactly what the people moving here are longing for.

  3. Nancy E.K. Schaef

    I moved to the Hudson Valley from Brooklyn 18 years ago. It took quite some getting used to. We loved (and still do love) Brooklyn but we love the Hudson Valley now. In any case, I do have a mantra that I say at least once every 45 minutes. My mantra is: “This would never happen in Brooklyn!!!”
    I assure you something is always happening and your article is spot on. Thanks.

    1. Native Woodstocker

      You just read a disgusting and sadly unconscious invitation to move here as though those of us who are native to these mountains have invited the onslaught of more unconscious city dwellers. We are sick of being typified as some enclave of artists who are begging for city influx. We are not. We have been ousted by those who feel it is perfectly okay to remove rentals from the market, replacing them with board walkers who can afford to pay too much for mold infested AirBnb rooms, who will one day find that the color has been washed out of our community by people searching for the ultimate Hipster experience. Now that you have ravaged Brooklyn and removed the color from that community, you want to one here and do the same? Gross. What will you tell those who had to move to brownsville to afford to survive as you exit saying, OOPS! we didn’t mean to take down your community, we are headed up to Woodstock to take them down instead… And we WILL be bored of ourselves once we have whitewashed them.

      We are not really excited about the whitewashing of our community, and shame on Mr. Hollander for running this schlock.

  4. Mountain girl

    I agree completely with the criticisms of this article. Every new wave of people that comes up here goes on about how unique it is, says silly things about it, and it annoys the rest of us who have been here forever. Of course 600 years ago most of my genes weren’t here either, so I guess I’m a relative newcomer. In the meantime, it’s not really that cold up here, this person obviously has some kind of health problems. Yes we have mice, it’s pretty repulsive that you’re trying to murder them, how hard is it to walk them outside? If you get a cat you don’t have to worry about them. But then you have to worry about the cat. And yeah I get tired of these incredibly Twee invitations to come and check up are real estate prices and make more of us homeless. Thanks. You sucked the blood out of Brooklyn, now you’re sucking the blood out of the Hudson Valley. Gentrification sucks. Move back to Idaho please.

  5. Mike

    I have to agree with most of the sentiments of this article, obviously well written, but full of condescending criticism… people who are unsure of themselves get lost in this consciousness. the Hudson valley in a word is authentic an influx of phonies will not diminish it

  6. Tom

    I found the article quite funny and I’m the last to want so called hipster phonies moving into the area. As someone said to me about Woodstock in roughly 1969, it ain’t what it use. They were right..before the festival WDSK was better, but so what.

  7. Cathy

    Well these comments are just what I have come to expect from upstate natives. Typical prejudice against people from the city. This was a sweet tongue in cheek article to make us smile that discussed the ups and downs of both country and city life.I have lived here 43 years because the man I loved wanted to live in his hometown and still feel like an outsider.

  8. Mare

    I moved up here 9 months ago and it has it’s advantages and disadvantages. With my experience so far would be that the people are really nice!!

Post Your Thoughts