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 30 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!!

  9. mjk

    I know the gentleman who wrote this article. He is a poet who lives a quiet and modest life with his wife in Shandaken. He’s not a City Person by a long shot, which is to say that he doesn’t look at this area with condescension, as if he were Columbus discovering a new land. He is a native of this area and a sophisticated and smart (local) writer. Try reading it again from that perspective. Perhaps the “condescending tone” you are hearing is coming from the chip on your shoulder.

  10. Willie Hayes

    Thomas Rosa is a Brooklyn photographer with many books made with a handbuilt camera that’s vvery good

  11. Harry Matthews

    Sparrow, I loved this article! I know I’m a little late to the conversation but am mildly shocked by the small-mindedness of some of the above responses to what I found to be a funny, poetic, and loving article about a place you’ve called home for many years, a place you obviously cherish and observe “slowfully”… Has everyone lost their collective senses of humor? Did they ever have one? Where in the article is their even the slightest hint of condescension? Maybe your benevolent and soulful wit singed the tops of their sun-stroked heads, or perhaps mistakenly tickled the underside of their wide and prickly noses… Whatever is the case I pray people can maybe lighten up a little and try to see the humor and love in something than to be so thin-skinned and ready for a fight that you miss all that might be good and positive in something because you’re too focused on finding the negative. Get over yourselves people… Thanks Sparrow!

  12. Harry Matthews

    Also, to all you “haters” and so-called “natives”, not one of you is native to this area, whether it was your parents, grandparents, or great-great-great grandparents who moved here it was always from somewhere else. You have just as much right to be here as anyone else. If you prefer the area to be the way it was 10 or 20 years ago when most towns and villages were horribly down on their luck, maybe try moving a little more west in NY state, where you can find the ghost town you feel more comfortable in. New blood has brought a lot of economic prosperity to the region, especially in the last 5-10 years. My wife, who is a 13th generation New Yorker, with roots in Woodstock going back 150 years (as well as being part Mohawk) is no more native than the couple who just moved up from Brooklyn and opened up a shop in your little village. Maybe try not being so judgmental and accept that change is the only unchanging aspect of life…

  13. Doreen Mayer Imbimbo

    Downstate vs/ Upstate:: Having been a young girl coming of age from the Throggs Neck Projects to Saugerties!!!! I spent my first day walking, walking, walking, & more walking. In search of a bus or subway stations…to my surprise my tokens were useless. As I felt my life was going to be. 45 years later my family stayed in the area. Not to say at first I was dramatized by the lack of all we had growing up in the Bronx. I stayed as I became an adult as did our parents, and my siblings. Sadly we as a family suffered a very TRAGIC LOSS/ ACCIDENT. As this month 10/23/2017 will be 30 years ago that “someone” hit my brother Brian at the overpass of 9W over to Route 209. He was hit in September 1987, and passed October 23rd 1987. So we wonder as a family …. Would this had happened if we stayed in the Bronx?? Did it happen because of the lack of 24 transportation?? The lack of lighting on the streets ?? On Route 9W which at on time was the only way you could get from “The City” Up here to enjoy “The Country”! We still are left unanswered. Our decision to stay and grow up and enjoy all the area has to offer!!! Myself I have seen it booming in this area, there were three to four grocery stores within 3 miles. A& P,( site of The World Of Dance) Grand Union ( site of the new Post Office, The Paramont Pharmacy, Beadles Pharmacy, not to mention The Old Simmons Plaza. The streets were safer, very good schools, Car Insurance more reasonable. Not to mention there were 16 Bars/Saloons / in a 3 mile span. All making money, because there was a boom in manufacturing. There was Ferroxcube / F.L. Russell’s Book bindery, KTB ( the reason my dad decided to relocate us as a family). I. B. M. , Rotron just to name a few….. so you see the 10 mile circle with Intersection of Main & Partition Streets has a very colorful past and with much hope the changes we see will continue to invite more of “US” “City Folk” to this very beautiful area! Thank you!

  14. Ella

    People like this author are why I left the HV entirely. These attitudes are also exactly what makes HV locals call city people citiots and feel really hostile. So gross, so basic.

  15. Anonymous

    I laughed pretty hard at how the sly warm wit lacing these lyrical observations is met quickly with anger, delightfully terrible punctuation, and completely random capitalization from a few shortsighted dullards. People seemingly so dim, they felt slighted by someone noticing, beautifully I might add, a bright moon or sky full of stars. It was also great to see this work get the praise and kindness it deserves from commenters who weighed in just a few beats later. But I just had to say that the whole piece came together like one big brilliant intention the moment the prose was doused with a defensive cold shower from a few disgruntled dolts certain there was a joke here somewhere at their expense. I’ve been around the Hudson Valley for a couple of decades now and really loved reading this. I’ve been blurbed by famous writers, published by big houses, and praised by newspapers of record from Belfast to Dublin, Los Angeles to London, New York (Yes, the dreaded Manhattan), San Francisco, Chicago, and back again — and for whatever that’s worth, I will tell you that this piece about moving here is great writing. And the worst of the comments, great proof of what a narrow view and faint embrace of life can lead to. Only somewhat related, you will never catch me complaining about people driving up the price of real estate in the town I live in. I’ve been poor and felt what it’s like when the value of everything around me is going down and morale is plummeting at twice the pace. If you think gentrification is a bitch, you’ve never met a furloughed and deranged mongrel called poverty. Or maybe you have and not learned the first lesson from it. “Moving to the Hudson Valley from Brooklyn?” is a heartfelt and humorous love letter to the place some of the most negative commenters here claim to love so much. To them I say: Buy books. Or buy food and borrow books. I’ve been on both sides of it. But don’t stand on a hill, call it a mountain, and proclaim people from two hours away “citiots”. It makes you look like something that rhymes with quite nicely with it.

    1. UC Native

      “If you think gentrification is a bitch, you’ve never met a furloughed and deranged mongrel called poverty.”

      #1. Shut up
      #2. Um, yes I’ve met the “furloughed and deranged mongrel called poverty.” What do you think happens to the people displaced by the Brooklyn transplants? What do you think happens when our incomes won’t buy one house and city money buys two? Where do you think we go? Do you care?

      You use too many words. I don’t care how often you’ve been blurbed; you think you’re a much better writer than you are. Find an adjective/adverb support group.

  16. born hudson valley

    “move slowly” As if Hudson Valley people (not upstate) don’t have to hustle and work their butts off as much as anyone else.

  17. Philosopher Stone Books

    A fine piece of writing evoking the ghost of Spalding Rockwell Gray whose
    hauntingly famous movie about moving to Phoenicia “Terrors of Pleasure”
    captured the wit of life in the Catskills.
    If you listen closely Rip Van Winkle can be heard belly laughing, thank you
    sparrow for your early spring awaking
    Reminds me so much of Local poet George Montgomery’s Van Gogh ear

  18. Tina McKenna

    We moved to the Hudson Valley in 2002. We’d looked for years and finally settled in a hamlet outside New Paltz. We faced some attitude from those around us. I apologized for not having put curtains up when we first moved in and the reply was, “We knew you were fancy folks.” They were suspicious initially and the friendship was hard-won. But the husband “took care of” a rabid raccoon that had trapped me on a ladder. They bailed us out for hours (along with volunteer firemen) when our basement flooded. When a blizzard prevented my husband from coming home for Christmas, they shoveled a path to our home across from theirs so I could share their holiday dinner. But most of all, after returning from having cancer surgery, that night there was a knock at the door and they had brought a Chicken al Fredo, fresh baked brownies and a bottle of wine. Good friends and neighbors. We never were “fancy” and people are just people. And, yes, there are mice, even with our cats. Homes are cold because it costs a fortune to heat. That’s what sweaters are for. There is a 15-foot black rat snake in our attic that sheds its skin in the bssement in the spring and reduces the mice population. Karen, our postmistress, has treats for our dog. Bea, who is the toll collector, makes our day with her sunny disposition. I didn’t get Easy Pass because I would miss our good mornings. We are no longer viewed as outsiders and we don’t look down our noses at those who have never been to the City 60 miles south. The Hudson Valley is gorgeous and there’s room for everyone.

  19. MJ

    Wow. The article is, well, odd.

    Homes are cold, not because they cost a fortune to heat but because they are DRAFTY. It is COMPLETELY possible to make them LESS SO with some air sealing. Check out

    Some of us actually have VERY DEEP ROOTS here – like back to the 1600s and… we are NOT even hicks. I welcome outsiders provided they come with a spirit of appreciation for the life we have here and to work with us – not to change us somehow. All too often, they come looking down on us and wanting to gentrify our communities. That way of being is completely unacceptable.

  20. Gordon

    Think about it. The real natives of the Catskills died along time ago. How would they feel about the current residents?

  21. andrew cowan

    Our move here four years ago from NJ was intentional. After living a busy life commuting in busy packed suburbs we wanted to move somewhere quiet, close or in nature and learn to connect again with a more peaceful simple lifestyle. Saugerties / Woodstock proved to be just that. Sure, we learned about all of the interesting wildlife in our woods, septic systems, bought a tractor, learned how to cut down dozens of our dying ash trees, split them for firewood and hundreds of other things – all of which were rewarding and real. Are there differences living here versus the suburbs of Manhattan, you bet. We know what we like – and it’s right here !

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