Newton Farm

by Laura A

We’re back in Italy now, but I thought I’d share a thing or two more from our time in the US.

Bob and I spent part of our trip at an organic farm in the Catskills. After 18 months of immigration challenges and almost constant work for Bob, it was very restorative for the two of us to go somewhere by ourselves. The week at Newtown Farm, moreover, included some actual vacation days for Bob, whereas he mostly worked during the rest of our six-week trip. We were so far from civilization that our phones didn’t work, and the internet was slow.  It couldn’t have been more welcome.

As soon as we ‘d walked into the farmhouse and had a look around, Bob said to me, “This is your dream house.”  He was right, of course, and even literally.  When I was a child, I used to dream about exploring serendipitous houses, in which one opens a door and discovers an unexpected wing. Newton Farm gave me much the same feeling, especially after fifteen years of living in apartments.  Three or four days into our stay, I would still walk down the hall and glimpse an almost forgotten room in my peripheral vision. Sometimes I’d go stand in it just to experience the new perspective.

Maybe one reason for the exploratory feeling was that the house and farm were extremely photogenic.  It was hard to get a bad angle on the place, though I never did get photos of every room.  Nor did I see every room, because some of them were closed off.  One afternoon I stood on a bench outside the house and peeked into a window. It was full of old furniture and rolls of fabric, indicating more bounty.

Bob and I spent a lot of time in the large farm kitchen, partly because it was the only room in which the internet worked at all (even on vacation Bob checks and replies to his work e-mail) and partly because I had a big box of farm produce to use, and fresh eggs daily. In Italy, kitchens tend to be isolated. Here, the kitchen was the social hub of the home.

Still, I was a little startled the first morning when I went down to breakfast and within minutes was joined by the caretaker, who entered from the back of the house to cook his own breakfast. Apparently it was a shared kitchen!  But Bob and I soon appreciated the company, because by talking to Garrett we learned all about organic farming in upstate New York.  A former Williamsburg guitarist, with appropriately tattooed arms and a dog who looked almost feral, Garrett had apparently adapted well to rural life and seemed positively happy doing (among other jobs) small repairs, weeding, checking beehives, driving produce to Brooklyn once a week, and trying to tire out Mina, the extremely energetic new dog.

Bob liked Mina too.  Within a few days, he had taught her to sit, to refrain from jumping on people, and, if not to fetch a frisbee, to at least let go of it so he could throw it again.

The farm was tucked between two mountains near Hunter, NY, in a town so small that it looked like a modern one-street subdivision inspired by Grant Wood–until you noticed that it had its own post office and two local churches, all buildings circa 1840.  The road was a dead end and trailhead, so Bob and I went hiking two of the days we were there. One day we hiked up 1700 ft. to the mountaintop, though you could only see the view below from a lookout rock, since East Coast mountains don’t usually rise above the tree line.

And where was Sarie?  She was at a music camp, enjoying daily lessons with a great teacher, practicing chamber music, and calming her dorm mates, who were apparently terrified of nature. I got reports of increasing terrors: Crickets, spiders, a road covered in newts, and finally, a bear.

The day after the girls saw the bear, I was outside the farm feeding compost to the chickens when I heard a loud crunch–the sort of crunch that something makes when it’s larger than a human.  I looked towards the border of the field, where it met the mountain and forest, but saw nothing.

I heard the same noise a few minutes later, but this time it was coming from a particular direction.  There, high in a tree about 50 yards away, I saw a young bear (not a cub), stripping branches and swaying precariously.  I went and got Bob and we both watched him for about five minutes.  Then we slowly walked back to the house, so as not to disturb him.  I could tell that he knew we were there, but thankfully he showed no interest.

Newtown Farm couldn’t be less like Italy, but it was a perfect getaway where I could pretend for a week that I lived a life more like that my grandparents had lived when they were growing up. In fact, the house’s front porch and wide floorboards, covered in layers of paint and pierced by large heating vents, reminded me of my grandparents’ homes, so in some ways this place was much more familiar than the apartment where I’ve lived for almost a year now.

Below are some photos of the farm, including, of course, the bear.

Top: A side view of Newton Farm from the driveway. Below: the kitchen; eggs; the chickens (who apparently liked the pineapples contributed by a neighbor who was starting a popsicle business); some of the many bottles, ceramics and other interesting objects in the house; knives conveniently stuck to a magnetic bar; our bedroom (one of three); one of the dressing rooms attached to the bedrooms; the front porch, where Bob and I sometimes ate breakfast; one of the barns; Bob and Mina; the bear.

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