We drive upstate from New York City a few weekends a month -- really upstate, that is, Potter Hollow, two hours from the George Washington bridge on the west side of the Hudson River. We spent years meandering around Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, looking for a small place for weekends. An hour away from New York City was too expensive for us and a bit too suburban for someone from New Mexico and another from rural, northern upstate. So, as my husband likes to say, we drove until we could afford a place. Also, my parents in an Albany suburb were aging and my siblings there would be helped if we came by on weekends. And we had an only child who had many cousins he would get to know better if we weren't too far from them.
We weren't in a hurry and for a few years on and off on weekends dragged our young son to meet real estate agents and look at houses. He didn't mind as many agents gave him lollipops, and we would stop some days for pizza or burgers for lunch. We saw old farm houses in damp little hollows, small A-frames in the middle of fields, cute little Hobbit houses on a single acre, and huge old farmhouses in need of significant repair.
Nothing appealed -- too little land, too big a house, too small a house, too close to a road. Then, one November an agent drove us to see a little ranch house high on a hill which seemed and was far away from anywhere. We loved the name of the little town below the hill, Potter Hollow, which had seen its heyday right after the revolutionary war. The houses were revolutionary-aged and half showed their age, tilting and grey; the other half was beautifully tended. A ranch house was not what we wanted, but as we drove up the hill, we passed a small white farmhouse with a huge bay window behind a white horse fence, edged by woods, a beautiful sloping field and several outbuildings. It had a for sale sign, but the agent sharply said to us, "You couldn't afford it." Okay; whatever.
As was common in upstate, the ranch house we had come to see had been built for the surviving member of an old farming family, the original, large white farmhouse across the road, now empty and for sale. The ranch was too small; the old farmhouse too big to care for on weekends, and too close to the road for a scampering five year old boy, even on a quiet hill road. But when we turned to drive back down the hill, the view was breathtaking -- a 180 degree view of the northern Catskills, farmland, pine and shaggy bark hemlock groves.
We drove home still talking about that view, but then winter was one of the worst in a while, so we didn't go looking much. In May we were visiting friends in the same area, and proposed trying to find the small white farmhouse on the hill. We did; it still had a for sale sign, so we drove up the long driveway, stone wall on one side, a row of trees on the other. The three buildings, house, garage and apartment, and barn, were deserted. While the children napped in the car, we climbed out and turned to see the view, and were overwhelmed at the setting: the house was perfectly sited above a sloping hay field and the Catskill Mountains ranged high and rambling directly in front of us and reflected in a small pond halfway down the hill. We were deep in rural upstate, miles from almost everything, 45 minutes southwest of Albany, 2.5 hours from New York City, yet it all seemed perfect.