I follow nature writing in the news, and saw an article in The Spectator today about Amanda Craig’s recent novel The Lie of the Land. The author of the article, Lauren Freeman, starts out with:
I’ve diagnosed myself with early onset cottage-itis. It’s not supposed to happen for another decade, but at 29 I dream of just the smallest bolthole in the country: a bothy, a gatehouse, a folly below the ha-ha in someone else’s stately home. A shepherd’s hut in tasteful shades of prime ministerial greige. Liberated from the city I would be a nicer, calmer, more industrious person. I would write my magnum opus and be self-sufficient in rhubarb crumble.
It goes on to talk about the novel, but I couldn’t believe cottage-itis is a real thing. I know that many idolize the country, but only in a way that wouldn’t be practical, just romantic. I do not know any family or friends or colleagues who want to get out of the rat race. “But the jobs are here.” “But where would we go to see movies, concerts, museums?” “But what about my friends?” I shouldn’t knock anyone’s ideas for where to live, just saying nobody I know but me really wants to get out of the city in a permanent sense. I think it’s very possible to feel trapped in the city. Moving would require some savings, a promise of new income. It’s something we’re working on now, but really in the foreseeable near future we won’t see any drastic changes. Not quite yet.
I am a cottage-itis person, though, and feel a little surprised that maybe I am also just a cliche. My arguments are that, but the country might have jobs, it still has people and potential friends, and living somewhat near a town is okay, as long as it’s over there and not encroaching. I want to pass life like Yeats dreamed, with nine bean rows and linnet’s wings and the sounds of crickets. The sounds of water lapping nearby too. A small cabin in the midst of a glimmering countryside beneath the moon. I want these dreams to materialize not just as thought bubbles above my head as I walk the city streets.
I must have gotten early onset cottage-itis, though, because I have been dreaming of living in the woods since I was a kid and read all the Little House on the Prairie books, and that dream strengthened when I got older and would go white-water rafting on the Wolf River in northern Wisconsin, which was beautiful country and Menominee land. Years later I long for such places and quietly prattle on about them with friends like Annis and Jessica. So if I have some kind of itis, it is a lifelong disease, not early onset.
But the above passage by Lauren Freeman has some truth to it. I want to write in a cabin, with nature inspiring me. It wouldn’t be a magnum opus, maybe just a quiet swan song that nobody will read. And I don’t like rhubarb much. Maybe a peach crumble would be more apt. But this is a thing, and I’m wondering how widespread it is.
I realize I just want to get away from the world’s congestion. I grew up in rural country–we had mice, we had feral cats, and we had all kinds of things that don’t settle well with those who might really like modern convenience. I write this now remembering a funny episode with a huge moth this morning in our bathroom as we tried to get it to fly out the window and I shrieked when it landed near me. I think dealing with mice, however, might be less stressful than realizing the amount of corruption in the world and being exposed to it daily, sometimes personally. I wonder if I never belonged in this world–and feel that I don’t really tick like most people. I’ve always been silent and observant, passionate about the work I do, but not competitive or the type to want to paralyze others with the stunning gaze of a basilisk because I feel wronged by differences; rather I am intrigued by difference. I want to run on trails and sunbathe in gardens. I want to have moonlit romance and gaze over a lake agleam with the night sky. I want to write and continue my work, just not here–over there, beyond the mountains. I want my own chickens and gardens and space to breathe. I want to run down the lane and into the woods or above the sea.
I think the inability to run lately is encumbering my usual cheery self, and I’ve been somewhat down. It’s not just that, but why hasn’t my doctor figured out my swollen leg and ankle in the last month and a half? There is no way I can get away with not walking on it, and regular daily activity dings completion of my Google Fit goals, but still, there’s a certain downside to injury and health worries. I have found, really, that even just putzing around the back yard helps–as we did last night with my husband’s aunt and niece, who are staying with us and will watch our house when we fly to the states tomorrow to visit my family. Just being around people who care is a cushion in these hard times–and by hard times, I am not complaining about my life really but about the growing reality that this world is corrupt, that the internet has birthed some super weird things.
I read Politico’s Jared Yates Sexton’s riveting article this morning and was horrified by it. Not just by what happened to this guy but that these kinds of articles are nearly a daily headline, and that there are so many innocent people who are targets of hatred and threats in today’s world. It’s so easy, isn’t it? To troll people on the internet whom one doesn’t agree with. These extremists, though, are every reason why I have realized that outside of my work and close communications with friends, there is a real reason to want to get away and develop cottage-itis. That I can have empathy and love for my fellow humans without submerging myself in every awful thing that happens, which in turn depresses me if I do not have enough outlet to get my mind off of it. I want to establish a life away but without ignorance of reality. I see in modern times that we have to support each other through disaster, and I think everyone is experiencing a growing disaster or malady (as I spoke of in a recent post, quoting author John Atcheson). If you think about global warming, political tensions, growing extremism and widening rivers of haves and have-nots, and tie that into personal struggles–which everyone has now and then–it’s hard to come out on the other side fresh-faced every day. Ready to take on the world.
Thankfully, I have a husband who is a rock. I wonder sometimes if he is a machine, as he is a solid center for everyone around him. But I’ve also been surprised by people I never would have guessed would truly care and offer a limb of friendship in times of personal struggles. Thing is, no cottage or cottage, I would be in touch with or near the same people. That cottage is still a dream. I don’t know where it is, but I can taste the peach crumble, see my cats slink into sunshine corners, feel the breeze through open windows, and smell the rich breath of the woods and a lake.
The featured image (c) Can Stock Photo / ankihoglund