10 Nov 2007

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid


The New York Times chronicles the frightening encounters of today’s typical urban wussies with THE COUNTRY.

When Evan Gotlib and his fiancée, Lindsey Pollack, bought a three-bedroom cottage surrounded by pine trees in rural Sharon, Conn., they couldn’t wait to flee their cramped Manhattan studio on weekends to spend their days dozing in a hammock and barbecuing on their brand new 42,000 B.T.U., 60-burger-capacity Weber grill.

But being city people, they did what anyone looking to “get away from it all” would do first, before they even spent the night: they paid $3,000 for a home-security system complete with motion detectors, a one-touch intercom that connects to fire and police dispatchers and an emergency hand-held remote-control device they could leave on the bedside table at night. “I know it sounds ridiculous now that I talk about it, but I just feel safer sleeping with the remote control,” Mr. Gotlib, a 32-year-old corporate sales director for Time Inc. Media Group, confessed, “because those deer are aggressive.”

For many urban sophisticates who trade the big city’s drunken crowds, blaring sirens and claustrophobic living spaces for bucolic second homes on weekends, the very solitude of mountains and forests that drew them in the first place can turn into a nerve-jangling — and sometimes costly — source of anxiety. As much as they adore their country houses, these harried homebodies quail at the thought of stepping out into the pitch-black night or meeting some wild animal or armed local in the woods.

Often their attempts at assuaging those fears are met with disbelief and ridicule from their more well-adjusted family members and friends.

“New York thinking applied to nature equals paranoia,” said Augusten Burroughs, the author of the memoir “Running with Scissors,” from his country house on the outskirts of Amherst, Mass., which he and his partner, Dennis Pilsits, built three years ago. Since then, Mr. Burroughs, 42, has poured several book advances into what he calls his “prison in the trees” in an effort to defend his rustic outpost “from nature in all its malicious glory.” This includes installing an $8,000 lightning protection system and spending $2,000 on various military-grade “tactical illumination devices” — flashlights — and even a pair of night-vision goggles, thanks to some terrifying encounters with nocturnal neighbors.

Late one recent night, Mr. Burroughs had gone out to check the mailbox when he saw two green, glittering eyes, triangular ears “and the general impression of height” in the shadows. When the creature began to walk toward him, Mr. Burroughs ran into the garage, fearing for his life. “Our skinny, gym-polished urban bodies are no match for anything that scratches its back on a tree,” he said. “Whatever it was, it was both curious and unafraid — two traits one does not admire in wildlife when one is alone in the dark.”..

That hyper-vigilance is a normal reaction to the fear induced by the darkness and silence of the country, said Dr. Julie Holland, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, who owns a weekend home in Pawling, N.Y. “In the city, the street lights are on at 3 in the morning, and you have this sense that if you call the police or the front desk of your luxury high-rise someone will help you,” she said. “There is something inherently unnatural and vulnerable about humans being in social isolation, because out there no one can hear you scream.”

It took Dr. Holland and her husband, Jeremy Wolff, a photographer, a while to get over that anxiety. Even so, encounters with armed hunters are always unsettling, even for a seasoned second-home owner. After disturbing a camouflaged fellow in a tree during a family hike last autumn, Mr. Wolf wrote a letter to the hunting club that leases the land beside his, asking members to “please make sure your bullets don’t cross my property lines.”

And then there was the time he came across a shooting range on his neighbor’s land. So does Mr. Wolff, 48, think there is a difference between himself and the people who live in the country full time?

“I feel I’m more of an intellectual artist and they’re kind of machine people,” he said. “Everyone has their own backhoe up there, and their kids have A.T.V.’s and motorboats. And they all have guns, which scares me.”

Read the whole thing, and laugh.

Hat tip to Steve Bodio.

2 Feedbacks on "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid"

Dominique R. Poirier

Let me express my surprise one minute!

I’m not easily afraid though I happen sometimes to have a feeling of insecurity that some might call fear.
I lived in crowded cities as in desert places and, as Augusten Burroughs, I have experienced living in a small town of Massachusetts for some years. Not only don’t I remember having ever been afraid of anything over there as anywhere else in the whole State, but, on the contrary, I have a recollection of a permanent and pleasurable feeling of safety I never had before and after that.

Is Augusten Burroughs paranoid or was I unconscious?

jon skier

This “Dan Levin” story was discredited and the guy was fied for making up quotes…


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