downsizingLast weekend we shared homemade pizza with friends on our back deck while a great blue heron sailed overhead. Throughout the course of the meal, we heard orioles singing and saw flashes of orange as they flitted across the yard between their nest in the willow tree and the fruit trees in our garden. A grosbeak, hummingbirds, and various other winged residents also made appearances as they went about their evening business.

When you aren’t confronted by the ticks, poison ivy, and mosquitoes, and don’t have to cut the grass, weed the garden, or shovel the driveway when you’d rather be doing something else, this place can feel like paradise.

We moved to Concord almost 20 years ago, and Paul and I still remember a day that first spring when we looked out a window to see our 10-year-old son trailing a pheasant across the back lawn, nearly stepping on the end of its long, sweeping tail.

Our pheasant-follower and his younger brother grew up here. They went to school here. And now they have both moved on to make their own homes and create their own exciting adventures. And as hard it will be to leave this house and yard behind, Paul and I are ready to move on too.

At least we think we are.

In an ideal world, we could create an oasis like this one in the middle of some city. A city that has sidewalks, public transportation, and a rich cultural life—all things that are missing and are sorely missed in our current location.

I want diverse neighbors, a corner store, a local cafe, and a bit of nightlife. I’d love to attend a movie or a concert and then walk home afterward while discussing what we’ve just seen or heard.

In an op-ed piece for The New York Times about New York City’s new bike-share program, David Byrne captured my idealized version of city living as he described the different routes he takes on his bike to pick up groceries, commute to work, or visit friends. And he talked about making his home in the big city.

“I just turned 60 and have no plans to retire to the suburbs,” he writes. “I love it here.”

“That’s what I want,” I thought. “A place I can fall in love with, a place that stimulates my intellect and fosters my creativity.”

But then, just below his paean to urban life was another op-ed by his daughter, Malu, who described the optimal environments of young artists like herself who have left the city because of its high cost and many distractions.

“I might have to escape New York to keep my artistic spirit alive,” she writes.

Somewhere between Byrne’s viewpoint and that of his daughter lies the crux of my dilemma. I want the bustle and excitement of the city but not the noise. I want to be able to move around freely even when—especially when — I am too old to drive, but worry that the constant press of people will grate on my introvert soul.

While any place that Paul and I are together will feel like home, I also want to find  my own niche. I want to write in my office and then meet friends for coffee at a neighborhood cafe, or spend the afternoon wandering around a nearby museum.

I know that there is no ideal place, there are only places that you make idyllic. Paul and I will take a few trips, and maybe someplace will click for both of us. Maybe no place will, and we’ll decide that this is the only home we want.

In the meantime, it’s fun to weigh our options and examine the possibilities. That’s the joy of being middle aged. Even with financial restrictions, we are as free as we’ll ever be to do what we want.

I will be sad when/if we leave this house and town that has become so familiar and where we have lived so much life. And I’ll miss those birds. But I’m also ready to follow their example. Yes, they return every spring, but in the fall they leave that empty nest without hesitation. They move forward.

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