Back Porch Essay: Blissed out in the Boonies (with my Catskill Rascal)
by Cheryl Terrace
Author, Cheryl Terrace with Andy Cheryl and Andy enjoy the outdoors.
My introduction to the Catskills was a little over a year ago when Andy invited me to come up and spend the weekend. I fell in love, not only with him but also with this spectacular area. The rolling mountains in gorgeous hues of purple-blue stole my heart (as did he).

It was the middle of winter, and truth be told, I am not much of a cold weather gal. However, the snow in the Catskills stays so clean, pure and white (unlike in New York City), with sparkling ice crystals on every branch and twig for added effect. Here, there is a magical quality to what I always thought was a dull, dreary season. Being in nature makes me happy. This place makes me euphoric--anytime and all times of the year.

I have always felt a profound connection with nature. I founded VITAL DESIGN LTD as an environmentally friendly interior design firm way back in 1997 (pre-green-mania). Most people didn’t understand the concept back then, a few have even asked ‘what if I don’t like the color green’ thinking that I literally designed green interiors! My former husband used to say ‘let go of this crazy idea; nobody gets this environmental thing.' But I could not. For me it seems logical to contemplate where things come from, who made them, how they affect our health and where they go after their use.

As a holistic designer I know how vital sleeping in complete darkness is for our health and often specify nontoxic blackout shades for my clients. The first night I slept here and saw naked windows, not only in the bedroom but also throughout the house, I thought ‘no sleep for me’- yet there was complete darkness. It is rare to be in a place with no light pollution. There was also no sound of sirens or garbage trucks or anything manmade except the occasional old-house-creak mixed with the comforting sound of heat emanating from the old steam radiators. That night, this drafty-old-barely-furnished house spoke to me. I am not certain if I heard ‘welcome’ or ‘help’ or perhaps a combination of the two, but I felt a comfort level that one only feels in his or her own home.

And so my work began transforming this wonderful barren beast into a warm welcoming entity (Andy also).

Andy lives in a 1913 carriage house where he manages a 2,000 acre estate designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. The dirt ‘driveway’ is more than three miles long. The elevation climbs to 2,800 feet. This secluded pristine property is destined to become developed at some point in time, but for now it is our own ‘Private Idaho.' I, nature girl, take constant delight in the ever present (and changing) flora and fauna. Abundant wildlife include bear, coyote, bobcat, turkey, deer, beaver, and a gazillion species of birds and insects. To be a part of the ongoing magnificence of our natural world is the ultimate luxury for me, one that I have only experienced at this level with Eco-Travels and Wildlife Resort Holidays.

I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 30 years for many reasons, mostly because I’m very sensitive to animal suffering. I also do a lot of yoga. In the last few years though, I would occasionally eat venison and bison, understanding more and more that there are few absolute truths in this world (and that being on a soapbox is not the most comfortable place to be). It's not easy being me-green! Which brings me back to Andy.

Andy is a regular guy, not an environmentalist (although he would beg to differ). He is a meat-eating, pick-up-truck-driving, plastic bag using real nice guy. He used to be a rally car driver and brags about all the cars he’s ‘rolled’. Good thing, because his entire universe was about to be flipped upside down by me. After some negotiations, Andy and I agreed to only eat meat that is local and humanely raised. Since we both love to cook, we have a blast, playing music and dancing in the kitchen, with him taking the role of ‘executive chef’ while I, with my many years of chopping every veggie under the sun, am the sous chef. Our delicious creations are always Alice Waters worthy!

Another BIG thing for me is the amazing quality of the water here. I know how precious and rare pure water is. I often wax poetic (as Andy does an eye roll) when I take a sip. When we have dinner parties I fill beautiful old glass pitchers with our spring fed water and our guests always ask about the delicious contents (some folks serve good martinis – I serve good water)!

When we travel I fill four stainless steel bottles with our spring water and have even bought these bottles for our neighbors who were reusing plastic bottles. This area is considered the ‘watershed area’ and is the origins of New York City water system. I stand firmly on the No Fracking side of hydraulic gas well drilling. I understand we are at an energy crisis point but do not understand why more emphasis is not made on conservation. I also believe much more research needs to be done to insure that our water, and land will not be contaminated. Not many folks (in NYC or anywhere) even consider their water source, but (no surprise here) I take water very seriously, and consider water stewardship a responsibility (and privilege).

Cheryl Terrace is founder of Vital Design Ltd., a sustainable interior design firm based in New York.

© 2011