A Day at Hidden Hill: A Retreat from the Frenetic and into the Ordinary

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

photo Denise Ames

Hidden Hill is the name of my daughter and her family’s second home in upstate New York. Before I say home, I should clarify: their remodeling of an early 19th century cottage is not complete. After two years of work and many frustrating setbacks, including COVID-19, it is not quite finished. But, I may add, they are making progress.

Remodeling an early 19th century cottage, photo Denise Ames

My daughter and her husband and their three children, my adorable grandchildren, love to head up north from Brooklyn for a long weekend in the country. But, alas, where to stay since the house is a construction site. They have to be creative.

First, they erected a big tent that they furnished with a bed, a makeshift sink, and a table and chairs for dining. They use it frequently for themselves and guests. I’ve slept in it and it is quite comfortable. A short walk away is an outhouse, painted an unobtrusive gray and nestled into the trees. Not bad, I will admit.

Once their first winter set in, the tent was too cold, so they emptied the tent and deliberated on where to sleep. Feeling pity for them, their building contractor hauled an old 20-foot camper (no title or license) to the building site for them to use. My daughter set to cleaning the mess, running a hose for water, and hooking up electricity, but alas, still no indoor plumbing, the outhouse would have to do. At least, with their space heaters, it was warm enough to sleep in on cold winter nights.

Barn at Hidden Hill, upstate New York, photo Denise Ames

With a move-in date to the house still in the uncertain future, I was surprised to find on my last visit in May that they had carved out another living space: the barn. The barn is really a great structure, with huge wooden beams, a stone foundation, and an elevated hay mow. They ran electricity to the barn and set up a makeshift kitchen, a wood stove, and living area with a couch. How cozy. They are planning to sleep in the barn as well when the temperatures rise in the summer and the camper is too hot.

My grandchildren playing in the dirt at Hidden Hill, photo Denise Ames

The kids love Hidden Hill. They have plenty of room to run, roll down a hill, catch all kinds of bugs, and get as dirty as they want. In fact, I notice a difference in their behavior when at Hidden Hill. They seem happier! Although I certainly wouldn’t say they are unhappy in Brooklyn, I notice they are more independent, relaxed, and engaged.

I drove up with my family Friday night and we all slept in the camper. Saturday dawned bright and sunny, a perfect spring day. We headed to head to a delicious bakery not far from Hidden Hill for breakfast. Their display of artisanal baked goods, lead me to exclaim that all of eastern upstate New York was being gentrified. We chowed down at a picnic table overlooking a green meadow. I couldn’t imagine the construction crew at Hidden Hill partaking in expensive, hand-made doughnuts. In fact, to support my intuition empty bags of Dunkin Doughnuts and containers of coffee were piled up in trash bag at the not-quite-finished house.

Natural spring, upstate New York, photo Denise Ames

After our culinary breakfast extravaganza, we trekked to a nearby natural spring to fetch water. The newly drilled well for the house needed some adjustments and they had to haul in their own water. So, with two ten-gallon containers in tow, we clamored down the short trail to the spring. The owners of the spring graciously provided a pipe that directed some of the spring water out of the hillside so users could easily fill their containers. I was worried about contaminates in the water but I was assured that they had been drinking it for several weeks with no ill effects. My eight-years-old granddaughter said it was the best water she ever tasted. I agreed.

Filling containers with spring water, upstate New York,
photo Denise Ames

We weren’t the only ones to discover the pristine spring water, a car pulled up after us and filled their galloon containers. I hope some of the big spring bottling companies don’t “discover” this truly amazing spring.

Next stop was a farmer’s market in Hudson. It was about ready to close up but we were able to snare a trout for dinner and some greens and potatoes to go with it.

It was early afternoon and chores awaited us at Hidden Hill, also my cousin who lives in western New York was joining us for the weekend. My daughter had her sites set on planting the garden. They had a fairly successful garden last year and she was bent on expanding it. I looked out over the fenced plot and saw the weeds had overtaken every inch of the space and they seemed well-entrenched. I thought no way are we going to get this done. But I was ready to dig in, so to speak.

Garden weeded and planted, photo Denise Ames

Actually, everyone pitched in, the kids for shorter spans of time. My cousin arrived and was enlisted as well. How she managed to keep her white linen blouse pristine was beyond me. By the end of the afternoon, the weeding was about done! It looked promising that the next day we would get the planting completed! After all that exertion, everyone was starved.

The barn, photo Denise Ames

The dinner was underway, with trout and local greens on the menu and my son-in-law manning the grill. A sumptuous carrot cake, baked by my cousin, finished off the culinary delights. The chocolates I brought from Buffet’s Candies in Albuquerque put the crowning touch on the sumptuous evening. We even adorned the table with freshly picked lilacs, snagged from a fragrant roadside bush.

After a fun day, the youngsters were tired. If one person goes to bed everyone has to go to bed, since sleeping arrangements are staged in the camper. Two people slept in the tent, while five of us piled into the camper. Cramped, but comfortable enough.

Bedtime in the camper, photo Denise Ames

After washing up with fresh spring water, I slid into bed. I reflected on the day at Hidden Hill and felt a sense of joy wash over me. It was a rather simple day, nothing flashy or noteworthy, but filled with interacting with each other, and building fond memories and strong relationships with people you love. In the end, that is what life is all about. I quickly fell into a deep and comforting sleep, knowing the next day would be about the same.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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