Introduction to “On the Hudson”

This space is devoted to recommendations and reviews of things in and around the Hudson Valley, mainly within striking distance of Millbrook and Rhinebeck, the yin and yang of Dutchess. The lists are not “bests of” (ever subject to debate) but rather personal preferences…though I hope they will prove more widely helpful.

For those unfamiliar with Dutchess County, there are, broadly speaking, two divergent elements which can be divvied in various ways. One could point to a “blue” Dutchess (i.e. Rhinebeck) and “red” Dutchess (i.e., virtually everything else) but that is a generalization that fails to capture the distinctiveness of the divide. A more apt paradigm would be Royalist and Continental Dutchess. The Royalists, peppered in tasty estates throughout, fancy themselves anglophile transplants of another era, replete with riding breeches and groundskeepers. Their cleverly named estates can occasionally be discerned over the stonewall and through the hedges. More often than not, they have migrated here or use it as a weekend retreat. Continental Dutchess, on the other hand, is a heartier if less uniform lot, often born and bred locally. Some are sustained by Royalist microeconomies, some are post-9/11 city transplants, some ex-IBMers and some actually still farm. Happily, this last group, which was once in precipitous decline, is experiencing a renaissance thanks to the locavore movement.

If I can be playfully critical of both camps, it is because I have one foot firmly in both. I grew up in the Hudson Valley quite thoroughly of the Continental school but now am one of those City types that drive up for a sanitized “taste of the country.” Occasionally, with visions of Brideshead and Blenheim, I fantasize about moving up full time, knowing full well the improbability of such an occurrence. Still, though the two groups may make merciless fun of each other, there is something that binds them and, more than anything, it is the land. This land, so steeped in history, is itself both Royalist and Continental in spirit; by turns pastoral and rugged. Its skies can suddenly transform it from serene to terrifying; its seasons are symphonic. Indeed, so sweeping is the spirit of the land that it often blurs the distinctions of all its inhabitants. We in the Hudson Valley are forever mere figures in a landscape. And what a landscape it is.

Posted on 2011 01 05 in On The Hudson