As told to Judy Garrison
I savored the opportunity to have a long chat with Sam, my down-the-street neighbor. We already had a friendly connection. This New Zealander was now “at home,” as the saying goes, on Main Street, Andes, and looking very much at home, bare feet tucked under worn jeans, as we settled on her couch amidst thriving plants, with tea and biscuits. My opener: How had her life path—a varied and intriguing one I was to learn—led her here? I wondered silently if it had been on an inevitable, pre-determined route or more of a random, catch-as-catch-can one? Let’s see what you all think.
For starters, I learned that Sam was actually born in Capetown, South Africa, the daughter of an English mother and German father. The family moved to New Zealand when Sam was 10, and she spent her growing up years in a place she thought of as “a tiny suburb in the middle of the Pacific.” After completing a degree in art history and English literature at Auckland University, she quickly realized that career opportunities in that field were almost non-existent in New Zealand and left for London in 1998—spending three months backpacking around America en route. She had two weeks in New York City before flying out to London and realized she’d found her spiritual home.
“I fell in love with New York through books and movies, and when I went there for the first time I knew it was the right place for me—but at 22, I had no idea how to get the right visas or a career that would enable me to live there.
“Although I always knew I wanted to be a writer, there was nothing in my hometown that supported that. There wasn’t even a journalism degree I could do. The idea of a creative community that exists in places like New York was very much something I had to actually leave my own country to go and find for myself.”
She eventually spent a decade working in London, with stints back in New Zealand. Her first published piece appeared in an in-house magazine for the Design Council (her employer at the time), and she steadily built a career as a magazine editor, working for Art Quarterly and a range of titles in the art and design space.
During the global financial crisis, she took the leap into freelance journalism, and began writing full-time—mostly within her established niche of architecture and design, but also on cultural and social issues, particularly those relevant to women’s rights.
This new career became the vehicle for her move to New York City when, in 2012, she obtained a journalism visa (unlike Australians, who are guaranteed a work visa by reciprocal arrangement). She garnered a sublet apartment in Carroll Gardens through an artist she had interviewed, followed by others in the East Village, Bushwick, Fort Greene and Greenpoint
Now based in the city but traveling regularly for work, she successfully pitched story ideas to media such as Dwell, Curbed and Monocle while also working as the editor-at-large of the New Zealand design magazine HOME.
However, earning a stable income as a journalist was anything but easy, and when she was offered a full-time position as a strategist at the New Zealand design studio Alt, she accepted. (She remains the studio’s sole New York employee! )
While she was living in Brooklyn, a group of her friends purchased a piece of land near Hobart, and started building their own off-grid cabins. She began visiting Delaware County regularly, which led to buying a 10-acre plot between Hobart and Stamford, and building her own tiny house with a couple of other friends. Along the way, she happened to stay in Andes village, and thought it looked “like a picture book illustration of a small town.”
Around 2019, however, Sam started feeling the call of the wild. She wanted to engage deeply with what she considers her real work: writing a novel. Her idea for this book evolved out of her decades of journalism experience visiting and observing people in their own homes. The narrator is engaged in the investigation of what a home is. The protagonist doesn’t have a home; her life is in the margins. The book explores the micro relationships among real people—some composites—whom Sam herself has interviewed. This sounds a bit like a novel crossed with memoir, perhaps creative nonfiction? Can’t wait to read it.
To finish the book, Sam realized she needed to be away from the city’s distractions. She tells how she became obsessed with upstate property listings. Helped by her realtor, and soon friend, Rosalie Glausser, she signed a lease in the Denver-Vega Valley just before the pandemic started. The several months there felt rather lonely, and Rosalie urged her to consider moving to a village, such as Andes, offering guidance on the wisdom of owning over renting. Fortuitously, Julia Laing wanted to sell her house on upper Main Street to a woman and favored Sam’s offer. Sam has enhanced the house with a wood-burning stove, her chosen paint colors, a kitchen re-design. She finds she spends most of her time in Summer in her open-plan second-floor studio with views into the garden, and gravitates down to the woodburning stove in the living room in Fall.
What makes Andes feel like a good place to be? It’s easy to makes friends here, Sam offers. Somewhat surprisingly, she meets more interesting people here than she did in the city. Perhaps it’s a like-minded approach to living; both the newcomers and the down-to-earth-locals have a sense of self-sufficiency, are comfortable with the raw and elemental character of our foothills, the changing seasons. That includes an appreciation Sam has for snow, something she didn’t grow up with. Like so many of us, she’s out walking or hiking in the winter. It’s weird, she reflects, how the Andes Hamlet has so much in common with the town where her folks now live: rail trail, swimming pool, a tavern/restaurant, big mountains, 3 hours to a large city.
Hope you get to meet Sam, whose engaging and easygoing exterior hides intense focus. She hopes to have her book finished next year, and I’m convinced she will. Maybe also meet her black cat, Steve. He survived on his own for a year in NYC, and is a dedicated outdoor cat who eats rabbits. A new kitten may soon join the household.~