Actress Kate Chapman was in Sarasota, working on a new musical last March, when she got a call from her husband, Ed, back in New York.
Broadway — where he was working as a sound technician on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” — had gone dark. Manhattan had shut down. This COVID thing seemed serious. He was driving to rural Colorado with their best friend that night, and Kate should join them, too.
“I wanted my Florida time!” Kate, 51, recalled. “It was March and I wanted to be where it was warm.” She thought of the condo she was staying in for free in Sarasota, complete with swimming pool and tennis courts. She thought of the 40 acres Ed had bought two years ago outside Colorado Springs — “for retirement” — which had an unfinished house and … not much else. She booked a ticket out west anyway.
A year and a half later, it turns out life on the Colorado Prairie isn’t quite the vacation they anticipated.
“It’s brutal!” said Kate.
The couple — along with their friend, musician Mary Ann Ivan, who has spent much of the pandemic with them — immediately got to work transforming the barren property into a home. Ed, 55, designed a garage and finally put down floors in the house.
“We were just walking around on planks for a long time until I got the hardwood floors in,” he admitted. Ed and Mary Ann planted trees (half of which died), dug out a pond (involving a backhoe almost tipping over and “their lives flashing before their eyes”) and built a vegetable garden while braving 60-miles-per-hour winds, dust storms, hail and more.
“We’re on version 14 of the garden hutch,” said Ivan, 56, adding that the harsh winds kept destroying their plants. “One day it was going to hail, so we got a clothesline and we were putting the clothesline through the grommets and trying to tie down the tarp so the plants wouldn’t be killed. … It looked like we were on a sailboat trying to get the sail down in the midst of a hurricane!”
Meanwhile, Kate, who has had steady remote work as a life coach, takes care of the brood’s two dogs, cats and seven chickens — down from 11.
“Chickens are surprisingly cuddly,” she said of her new pets. But prairie life has been hard for those creatures as well. “My favorite chicken, Squiggles, became a prairie snack for some kind of bird of prey.”
It’s a tale as old as time: Sophisticated urbanites leave the concrete jungle for the country, and find themselves in over their heads. Think Diane Keaton bumbling through the Vermont snow in “Baby Boom,” or Carrie Bradshaw falling in the mud while visiting her boyfriend’s upstate retreat in “Sex & the City.”
Yet during the pandemic — with the Big Apple on the verge of collapse, and workplaces shutting down or going totally remote — many New Yorkers found themselves drawn to the promise of a simpler rural life, away from people and surrounded by nature.
That’s what prompted Allison Mahoney, a civil-rights lawyer, to ditch trendy DUMBO for sleepy Snowmass Village, Co., in September of 2020. “I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my living situation in New York,” the 38-year-old said about being confined in a small apartment during the pandemic. “I was trying to think where would be pleasant to stay over the winter, and a ski town was like the first thing that popped in my head.”
She bought a condo in Snowmass — population less than 3,000. “My first night staying there I was petrified, because it was so quiet,” she said. Living in such a remote mountain town has other drawbacks: “The USPS can’t and won’t deliver mail here, so I suddenly had to get a PO Box,” she said. “I’ve never had to go to the post office so much in my life.”
Ford Deihl and Zoe Macias, both 28, also left their one-bedroom Williamsburg apartment for more space this June, buying a ramshackle 1891 Victorian in Damascus, Pa., in the Catskills. Yet, the couple soon realized the house was not quite as move-in-ready as advertised.
“It kind of started with a leak and it ended up with us basically tearing down the four exterior walls, and then we had to take out the insulation, and then we found out we had to get a new roof,” Macias explained. “And then we decided to move our kitchen, but to do that we had to move a lot of the plumbing.”
“We really have no experience in renovating,” said Deihl, a consultant at Deloitte. “Coming from a nice apartment building in New York with a doorman, we didn’t have to think of anything behind the scenes — like electricity or your propane stove or even your garbage — and we now have to totally handle those ourselves.”
Adam Weinstein and Mariana Leung-Weinstein had a similar realization when they moved last March from Washington Heights to a farmhouse in Palling, NY, full time. “Things like changing the toilet seat, I had no idea how to do,” recalled Leung-Weinstein, who works in the fashion industry and is “40-ish.”
The couple had inherited the farmhouse back in 2017, but they had just rented it as an Airbnb. When COVID hit and their rentals dried up, they decided to move there full time.
“There was certainly an adjustment period,” Leung-Weinstein said of their new life on what they call Wicked Finch Farm.
“We made the dumb city mistake of admiring the gorgeous birds and fed them. We soon realized this also brought the mice, raccoons, then bears,” she said. Another time, a thief stole a basket of strawberries Leung-Weinstein had left outside. “I had to go to the security video to see who stole them and turned out to be a giant opossum.”
Leung-Weinstein said that now they’ve fully adapted. She has a thriving business selling boozy cocktail-inspired jams made from the fruits she grows on the farm, and the couple have even gotten their first beehive.
“Three or four years ago, I’d never thought I’d be running outside and getting into my bee suit every weekend instead of my designer clothes,” she said.
Kate Chapman feels similarly about her new life in Colorado, despite the hardships. “It’s not what we expected, or even hoped for, but it has become wonderful and I’m enjoying being ‘Little Kate on the Prairie,’” she said.