|Rachel Maddow and Susan Mikula
WEEKDAY BANTERING IS BALANCED BY QUIET NEW ENGLAND
February 24, 2005
Fridays at noon, when she's completed another week's political
battles on the national airwaves and ceded the microphone to Al Franken, Rachel Maddow retreats to her black Subaru Forester
and heads, with her partner, Susan Mikula, from Manhattan to the Merritt Parkway, past Hartford, to Northampton, where she
stops for groceries, and eventually lands in the West Cummington house she has called home for the past four years.
co-host of Unfiltered, Air America Radio's morning show, Maddow has been leading a dual urban/rural lifestyle since the liberal talk-radio network launched last March.Mikula,
a diehard gardener, artsy photographer, and part-time accountant, closed on the vintage (1865) rectangular box of a house
in December 1998 as part of her bid to leave apartment life in Northampton for the isolation of a small village. Four months
later, Maddow walked into her life after Mikula told mutual friends she needed a "yard boy" to help her manage the demands
of a creaky old structure that had stood empty for almost a year as well as the 2 acres of vegetation that were threatening
to take over.
"Zing went the heartstrings," according to both of them, when Maddow, 31, a Rhodes Scholar and gay activist,
arrived for the job. Maddow had moved to the area to write her doctoral dissertation comparing AIDS policies in the California
and British prison systems, but also needed to earn some money. A year-and-a-half later, on Halloween, she moved in.
rather than scholarly research, is now Maddow's stock in trade, and home life includes plenty. "It's a high-maintenance house,
but we love maintaining it," Mikula earnestly intoned. "Just like you," Maddow snapped back with a smile.
In the winter,
faucets need to be left dripping when the temperature dips. "There's a very thin membrane between the outside and the inside,"
said Maddow. Summers provide a constant battle to keep the vines, grass, weeds, and hedges in check. If you leave the grounds
alone, "the earth will take them back," she said.
Among the best features of the one and a half story house are
its 15-inch floor boards, which are so attractive to Maddow that she doesn't object to the regular waxing they require. The
second level, with bedroom, guest room, and Maddow's office, is directly under the slanted roof, so you can stand up straight
only near the middle. They have a clutter-free philosophy toward furnishings and knickknacks. They eschew curtains, and "If
something comes in, something has to go out," said Maddow. They limit art acquisitions to living local artists.
beyond the yard is the Westfield River, one of only a few waterways in the state designated as both scenic and wild. Summer
days will often find Maddow and Mikula lolling on inner tubes with cocktails in hand.
As isolated as they are at home
on weekends, Mikula and Maddow are in the thick of things during the work week. Maddow takes the train to their apartment
in Manhattan's West Village on Sunday afternoons. Mikula and their 10-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Brewster, follow
by car on Wednesdays. Their rent in New York is three times their mortgage in Massachusetts, their entire dwelling is half
the size of their living room in the country, and more people live in their five-story walkup tenement than in all of West
"We can psychologically afford to live in a broom closet because we have this beautiful house to come back
to," said Maddow.