“Come see what I built!”
It was an invitation from my almost-9-year-old son, Jonah, to visit the space he had built for himself to ‘get away from it all’. He led me carefully through one of the many patches of undergrowth near our little cabin, thick with salmonberries just starting to bud with bright green leaves (and sticky thorns). Then we came upon it – a tiny little hut, built with intricate layers of windfall branches and ferns, its entrance hidden by a particularly dense spray of hemlock.
“It’s where I can lie and listen to the sounds of the forest, and the songs of the birds.”
And right then I knew my decision to leave our city life behind was the right one.
The Journey from Subdivision to Townhouse to Log Cabin in the Woods
I always thought I’d move out of the city when I welcomed children into my life. I just didn’t realize how profound an impact it would have on my son – or myself.
I grew up in a rural community – in a subdivision, mind you, but in a district where only 20,000 people lived along a narrow strip of land that stretch for 70 miles along the rocky coast. Bears visited our backyard regularly, and we spent our weekends in the mountains, exploring abandoned logging camps and old First Nations villages, hiking to extinct volcanic craters, and riding dirt bikes in the empty lots down the street.
We learned all the native edible and medicinal plants, the names of all the trees that towered over us, and which wild birds like which sorts of native berries. We fished, we rode bikes, and we got dirty. Most importantly, we spent most of our waking hours outside.
When my son was born in 2003 and we ended up living in a townhouse on a busy road in the city, all those amazing childhood experiences came flooding back – and I realized, sadly, that his life was going to be very different. His school days would be interrupted by sirens and construction projects, he’d have to sidestep doggy doo (and other nasties) every time he went for a walk in the forest, and he’d never really know the joys of silence – at least not on anything resembling a regular basis. For his own memories’ sake, I wanted him to know a summer day where all you can hear is crickets, the rustling of the wind in dry, tall grass, and the distant hum of a float plane buzzing to some far off island. We definitely weren’t going to find any of those things living in a townhouse.
I loved many things about our city, nestled between the sea and the mountains, but getting my little guy out into ‘nature’ was an more of an effort than I was able to pull off most days. During my maternity leave, we’d hop on the bus and spend our days in the forest (with Jonah in the Ergo) but once I went back to work, there just never seemed to be enough time.
Moving closer to the nature was out of the question – real estate in our part of the world is crazy at best – the average home price at the time was somewhere around $600K. So it was either noisy townhouse or the alternative – moving – and I struggled with it every single day.
It was when he got a little older and I’d find him entranced by the comings and goings of ants and wood bugs that I decided that this child was born to be in the country. He just oozed it. His first words weren’t ‘cat’ or ‘juice’, but ‘moon’. So I started planning for a very different life… a life somewhere quieter where he could become who he was meant to be, without distraction.
Now, we could have moved anywhere, but it was important that my guy be close to his grandparents. In other words, our choice was pretty simple – we moved back to my hometown, only a 40 minute ferry ride, but what felt like a world, away. It was 2008, and I had no idea how I was going to make it work, but I’d been building my skill set for years and studying everything I could get my hands on that had anything to do with rural living, homesteading and the transition from city to country living. Was I terrified? You bet, but terror slowly turned to ‘I can do this!’, and we never looked back.
So here we are, almost 4 years later, well ensconced into a new/old life in the forest. Jonah attends a small Waldorf School surrounded by trees and streams, and right across a quiet country road from the beach. He gets to see his grandparents pretty much every day – something I never experienced in my own childhood – and spends his non-school time listening to the wind in the trees, collecting and studying bugs and other critters, and communing with our flock of 15 chickens (14 hens and one big beautiful Buff Orpington rooster, to be exact). And now that we’ve been here awhile, the benefits of the move are becoming clearer every single day.
The Benefits of Raising Children in the Country
Now, I’m no child development expert and I can’t tell you conclusively that living in the country is any ‘better’ than living in the city, as they both clearly have their pros and cons, but there are a few things I’ve observed over the past 4 years that I think are worth noting.
Room to Run – This one goes without saying. Children need to move and run and stretch their limbs in order for their physical and mental capacities to develop in a healthy way, and that’s pretty difficult in a 1000 square foot apartment with a tiny rooftop deck. They don’t need a lot of space, but the simple joy of being able to move freely when the impulse strikes is a real treat to watch. If my son wants to run across the yard on all fours, he can do that – without crashing into anything or stepping into anyone else’s space.
Quiet for the Imagination – A big reason why we decided on Waldorf Education, and moved to a rural community, was this – the preservation, and development of, my child’s imagination. Not that imagination can’t develop in the city, of course – some of our most brilliant people were raised in urban environments – but there’s something about quiet, being in nature, that just invites creative thinking and problem-solving, especially for children who are sensitive. With the challenges we’re facing in the world, we need creative people, unencumbered by rigid or stunted thought processes and the distraction of 24/7 noise.
Exposure to the Natural World – As you know, our planet is in somewhat of a crisis on the environmental front. Species extinctions, systemic pollution, habitat loss… our children need to be connected to the natural world now more than ever. If they don’t feel like they’re a part of the world around them, how can we expect them to care about it? So your child spending quiet, extended time in nature benefits us all, and will for generations. I simply can’t see how my son would care anywhere near as much about the creatures of the world and its natural systems as he does if he didn’t get to see and feel and touch them every day.
No Billboards or In-Your-Face Marketing – This one is HUGE – there simply isn’t anywhere near the bombardment of visual marketing as there is in the city, where every surface is covered with images talking our children into ‘needing’ things they don’t really need at all. Think about the effects of mainstream media and marketing on children, and then imagine what it would be like to not have that in your child’s face every day. It’s liberating, and so much better because kids are left alone to be just that – kids.
Time to be Together – I’m blessed to work from home, and I’m incredibly busy with my business, but I’m able to spend a lot more time with my son than I did when we lived in the city and I worked in an office, mostly by nature of the fact that we aren’t spending hours in traffic every day, nor are we signed up for umpteen lessons and activities. It’s been incredibly freeing, and rewarding, to be able to spend time with him – even when I’m working and serving clients and he’s just hanging out with the chickens. Child development expert Gordon Neufeld talks extensively about the importance of children being ‘attached’ to their caregivers and not their peers – it’s much easier to do this when you can actually spend a lot of time together.
Of course, as with anything worth exploring, there are downsides, but in our experience, the great things that have come from our move out of the city far outweigh the negatives, which are, well, pretty much non-existent. Sure sometimes it’s a struggle to get everything done, the power goes out a lot, and we don’t have any neighbours at all, let alone with children, so spontaneous play with other kids is sort of out of the question, but even with all that, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
7 Ways to Know If You’re Ready for Rural Living
1. You don’t mind getting dirty.
2. You can survive without a blow dryer.
3. You’re not worried about fashion statements.
4. You’ve got some money put aside, just in case the whole thing goes sideways.
5. You are flexible in your approach to life, your career, etc.
6. You’re willing to cultivate a ‘beginner’s mind’.
7. You’re comfortable asking for help.