Living in a city wasn’t a part of my plan.
As a child, I spent the majority of my summers going between family time spent at a tiny cottage on a lake in Michigan and time at a camp in the northern woods of Wisconsin. By the time I graduated from high school, I had started spending hours upon hours alone exploring local wooded areas and was reading books like Into the Wild and The Last American Man. City life was enticing, in a way that it is for many suburban kids, but I was dreaming of a future in the wilderness.
College provided time and opportunity to explore further. My free time was spent on foot, hiking or biking through the many large forest preserves in the Fox River Valley in Illinois. I had gone camping a few times with friends in high school, but I now had a little extra money to buy my own gear for camping, backpacking, and rock climbing.The year after college, I started selling shoes at a sporting goods store so I could get a discount and my boyfriend and I started making plans for our big Pacific Crest Trail hike the spring he would graduate from college. I was never any good at climbing and I was not a particularly accomplished backpacker, but I loved it. Rain, shine, heat, cold, I loved everything about it. I loved being outside and getting dirty. I loved the sights and the sounds and the solitude. My plans for the future were not set in stone, but they involved something wild and wonderful in the middle of “Nowhere.”
Then I moved to Cincinnati.
I had lived a relatively urban existence for a few years prior to my move, but had spent much of my free time outdoors. Shortly after moving here, I broke up with that boyfriend, the one who shared my dreams of “Nowhere.” And, now, my day job involved being outdoors all the time teaching environmental education. So, my nights and weekends were spent exploring the city. My life shifted. It didn’t happen all at once, but I slowly adopted the city as my habitat.
Now, almost 8 years after moving to Cincinnati, I am a bonafide city dweller. My days, nights, and free time are spent on concrete. I work really hard to get my kids into the woods, to teach them the value of natural spaces, and to let them touch their bare feet on something real. But it’s not easy. And my heart breaks sometimes to think that I might be squandering their natural desire for open space, the need to connect with something that has not been created by human hands.
I still dream of “Nowhere.”
My husband and I sometimes dream together of selling this house and buying rural property. We dream of adopting a small piece of land and learning to live on it as stewards. We dream of carving out a homestead that will last into the future and remain unchanged as our children grow older and return with their children to see it.
We talk about moving our kids to a place where they can stretch out and explore something that is not fenced-in or fabricated. Where they can engage with the earth, not in some spiritual sense, but in a physical, tangible sense. So they can learn to see the world as a living organism, as the work of a Creator who designed it to provide us food and breath and pleasure. I want my children to experience the rhythm of the seasons, to learn to be outside and comfortable and adapt through cold and rain, through sun and heat. I want them get their cuts and bruises and bumps on rocks and in rivers instead of on playgrounds and pavement. I want them to eat food that they grew themselves, to try their hand at cutting tobacco at the neighbor’s farm, and to learn to read the weather by the look in the sky and behavior of the birds.
Sometimes the urgency is so think between us that I think we’ll really do it–next year, next month. Heck, sometimes I’m ready to do it tomorrow.
But we don’t.
We simply don’t feel called to leave the city at this point.
We love our city. We want it to thrive. And so, regardless of all the reasons we would love a life in the middle of nowhere, we’re staying for now.
Thankfully, I really do love our life here. I love our home, our street, and our neighborhood. I love the built environment and the way we’re watching it grow and change as we invest in its transformation. I love how alive it feels here during the summer and how much energy tears through the streets at night. I love how many different people we see walking to the library and how many opportunities there are, on a daily basis, to learn from them. I love how my children are learning to interact with their neighbors and make friends with people who we would never meet anywhere else. I love how brave my children are and how they don’t seem to need much encouragement to explore every space they inhabit, built or natural. And I love how willing they are to leave the city and explore other places with me, for both their benefit and mine.
Some people hear all my “city vs suburb” talk and assume that I believe the city is only place worth living. That’s not true. I simply believe that city life is full of charms that many people–parents especially–overlook in favor of the perceived safety and convenience of the suburbs. And, so, I think it’s important to be a champion for the city. And, while here, I’m enjoying this season of our life for all its worth.
But if anyone is ever looking to unload a few acres of land, I’d take it off your hands. Maybe I can find a way to keep both…