Transiently, my mom swept our travel-sized two person family all across the world, the only place ever feeling semi-permanent being two couple year stints in the Central California countryside. We stayed in tiny and touristic Solvang, uniquely the biggest Danish town outside Denmark! I enrolled in The Family School, a wonderfully unique Montessori-style school in the middle of nowhere in the lush wine country of Santa Ynez Valley. Vines crawled up walls inside the classrooms, tables arranged in a way so we faced each other and we enjoyed a real old fashioned wood-burning stove keeping our class warm in winter. We had lots of lessons outside in the fresh air, learnt about silk worms while picking leaves off the mulberry trees in the garden. Our rooms were segregated by colours: Purple Door, Green Door, Red Door, rather than by "grade levels." It wasn’t uncool to hang out with kids younger or older than you because of there not being a hierarchy. We were just part of a community of growing young people. Fascinatingly, The Family School is situated directly across the entrance of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Each year, one class was allowed to visit! We held the exotic animals and went nuts in the Willy Wonka-esque candy room. This was in a time well before the allegations, of course! I remember as we held the giant albino ball python, asking what her name was. The animal-handler replied “Madonna.” Michael obviously considered the real Madonna a bit of a serpent, even I didn’t understand this at 12 years old!
I’ll paint a picture for you now. Driving to school in the mornings, you wind through acres of dry, tan coloured grass framed by old wooden fences. Ancient, rugged oaks crop up out of the ground like wise old wizards keeping an eye on the valley. The air smells fresh albeit a little dusty, especially if you have the top down as you’re driving! You can hear the wind as it sweeps through the hills and rustles through the oak leaves. It feels like the land is breathing. A feeling of total calm and contemplation washes away any anxiety as you survey the warm, mysterious landscape. It seems to hold secrets.
Looking back, living in such an open, natural place was the BEST thing that could have ever happened to my childhood. I deeply feel children need nature. They need to feel FREE and expansive, able to explore and get dirty. To not feel guarded every time they walk out their front door, to be able to roam. I’m laughing thinking, “Basically, free range children!”
Reflecting on this childhood, I also realise it carved out the reason my spirit feels best when I can be a big fish in a small pond, not vice versa. It’s a literal breath of fresh air to be free of the city. How ironic for someone who studied a Master’s in Urban Planning! I remember in my first few months undertaking the degree in Melbourne, Australia writing a blog on the oppressive nature of cities on humans. I was obviously in the wrong course! Luckily, I delved into master’s research on integrating cities with nature, so it was all for a good cause.
Living in London for just over a year, what a brilliant host it’s been, but also a hard taskmaster at times reminding me how integrally important it is to at least intermittently disconnect from the city. Escaping for road trips to Norfolk, Devon, Cornwall, Cotswolds, and the Lake District feels like running home to an awaiting mother with open arms. The moment my car gets past the ring road, my body heaves a flooding sigh.
Do you want to feel open, expansive and pure? Consider experimenting with life in the countryside, even for a few months. I recommend this especially if you’re in the UK, where you have miles of it to immerse in! Perhaps try a little Airbnb cottage, and see how you go. There’s something rejuvenating and baptismal about experiencing life immersed in nature. If you’ve lost your inner-equilibrium, maybe this will allow you to get back to YOU!