Beyond the window where I sit, birch leaves are quivering in the breeze, just beginning to turn shades of saffron and mustard yellow. The sunlight is softer these days, more golden than it was just a few weeks ago. Though temperatures are still hovering in the 80s, it is plainly evident that autumn is on its way. In realizing this, I can’t help but shake my head in wonder.
Somehow, a year and a half has raced by since my husband and I returned from our two year adventure across Europe, Africa and Asia. It was a life-changing journey, one that took us all the way from the craggy hills of Scotland to the maze-like markets of colorful Thailand. We cycled 25,000 kilometers, visited 25 countries, wrote 900 journal entries, posted 9000 photos, and met countless friends we’ll cherish forever.
Disembarking from our return flight, it became abundantly clear just how far the foundation of our lives had shifted. After two years abroad, witnessing our homeland’s sterilized, pre-packaged, möbius strip of excess was a vertiginous sensation. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it felt as though some part of us would die if we slipped back into suburban life. Thankfully, by the time we landed on American soil in May of 2011, we’d already picked our next adventure.
Two years on the road had unveiled the allure of spending the majority of our time in nature. Life simply seemed richer while we were sleeping in the woods, staring into fires, and taking time to smell the flowers. We felt more alive in the great outdoors, more intimately connected to the earth, and more aware of our small place in it.
The idea for our next goal came naturally: we would become off-grid homesteaders. As ideas often do, it began as murky feeling, more dream than clear vision. In order to make it real, we made a series of simple goals and broke them into small, manageable steps, just as we did when planning our world adventure. First on the list: deciding where to live.
We had no idea where that would be, but we had plenty of inklings about where we didn’t want to live! So, we purchased a map of the United States, placed it front and center in our bedroom, and began crossing off states. The entire southern half of the country was eliminated immediately (it is far too hot for our taste). The rest were in the running.
In the months that followed, any time we travelled, we paid close attention to how we felt about the places we passed through, taking care to cross them off our map when they didn’t feel right. It was during a road trip to Maine that we found our new home. We arrived via the Champlain ferry, crossing from the bustling vacation-land of lakeside New York into the green, rolling scenery on the western border of Vermont.
The rural landscape evoked a feeling of untamed wildness that we hadn’t felt since we were in Romania. We pulled down a rugged dirt road and parked, watching dark clouds rolling in as winds whipped over the hills, bringing rain. Then and there, we knew. Overcome by a palpable feeling of rightness, tingling with excitement, we declared Vermont our new home.
Once again, we bought a map, this time of our home-state-to-be, and began the elimination process anew, crossing off ineligible counties and regions. We knew we didn’t want to live in the mountains, and Vermont is covered in them—by the time we’d finished paring down our possiblities, only a few regions remained.
A pair of exploratory land-hunting road-trips later, we discovered a perfect ten acre maple stand in southern Vermont. We made an offer and the sellers accepted. We’d found our beautiful new homestead!
A year and a half after returning from our journey, we’re well on the way to living our dream. Our land is nearly paid for, and we’ve started the process of designing our home. Two months ago, we took an intensive 9-day timber framing course at North House Folk School in northern Minnesota. There, we went from knowing next to nothing about woodworking, to building a frame for our little cottage!
There are many skills yet to learn and countless decisions to be made (Cob or strawbale walls? Thatched roofing or conventional?), but with each step we take towards our goal, we’re gaining momentum. Before we know it, we’ll be packing our bags and heading to the woods, ready to live the adventure once more.
Words and Pictures by Tara Alan and Tyler Kellen
You can find out more about their adventures both past and present at goingslowly.com