Almost two years ago, I wrote in the San Francisco Examiner about my family’s decision to move from San Francisco to a town in the hills above St. Helena. We moved for a few reasons; most urgent was the nightly Airbnb rental in the unit above ours, which kept me awake many nights with the noise of suitcase wheels and rolling chairs on hard wood floors.
Prices were too high for us to move within The City, and I also had an urge to experience what it would be like to raise our daughter in the country, someplace quiet with a strong sense of community. Someplace without a nightly rental above our bedroom.
I’ve always felt a strong sense of responsibly about choosing my child’s home and childhood community, the place where so many formative memories happen. Friends have gotten tired of hearing my angst about a sense of home and belonging.
And so we moved to Angwin, a one-stop-sign town 90 miles north of The City on top of Howell Mountain. Moving from a vibrant urban center to a private road surrounded by trees took adjusting.
I first noticed the utter stillness at night. I only heard crickets and the occasional owl or coyote. Rather than feeling calm, I felt out of place and a bit unnerved. I wondered if anyone would hear me scream, should something really go wrong.
It’s also really dark at night. Our street does not have street lights, so on nights without a moon, I am enveloped completely in darkness just a few steps outside our front door. At first this felt suffocating.
Eventually, I adjusted to the quiet. The darkness took longer to appreciate, but the upside is the stars. I’d forgotten what stars look like. Not only did we rarely see the sky at night living in the foggier, western side of San Francisco, but the city lights kept all but the brightest stars and planets hidden even on clear nights.
Someone recently asked our daughter, Lily, which she likes better: Angwin or San Francisco. She paused for a minute or two, thinking. And then she answered: “Both, but for different reasons.”
When we are in The City, Lily misses it, especially her friends and former preschool co-op. But she is also thriving as a country girl. She loves the grove of manzanita trees growing across from our driveway where we sometimes picnic. She particularly loves to run down to a neighbor’s house, where a girl close to her age lives. When we had two families over for supper recently, I smiled at the ease of parking for our guests and the spacious driveway where the kids played tee-ball and rode scooters.
Walking in the woods and meadows nearby never gets old. Right now the El Niño rains have made it an especially spectacular spring with lots of soft new growth on the pine trees, flowers along the paths, and young, vibrant green grass carpeting the meadows.
The rural location means that there is very little to do. However, this lack of options means that people can more easily spend time with each other. When we do go to the little town market, community pool or woods, we usually see a family we know, and Lily is soon playing with a friend. This built-in community aspect of small town living is something I really enjoy.
But I also mourn several aspects of city living, especially diversity, walkability, bike-ability and just the energy I felt walking down the sidewalk encountering a wide variety of people.
I especially miss simply walking out the front door and being able to go to the library, park, corner market or local cafe. I miss decent public transportation. I miss biking to the car-free zone in Golden Gate Park on Sunday mornings when we’d pop by to say hello to Pierre the penguin at the Academy of Sciences and then get soft serve ice cream cones dipped in Tcho chocolate with sea salt nuggets at the Twirl and Dip ice cream truck parked near the Shakespeare Garden.
Reluctantly, we’ve become a two-car household just for sanity’s sake. I resisted for months, but even though we live just a mile from Lily’s school, it’s not safe to walk or bike her. These losses sound minor, but they are the daily rhythms of life that I’ve had the hardest time adjusting to.
When I try to replace my city losses with my country gains, I find myself frustrated. But over time, I have found peace instead by letting each space have its own gifts.
The biggest gain by far since our move out of The City is the birth of our second child six months ago, something we’d hoped for but put out of our minds because it had been years of what we assumed was secondary infertility. I don’t know if the bigger living space, the mountain air, or the delicious well water had anything to do with her arrival, but I’m grateful. Her big smiles and belly laughs at her big sister’s antics have completed our family in a way that I didn’t even know needed completion.
What moving taught me is that I carry home with me. It’s not about place; it’s about me. I am home to my children. I am that which I was seeking. Maybe it has something to do with giving birth again and seeing my baby grow, fully sustained by the nourishment my body makes for her. She reminds me that it’s the people in our family who are home for each other.
My daughters have the capacity to bloom beautifully here in the quiet country, there in the vibrant city or even someplace we haven’t tried before. We don’t belong to one location. We belong to each other. For that lesson, I’m grateful.
Daneen Akers is a documentary film producer. This is excerpted from a longer piece at daneenakers.com.