By Amanda Barta
I never expected that our first few years of marriage and parenting would be so draining. Yet there we were, two ships passing in the night, connecting only during a brief pause to reheat coffee. At that time my husband, Toffer, was working 100 hours a week and I was managing everything inside the walls of what appeared to be our white-picket-fence home in the suburbs of Chicago. From the outside, it looked like we had it all. But on the inside, we were longing for more. For more time, space, a chance to pause, to breathe, to reconnect.
Amidst the monotony of busy everyday life, we managed to squeeze in our annual trip to the North Shore. During our trip, a serendipitous connection led to my husband finding a job opportunity in Duluth. Begrudgingly, and after a lot of boxes packed and tears shed, we left Illinois in a desperate attempt to buy back our time. We were trading money for time. If only we knew how well that time would pay off.
Moving to a new place was challenging; luckily there’s no shortage of stunning scenery and enchanting wilderness here in Minnesota to contemplate what you want your life to look like. Our new journey needed some direction, though. We grabbed a state park sticker and found help in a few books to get us started (Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail by Andrew Slade and Minnesota State Parks by Anne Arthur.) We started adventuring little by little, making it a point to find a new state park or section of a hiking trail each time. Somewhere in between the hikes around the upper falls in Gooseberry and along the beaches of Split Rock we started becoming familiar with this new place, at the same time discovering a new love for the outdoors.Fast-forward four years, after a lot of miles hiked and a whole lot of warm gear purchased, we are now a self-proclaimed wild and free family of six that actually enjoys taking long hikes in the woods. Nature has allowed me to reconnect with this space, my husband, my kids and myself. In our time outdoors I have walked alongside my kids barefoot on the rough rocks of the lakeshore. I have quietly contemplated life with my husband. I have heard and felt the laughter of my kids as they chased after a wave and soaked their clothes, and it has filled my soul. We have had time to delight in the beauty right in front of us.
I’ll be honest, hiking with kids is not always sunshine and butterflies. But on those adventures when it all seems to fall apart is when we learn and grow the most. We learn to be patient and gentle with one another. We learn that sometimes you just have to grin and bear it and that challenges build character.
The woods have called us home. It is where we live, learn and play. Now nestled on a plot of land among our neighbor’s cattle farm, we are slowly beginning to cultivate an atmosphere of homesteading. Most days you can find us barefoot in the garden, collecting eggs from our brood of chickens or chasing our herd of goats away from my herbs! We left behind the fast-paced life for slow days and hard work in the garden. With the hopes of keeping the harvest and taking small steps to sustain our family and connect with the earth in a whole new way.
Around here, all of my kids are required to tend to the farm chores. Caring for our animals is just another way my kids have learned a greater sense of responsibility. Looking back six years, I was wearing high heels and working in a salon and now I’m in overalls milking goats at 5 a.m. It’s these little changes that have grounded me and brought new joys.
After rediscovering each other and this place, we were fortunate enough to create a group of like-minded homeschool families who want to reconnect kids with nature. Now, with the help of a lot of brave mamas, we have the privilege of getting together weekly to explore nature. Most days we are out for five to six hours. Moms laden down with kids on their backs and their fronts, bursting at the seams with water and snacks. Kids hiking, climbing, splashing, fort-building, storytelling and making childhood magic. I have watched my kids climb tall trees and become braver, jump boldly across rocks on a river and build balance. And with each climb and leap, I grow in my willingness to let them take risks. They delight in flowers, bugs, birds and sticks. My kids find beauty in much simpler things than when I was a child.
The woods and the water, they drew us in. Whispered to us in the wind, washed us over with their waves and breathed life back into our lungs. We were led to a new path. Week after week we went back and slowly put together the pieces of ourselves we didn’t know were missing and a new part of our story that just keeps getting sweeter.
Read more of our stories in Issue 21 of Lake and Company.