What’s a nice girl like you doing at a land trust?

We lived on a 50- by 100-foot lot in Seattle’s Crown Hill neighborhood when my son Adrian was born. He was only weeks old when I noticed that he stopped crying if I took him outside, and I soon realized that I couldn’t raise him in the city that I’d called home for 20 years. We had to move. This child needed to be in nature.

My husband did not feel called to parenthood as I did, nor did he feel called to move to the country. The day came when I had to choose between my husband and my child, and our divorce was final when Adrian was 18 months old–three days after my father died.

I was doubled over with loss, but Adrian’s needs kept me putting one foot in front of the other. He inched me through the valley of the shadow one diaper-change, one feeding, and one nap at a time.

I set my sights on Whidbey Island and began the search for a new home. It was difficult for the people who loved us to understand this, and some took it personally. How could a single mom leave her support network behind and move with her toddler to a strange place where she knew only one family?

Architect Ross Chapin once told me, “Whidbey Island is a calling.” For us, it was more than that. I felt as if we got caught in a sci-fi tractor beam–there was no way for us not to come.

There are times here on Whidbey Island, particularly in Langley, when life feels so idyllic that I’m afraid a Klieg light will drop out of the sky, as it did in the movie The Truman Show, and I’ll discover that I’m just living on a really big movie set. It feels that idyllic. And it’s my deepest privilege to raise my child in a place where he can fish, dig for clams, and whack nettles with a stick; where he’s had goats, chickens, and bees to care for; potatoes to harvest; and trails to blaze through the forest. But beyond being a beautiful place, Whidbey Island has redefined what the word “family” means. Our family has grown to include others who heeded the same call and moved here to provide the best imaginable childhood they could for their children.

I stayed home with Adrian until he was 10, which is when we finally overcame the vision problems that had made it so challenging for him to succeed in school. The businesses that I had been running from home did not generate enough income to support us, so I began looking for a job elsewhere. Having been employed as a technical writer before Adrian was born, I searched for writing and editing jobs on the mainland, completely heartsick about the 12 hours a day that I’d have to spend away from my son, and struck by the irony that I had to work off the island so we could live on the island. Moving was out of the question.

Then, one day, clicking the wrong link on Craig’s List led me to an expired listing for a communication and marketing position at the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. I read the description, and said, “That’s me!” But when I went to www.wclt.org and saw this slide show below, I knew it was my job in the same way that I knew I had to move to Whidbey Island. The slide show represented everything we loved about our home.

Could it GET any better than working on the island, protecting what makes it so special in the first place? In spite of my late application and a total of 165 applicants, I was the one they hired, and I feel lucky to spend my days preserving a place I love so dearly.

Stuff, and how it defines us

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris

My mother grew up in Germany during World War II and experienced genuine need. During that time, for example, ration cards limited each citizen to only one egg per month. And if somebody in your family had a birthday that month, your egg was likely to wind up in his or her cake.

Surviving the war caused Mom to hoard Stuff, which insulates her from need.  At 80, she is surrounded by a sea of her own Stuff, as well as all the Stuff that my father left behind when he died.

Dad’s father was a chaplain in the Army, which had him moving hither and yon all of his childhood. Unfortunately, Dad later joined the Air Force and forced the same fate on us. When we were moving every year or two, we didn’t acquire much Stuff. But when Dad retired, Stuff came in waves.

For dad, Stuff was grounding. It was an anchor. It kept him in place. It also raised his self esteem. Being able to say “I’ve got one of those” made him feel important. When he died, he left behind an inordinate amount of Stuff.

My Stuff story didn’t gel until after I’d realized a dream and designed and built a house. Building it was one of the most fun and creative things I’ve ever done. It was self-expression on a grand scale, and the best part was that I got to live in it after it was done. Everywhere I looked, I saw a reflection of who I am.

For me, Stuff became a mirror. Due to a perfect storm of adverse financial circumstances, I have to sell the house that I created, and with it, a business and a farm. This has sent me reeling. I’ve come to realize that, in the absence of my Stuff, I don’t know who I am.

We moved several weeks ago, and I still haven’t found my feet. Most of our remaining belongings are in storage, and only the bare essentials are with us in a cabin that a dear friend invited us to live in for a few months. As lucky as we are to be here, I do not see myself reflected in my surroundings and I’ve been experiencing an identity crisis.

Who am I?

In my attempt to make sense of my losses, I concluded that they must’ve been necessary because I’d come to derive my sense of self from the wrong things. But what were the right things?

Today, with the help of two coach friends, I realized that the right thing is people. People—and the love they hold for me—are the most accurate reflection of who I am.

I cannot describe how much relief that realization has brought.

But enough about me. What’s your Stuff story?