When I tell people that my family moved from Seattle—and that we didn’t move to Jackson because of family or a job—I often get the response, “Why would you move here?” Really it all started with woods.
As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, about his own time living in the woods, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
While still living in Seattle, we bought land in the woods of Pinson, Tennessee, because we wanted these things—and more. We wanted freedom for our kids to roam, to explore, and to build tree forts. So my husband, Jesse, myself, and our two small children decided to purchase and split a thirty-four-acre parcel of land with good friends in Pinson and begin our adventure towards living the Walden dream.
But moving out to a country life in Tennessee didn’t come easily. For starters, my husband was a bus driver, wielding large buses and electric cable cars up and down the steep narrow streets of Seattle. A move to the country meant a career change. So he settled on nursing even though this meant returning to school. To begin our journey towards the land we made a kind of stepping stone move to Searcy, Arkansas, so that Jesse could enter a nursing program and we could live near his family in a place with a lower cost of living.
Over the next few years, Jesse went to school full-time, taught piano, worked as an ER tech at the hospital, and helped manage a coffee shop. I ran the home front: I had another baby, homeschooled the kids, did the bills and taxes, took out the trash, cooked the meals, read the books, wiped the bottoms, and made sure we all had food, general cleanliness, and clean clothes. It was busy and a lot of work, but we always knew we were working towards our goal of woods-life. Also at this time, after years of searching, we converted to the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church and we began making the hour drive to Little Rock once a week for worship, as this was the closest parish. At times, having been surprised by new friends and godparents and the joys of being closer to Jesse’s family, we often discussed if we wanted to move to Tennessee at all. We knew after the move it would be an even farther commute for church, either to Memphis or Nashville, which gave us pause.
Then we heard some exciting news from our local friends. A small group of people in and around Jackson were interested in starting a parish in their area. The result became St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. We watched this growth with excitement as Jesse finished up the final months of his nursing program. We decided once and for all we wanted to move to our Tennessee land, and a big part of that decision was because there would be a church community close by.
Jesse graduated, applied for jobs, and was hired on at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. We planned our move with joy and yet some trepidation. We longed to be out on our land and to start building a house, but our land didn’t even have a driveway, much less water, electric, or septic. And it seemed like we would never be able to save if we were also paying rent. So we decided to pour all our remaining funds into a 1993 fifth-wheel trailer. At this point our friends on the land had already built their house and very generously agreed to let us park our “white whale” of a trailer in their driveway. It was supposed to be for a few months until we could put in our own utilities and move it onto our land.
Then we hit some setbacks. The reality of the costs of a drive and utilities and all the development needed on the land were much higher than first thought. And to complicate things, our cheap trailer proved rife with complications. With the first big rain we realized the slide-out leaked. We pulled open low storage compartments and could see the ground below. A very temperamental water heater resulted in interesting baths and showers (hot, cold, burning, freezing). There was a snake that our investigative beagle found taking up residence under our trailer. Unfortunately, once the snake was “dealt with” we began to have mice. At that point we wished we had the snake again. And the fridge didn’t work.
But on the upside, there were also clear skies, shining stars, and campfires. There was the joy of seeing our kids run through the woods and play for hours on end. There were turtles, and toads, and fireflies, and cicadas—which as a non-Southerner I still marvel at.
Then two months into our trailer life I found out I was pregnant with our fourth child. It was a joyful surprise, but we also knew we needed a new housing situation stat, before my belly outgrew the trailer’s bathroom door. With the acceptance that the money to build a home was still a few years away, we decided to buy a home in Jackson. At first we were sad to have come so close to the land only to move away from it. But living in the trailer gave us a new appreciation for living in a house, and we purchased a lovely 1930’s home in the LANA neighborhood. We were amazed at the ten-foot ceilings. Compared to the trailer it was like moving into the Taj Mahal.
It’s now been two years since we moved into Jackson. Our beagle and other dog have begrudgingly accepted leashed walks instead of acres of woods to romp through. Our children enjoy seeing the ducks at Campbell Lake or playing with other kids on the sidewalks and the street (which kids still do in our neighborhood). We love getting donuts and farm-fresh milk at the farmers’ market. When we first moved in a neighbor told me, “People around here think that North Jackson is the best part of town, but we just let them think that. Really, we have the best part right here.” And I’m inclined to agree. Best of all, we love that we’ve found a loving parish home here in Jackson at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. (As a side note, if you’re curious about who the real St. Nicholas was, check out our St. Nicholas Festival on December 10.)
Do we still long for our green acres and country life? Yes, but we’ve also found a wonderful community here in Jackson, and we are happy to be in the middle of it. And really, in the end, even Thoreau in the midst of his wilderness solitude (which was only a mile and a half outside of Concord, Massachusetts) still ate dinner at his friend’s houses in town often enough. So who says you can’t have both? That’s my family’s eventual goal—country life but near the city. And if we ever make it to our land, we’re thankful it’s close to Jackson.
Elaine Cox is a writer and homeschooling mother of four. She lives in Jackson with her family, a good dog, a less-than-good dog, and two to five outside cats (the ownership of cats being a fluid thing).