Homesickness, home buying, trade-offs, and change

Buying our first home has been an emotional rollercoaster.

Maybe that’s an understatement.

I’ve cried a lot. I’ve felt bliss, comfort, happiness, terror, anticipation, exasperation, exhaustion, elation, motivation, apathy, depression… the whole range of emotions, and often all of them in a single day.

People on social media love to portray buying a home as fun and exciting – and for us, some of it definitely has been – but no one shares pretty pictures of trade-offs, the hard parts, or the intensity of major change, especially in the way we’ve experienced it over the last few years. Rarely does anyone talk about factoring in climate change, or homesickness for another continent. Since 2018 we’ve occupied three different countries, living four vastly different lifestyles. Every move, although by choice, has been unmooring, especially with COVID thrown into the mix of the last one.

(Side note: I dream of San Francisco around times of big change. I dream of the architecture, of walking the streets with friends, of the logistics of getting from one part of the city to another. I dream of walking to and from work in the Mission District. I dream of being on Ocean Beach with Rigby. I frequently cry in those dreams because I’m so happy to be there.)

I’m sure that for many people buying a house really is mostly fun and exciting. My guess? The people who have a generally positive experience when buying and moving into a new place know a lot about what their future looks like. They probably know where they want to live and retire, know whether or not they want to have kids, know the area of their new home intimately, and are probably financially secure to boot. For the moment, we’re fortunate enough to be financially secure – and I can’t understate how much I’ll never take that for granted – but everything else? Pretty much TBD.

I won’t lie to myself: I’ve never felt more at home than I did among the forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes of British Columbia. I don’t know if being born there has anything to do with it, but the Pacific Northwest feels more like home than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Jesse feels it. Maybe not as intensely as I do, but he feels it.

We knew we’d miss BC when we decided to move back to Australia. We also admitted to ourselves that Australia is unlikely to be our permanent home, but that we wanted it to be our home again for a decent chunk of time.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think about the Pacific Northwest every day, or occasionally remember our life on Vancouver Island and have a solid ugly-cry. But after I cry, I remember that I’m privileged to have lived in such a beautiful place – to have breathed that air, swam in those rivers and lakes, climbed those mountains, wandered those forests, and tasted those berries… I’m lucky to truly know what home – the physical kind – feels like, and to have a passport that’ll let me go back whenever the time is right.

So, trade-off number one: Leaving the place we love (and miss, every day) to be closer to the people we love and miss.

Here in Victoria, Australia, there’s an abundance of forested areas, of alpine regions – places just as beautiful as BC. We knew this, and looked at hundreds of properties, scouring the state for areas we might want to live in. Unfortunately, we realized that trying to replicate our Vancouver Island lifestyle in Australia would mean living in heavily wooded areas, and an unacceptably high risk of losing everything – maybe even our lives – to fire.

This is the reality of climate change. It’s scary. It’s affecting our major life decisions. And even though we’re largely “fuck it, let’s do it” people, we weren’t prepared to be reckless with this.

The next option was to buy somewhere within walking distance from the ocean, but we also wanted land; to grow food, host events, and build a space that feels like a place where friends and family can relax and get away from their daily lives. For the amount of money we wanted to spend, we knew we couldn’t get land and proximity to the ocean. So we chose land. And we got lucky.

Our property is situated on a volcanic plain. It’s mostly flat, but beautiful in a way we’re only just starting to discover. We’re blessed with famously fertile soil and excellent rainfall for growing food, and we’re only 30 minutes away from the Otways – a huge stretch of rainforest that’s ready for us to explore, bordered by some of the most beautiful coastline in the world.

Trade-off number two: Forgoing the ability to walk from our doorstep into a forest or onto a beach, in favor of lower fire risk and more land.

For the last year, before moving to this property, we lived on Phillip Island. When we first moved into that rental, I felt similarly to how I’ve felt recently: unmoored, afraid that my pining for the landscape of BC would consume me. When our shipping container of everything we owned finally arrived from Canada, we spent four days straight unpacking. On the fifth day, I left the house and walked down to the beach that was closest to our place, and as I descended the stairs onto the sand–

–I reeled. It was like being on the California coast again: the powerful wind, the frothing surf, the cliffsides covered in succulents. I thought, “I don’t have a forest in my backyard anymore, but oh my god, I have this?” and I was deeply grateful for it. I cried. (Yeah, I cry a lot. Sue me.)

We walked along that beach nearly every day that we lived there. In winter, we closed our laptops at 5pm and raced down to catch the sunset. In summer, we waited until it was cool enough to leave the house, or switched to morning walks. It was our mental reset, our open space, our respite. It was our forest.

Throughout 2020, especially during lockdowns, it was a luxury I’ll never stop being thankful for. Instead of walking 500 meters from our house into miles of rainforest like we did on Vancouver Island, we walked 500 meters from our house onto miles of rugged, beautiful coastline. Its similarity to Ocean Beach, my place of renewal in San Francisco, was more comforting than I could have imagined.

When preparing to move to a 3 acre property, I assumed that I wouldn’t need another open space or forest at the end of our street, because our home would be that place of calm and relief. I was wrong – when you suddenly own 3 (mostly undeveloped) acres, all you see is the work that needs to be done for it to become that space for renewal. Planning that work is fun, but I had moments of fear: do we have to drive 30 minutes to the forest for that feeling now? Do we have to drive an hour each way to get to the beach? Are those moments of wide open spaces, or pure nature, now relegated to weekends only?

I started to become afraid that I wouldn’t find that here. But when I walked out onto the wide, flat expanse of sand towards Lake Corangamite for the first time, the tears came without warning.

“Here it is,” I whispered. And I exhaled for what felt like the first time in weeks.

Lake Corangamite is the largest permanent salt-water lake in Australia. It’s gigantic, teeming with bird life, and walking out onto the sand feels like landing on another planet. Best of all, it’s only a 3 minute drive from our front door.

Trade-off number three isn’t really a trade-off at all. We still have a place of natural beauty to escape to every day, a place that triggers awe, but it requires a short drive. This bothered us at first, as we don’t like to use the car unnecessarily. But once we reminded ourselves that we used to drive 10 minutes each way to Ocean Beach multiple times a week, and that this lake is only 3 minutes away, our guilt evaporated.

This post was an attempt to explain how intense the specific process of buying and adjusting to a new home has been for me – but, in retrospect, it’s not just the house. The house is the culmination of years of work, and represents the end of a period of frequent, major changes. It’s a proverbial stake in the ground: we’re here now, and we’re going to be here for a while. Until it feels like time to do something else.

We consciously left a part of the world that we adore to be closer to the people we love, and soon after landing in Australia, COVID took away our ability to see those people for a good chunk of time. And that was hard to reconcile for a while. Truthfully, I had a few moments where I wished we’d never left Vancouver Island. Sometimes I still do.

But I realized that if the worst had happened to any of our parents during that time, I would have preferred to be in Australia. I see things changing already, and I understand that as vaccines roll out, things will change even more and start to feel closer to normal. I’ll spend time with the people we moved home to spend time with, with increasing frequency.

Unfortunately, knowing all this on an intellectual level doesn’t change the part of my brain that, without warning, cycles through vivid, green and blue images of hiking to alpine lakes, wading across crystal-clear rivers, trudging through the forest every day with the dog, identifying mushrooms, spotting bear tracks, or dancing to techno under a full moon on the summer solstice. As much as I feel guilty admitting it when I’m so blessed, the pangs are real, and physical. I can’t change that. All I can do is let myself feel it, and be thankful that I got to live there when I did, and know that I can go back anytime.

Life is truly beautiful where we are right now. Change is revitalizing. We’re starting to settle into the house, the land, and the surrounding landscape with eager eyes and open hearts. We’re planning what to grow, and where. We live among a new kind of beauty, deserving of just as much adoration as all of the places we’ve lived before.

More than anything else, I can’t stop feeling like we’re so unbelievably fortunate to be able to do this. At all. The gratitude is frequently overwhelming. During terrifying world events, we’ve remained safe, fed, and now we’ll be able to start working towards self-sufficiency. Soon enough, we’ll be sharing what we’ve created with the people we love.

This particular emotional rollercoaster has been fucking wild. I’ll probably still cry a lot. I have plenty of change left to process, and I’ll never stop missing BC. But this new chapter? It’s already beautiful – and will only continue to become more beautiful with each passing day.