THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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I live on a farm. A dairy farm, to be precise, with cows softly munching grass in the pasture. When I left Wyoming at 22 for the big city lights, I swore to myself that I’d never live in a no-nothing, blink-and-you-miss-it small town again. I was so happy when we crossed the state line I stopped the car to do a happy dance. I vowed I’d never live in a small town again.
The next 20 years of my life were a haze of university, first jobs, master’s degree, travel, many large cities and several different countries. I would deride small town life when I went home to visit my family, confusing snobbery with sophistication, and bragging about all the things I could get/see/do that they could not, living in the backwater they called home.
We now live in the Cotswolds, which is the west of England. It is a mere 85 miles from London but it might be a whole different world. While I can occasionally hear the traffic from the nearby motorway, there is zero light pollution and we can see the stars most nights, so bright and so close I could touch them if I jumped. We have constant birdsong and cross paths with a variety of wildlife frequently. Wild hares race in the fields, but the bunny rabbits stay near to the house; a pair of partridge lives in the wood that line the drive, and the calves are fascinated by a trio of Guinea Fowl, who clearly feel the pasture belongs to them. We see foxes, and pheasants, and many types of deer. My husband is intent on becoming a bird watcher at a semi-pro level.
When we came to look at the place, we both felt it was a bit out of the way but it offered us twice the space of our London flat for about half the cost. That’s how they get you. There was a front and back door. It had 2 gardens and room to plant vegetables. The utility room (!) is double the size of my last kitchen and has room for a washer and a dryer. Upstairs are four bedrooms (four!), all big enough to comfortably house human beings over the age of 8. The luxury of going upstairs to bed is something I’ve not had since I was 18 and left my parents’ house for university. It feels regal going up and down those stairs. In reality, it is not a huge house, especially by American standards, but it is easily the largest place I’ve lived in decades. Yet I find we spend the majority of time in one room together, and I still cook in one small corner, daring not to use the generous counter space provided. We have yet to unknot.
We duly met the landlord the afternoon we saw it and it felt as if we’d been called into the headmistress’s office. ‘What do you think? What questions do you have?’ She peppered us with practical questions. She is a very straight forward, no nonsense communicator, which I appreciate greatly. After years of re-training myself in business to spend the first few minutes of each and every interaction asking about kids and dogs and holidays before getting down to business, I find being able to have a 20 second conversation liberating. I liked her, so we signed on for two years.
The concept of farm is very different in England from where I grew up. My hometown, population 475 (yes, really) was entrenched in farming and ranching. My father was the local Massey Ferguson dealer. Everyone worked on the farm, children included. In our school, FFA + FHA were the largest school groups; Future Farmers of America and, rather worryingly, Future Homemakers of America. Baseball caps featured your tractor company of choice; blue jeans (Wranglers for work, Levis for dress occasions) always had a ring worn on the back pocket where a can of chewing tobacco was permanently installed. No one owned a new car. My first was a Ford F150 pickup that was older than I was. When I left for university in my second car, equally ancient, my sister got my truck. It only left our family when she ran into a prize steer one evening. Wildlife is dangerous where I come from, and we lost many good people to deer though the windshield. It is a wild place, Wyoming, and most people like it that way. Most.
I ran. Far and quickly, doing all I could to escape being a farmer’s wife. I worked hard to get into architecture school, harder still to graduate second in my class. I have 3 degrees and run my own business, and I live on a farm.
This, however, this is different. Farming in England is nothing I recognize. We live in the English Countryside that has been sold to Americans: rolling green fields, studded with cows and horses and many, many sheep; stone cottages with window boxes; scenic country walks that end in ancient churches; equestrian sports, not rodeo. It is bucolic, pastoral, and romantic.
Of course I said yes. I couldn’t get out of London fast enough. So now my life revolves around waking at 5am three days a week to make the commute to London. We’ve reset our biological clocks, after decades of night owl living, so we can go to bed at 10pm. Alarms are religiously set and checked each night, for there is no rushing into work quickly now. Why are we doing this, I ask myself. Why make our lives even harder and more exhausting? And then I look at my husband, happily pulling weeds, breathing deeply and contentedly, as I’ve never seen him do, and I know why.
Welcome to Cotswold Farm, population 8, average age 70.
If you found this article interesting ... check out Beth telling us about moving to the UK and becoming an interior designer in My Expat Life