Beloved Little Hill

I chose the email address belovedlittlehill for one reason. My first name, Amy, means beloved and my mom’s maiden name Barry is another term for little hill.  Even though that’s not my legal last name, I wanted a way to have a connection with that part of my family.  Since then, beloved little hill has come to mean more than that. It represents my connection to my much beloved Black Hills of SD. I was born there and it will always be my home. In another post I listed what I’ve found to be my key components of Happiness. The Black Hills has been a primary factor in what makes me happy. As odd as it may sound hilly forests play a big part in my sense of well-being. It’s a connection that seems foreign to some but I’ve known other people, who’ve grown up in the mountains, express the same feelings of needing that rejuvenation that such places provide. This doesn’t mean that I’m miserable everywhere else. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like other places or that I feel superior for being from the hills. Beyond simply preferring the visual geography of forested hills, I feel more whole and balanced when I’m among them. Because I lived there, the Black Hills specifically played BIG part in shaping me.

As a child I was bound to that that area by my dearly loved family. I spent summers and holidays on the Barry farm. When I think of the happier moments of my childhood it often took place on those visits, playing with my cousins, spending hours outside lost in imagination and exploring nature, or learning domestic skills at my grandma’s side. Sometimes, the things that she introduced me to are the ones I’ve developed and what keeps me going. They lived an hour drive from the hills, close enough that one can still see the hills nearly the whole way. Another fond memory is the many drives my mom and I took through the hills. Sometimes we’d play tourist at one the many tourist spots. Keystone taffy, Mt. Rushmore, needles highway, grazing buffalo, Roughlock Falls, and reptile gardens were frequent destinations as I grew up. The drives themselves took us by towering granite rocks, beautiful mountain lakes, warm scented pine, and clear blue skies.

In High School I became active in the Wesleyan Church. I’d attended churches before and had fond memories of Vacation Bible School as a kid. I decided to go because a new friend invited me and because I’d considered myself a Christian even though I didn’t have a church home. My new friend became my best friend and that church became my home church. Not long after I joined, the location of the church switched to a camp nestled in the hills. I met new friends and we made fantastic memories of exploring the hills and cave systems but a lot of our time revolved around church. I was active in the youth group, attended camp, and became camp a counselor. All this took place in that beautiful secluded location. While my spiritual-self did grow in the church services it was the actual location itself where I developed a deep connection to Spirit. Christianity provided the framework but my time alone in nature filled in all the spaces. On the property, there were lovely paths and striking rock formations to explore but a favorite spot for many was a rocky cliff that overlooked a tree-filled valley. To get there, one had to a follow a path through trees and native grasses. I would walk to that cliff, picking up small stones along the way. When I got to the overhang I’d sit (or lie) on one of the large flat boulders and listen to the wind and wildlife and breathe in pine air. I’d think about everything and I’d let my emotions flow through me. If I was holding onto a thought or emotion that was getting me down, I’d infuse it into one of those small stones and toss it into the valley as a symbol of my release. Sometimes I went there with friends and we’d talk and laugh and just hang out in a really beautiful setting. I’d even sit there enjoying the stillness of the night in wonder of the vastness and sparkle of the sky. Immersing myself in nature, especially among the trees and cliffs, was like coming home.  Problems seemed smaller and I felt everything was as it should be. Later I drifted further away from a Christian based spirituality though still consider some of its key teachings as a core to my beliefs. But nature has stuck fully with me. Nature is my church and I feel free to worship however I wish. When my emotions feel in turmoil, or when my brain can’t see past my problems, all I have to do is take a walk in the woods and my spirit is soothed and my mind sorts itself out.

Despite the beautiful things the Hills offered, I did eventually wish to leave them. I wanted to wander the states, and find where I fit in. Most young people are on a path that leads them away from family and the familiar, at least for a time. It’s part of growing up, gaining independence, and figuring out who you are. I felt I was the type of person who was adaptable to a variety of environments and I wanted to experience and learn from them. Over the following four and a half years I attended a very Christian University in northern Indiana, lived with family and worked a summer in SW Michigan, and married and lived with a man from Southern Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky. I was at home in those places for a good part of those years. During that time I travelled to friends’ homes in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio. I went on road trips to Florida beaches, Edebeviks in Chicago, the artsy neighborhoods of Louisville, Cornerstone Festival in Illinois, various trips to neighborhoods and shops in Indianapolis, a wedding in New Jersey, a spontaneous search for bugs through Tennessee and Georgia, a visit to a friend in Oklahoma, and various small towns and punk rawk shows in Indiana. For a May class we took a trip through Chicago and stayed at a hostel in Toronto to explore the neighborhood and the diverse churches, ministries, and outreach organizations. Finding friends in College was fairly simple. Finding places to explore nature took a little more time but once I did I felt more complete. Many of our outings and overnight trips were to a ravine, the local park, and a nature preserve. We camped and swam searched for bugs, and explored forests. It wasn’t the rocky,hilly forests I was accustomed to but I had some nature and other key components of happiness like friends, physical activity, mental growth, and a spiritual practice.

After I married we moved to Southern Indiana. Our friends and my family lived far away, we’d become disillusioned with Christianity as we knew it, and we were going to have a baby much earlier than we’d expected. Even though I’d felt at home experiencing new things, I felt myself ill prepared for this path. My life was going in a direction that didn’t feel right and it became overwhelming. Eventually we moved to the Black Hills, which was my first home yet I soon realized it didn’t feel like home anymore. Besides my mom, family wasn’t as close knit and supportive as I remembered. Cousins were busy growing up and living their own lives.  I didn’t have friends or much time and opportunity to meet and hang out with new people. I was unable to figure out how to go hiking with a baby (this was before I knew of baby carriers). I didn’t know anymore what I liked to do or what made me feel alive. I started working nights and raising a child during the day which really screwed with my stress levels and my sanity. I did try to find my spirituality again in my former church but it never clicked and my husband wasn’t interested in joining me. Over time he became uninterested in anything to do with me. I was lost. I felt completely alone. And I didn’t know who I was anymore.

Then I got sick of it. I didn’t like myself. I didn’t like the emptiness I saw reflected in my daughter. I began the search for my lost sense of purpose. I knew I had to recapture my happiness for myself but also for my young child. I read old letters from friends to remind me of a better time. I attempted to do things I knew I enjoyed, the most important being hikes in the hills. I opened myself up to meeting people I liked and who wanted to hang out with me. I made the decision to leave a sad and lonely marriage and I started reminding myself what I liked about myself. Slowly over the next 11 years I built relationships, got to know me, re-connected with nature, and put more focus on my interests.

During those eleven years I really settled into who I was and wanted to be. I had a steady boyfriend and together we explored the hills, fine-tuned our cooking, opened our house to guests, dug deeper into our spirituality, evolved as peaceful parents, set goals, discovered new hobbies, and opened our lives to 3 new kids. I committed myself to raising my kids peacefully and providing them with a well-rounded and playful education outside of the school system. Learning about homeschooling opened a whole new realm of interests. It also led me to some of the greatest people and parents I’ve met and befriended. Among these people I found a great number who shared similar viewpoints in other areas of life and who introduced us to new things. Getting to know those other great parents took place mainly at lakes and natural parks. I was once again in a setting that felt like home with people who enriched my mind and my life.

My boyfriend (who casually became my husband) and I built a home and a life in the hills. We lived nestled high in the hills. All we had to do to breathe in fresh air was open a window or step out our door. The pine trees hugged us on all sides.  Big boulders and rock crevices, which in my opinion radiate with energy, could be viewed from just about anywhere. Day hikes, a variety of swimmable lakes, and hidden picnic spots where a short drive away. One of the most memorable things about the hills was that I was able to have three children in a comfortable empowering way, with mid-wives, one of them even at home. It was not that unusual in that area to meet families who practiced natural child birth, natural weaning, and peaceful parenting. I felt comfortable knowing many people were aware and open to the idea of living in a non-mainstream way. There were a variety of social events and learning opportunities for my oldest and she tried many of them. While there weren’t a lot of kids here age who were also homeschooled using our method, there was one that was a true kindred spirit.  Before we moved I’d started meeting more and more potential friends for me and for the kids and even more learning opportunities were appearing on my radar. There was a variety of restaurants and café’s we frequented that had quality food, good service, and were child-friendly. Local and organic food was easy to come by. I considered shopping for food at local markets a social outing because the people who worked them were friendly and uplifting. In fact most people I encountered were genuinely laid back, friendly, and accepting of all walks of life. I was very much at home and comfortably happy with our life.

When he and I started having kids I became more of a homebody. We took drives, did easy hikes, and visited kid friendly lakes and parks. While I missed physically challenging myself on hikes, being at home wasn’t necessarily a problem. Even though those years, when the kids are young, seem like a long time, it’s really not. Each time one of them grew more independent so did I. Even with kids we’d still go on a few hikes, maybe not strenuous all day hikes but enough to soak in the nature. It is not always easy to see when in the deep end of diapers, short little legs, and even shorter attention spans, that they soon grow out of it and the limits of babiness gradually ends. Already, as my son, and probably my last child, is growing older, I feel the desire to escape to the woods for a while. I want to leave the kids on the beach with my oldest and canoe with my husband on a crisp mountain lake-I want to rent a cabin and have my mom come up while we have a wine dinner at Custer- I want to leave the kids with a babysitter while we scale boulders and hike steep ravines for a day. I miss being able to take the young ones stomping through a creeks, splashing in lakes, and easy treks through the woods. I was looking forward to increasing our outings as they aged. Though we were home most the time it was pretty okay because our house was still surrounded by trees and hills. I turned our small front yard into an inviting play space full of pretty edible flowers, herbs, and plants. I made peaceful areas for relaxing and stimulating environments to explore, all in a postage stamp size yard. It was perfect for young kids. We dreamed of a bigger house and a bigger lot because we wanted to provide more food for ourselves in the form of eggs, chickens and gardens. The downside to our house in the hills was the size, the lack of sunlight, short summers, limited space, and city regulations. We longed for more space for our growing family but at the same time I’d really felt like I was at home.

I’m not really sure what prompted us to move this far away; I don’t remember. Life was never an idealized version of perfect. We still wanted things. We were still human. But I consider those years to be beautiful. We grew together and we started our journey to become better versions of ourselves. I thought we had a good life. We rationalized a lot of our reasons for moving here-they were good reasons. We needed more space but couldn’t afford the prices of homes and properties in the hills. We wanted to garden but the climate and growing season and the dirt wasn’t as ideal as elsewhere. We wanted to be closer to family who could occasionally help out with the kids and be a good support network. We thought there’d be homeschool groups and learning opportunities close by. We convinced ourselves that we’d find people like us. I knew there would be a whole mess of negatives; everything from weather, to bugs, to geography, to different people. But, believing happiness comes from within, and knowing I had my favorite people with me, and being open to new adventures, I thought I could find a way to make a good life on the prairie too. All the negatives have yet to reveal their positive, and our expectations haven’t…well haven’t all lived up to our expectations. For a year I cried several times a week, it was strenuous mentally to maintain a positive attitude and a hope that I would feel at home.  The only thing that made me feel alive was going back to the hills for a visit. The winter was long and cold. Our house, though full of living things, felt empty and lonely. Minor distractions and trying to be present for my kids brought some respite and kept me going. I looked long and hard at myself and what creates happiness. I’ve come to some conclusions but for the most part I’m still not there yet. The hope that I’ll one day be able to travel to the hills often enough that I won’t feel the need to live there, comforts me. The possibilities of things we can do with our unique property motivates me. The miner distractions have evolved into bigger distractions. I have to keep myself busy with the things and projects that do bring me joy or I get depressed thinking about the life I want to have in the Hills.

Do I regret moving here? It’s hard to say at this moment. That’s not a question that can be answered easily. It’s not as simple as, “I miss the hills because they are my home.”  The reasons I miss them span the range of simple weather preferences to it being where I connect with my core spirituality. I prefer the Hills for the community, general attitudes of the people, opportunities for us as homeschoolers, and the outdoor activities. I do still have hope that it will work itself out and I’ll find my groove or at least a strong support network. I feel that at the time it was what J really wanted and seemed to bring out a life in him that was dulling. I fear that he would’ve resented me if I’d not allowed it-which is worse, regretting or being resented. I still cling to some the reasons we decided to move, though some have had to be revised, put on hold, or thrown out.  I do feel like it was a decision made too hastily. I wish that I’d looked more closely at what was so good about the Hills and if a move would really have improved our life. As my kids get older I’m afraid I’ll regret it more because of all the educational and social opportunities but I have hopes we will at least be able to travel in the future and have other great well-round and diverse experiences. With the exception of Ayan, the kids are young enough that they still primarily only need home and for now that makes it easier.

If I understood some of what I wanted for the kids throughout their lives then I probably wouldn’t have been so quick to move.  I couldn’t see it then because the kids were young and I was stuck in that moment. It was only a few short years for me to forget myself and their potential needs as homeschoolers. I believe very young kids only need a strong, enriching, and loving home-life to thrive. But as kids grow they need to expand their world by exploring outside of the home and the family.  In comparison there was much more educational and enrichment activities in close proximity.  Here we have to travel quite a distance and factors like weather, finances, and mood keeps us home most the time. In the Hills, we were starting to meet more potential friends and a really wonderful homeschooling community was being built. I was coming out of wanting to nest with the little ones and be more social able; wanting to re-connect with old friends and make stronger ties with the new ones. My oldest already had a kindred spirit to pal around with as well as opportunities for learning. She hates it here, hates it with a sadness that makes me sad for her. Hates it with the mind of the young who can’t often see beyond tomorrow nor has the wisdom of years to find the joy where it seems invisible. It’s hard for me to comfort her and help her find her happiness. I’d kinda put her homeschool needs on the back burner when I had two very young ones but we were starting to re-connect with opportunities for her too. Unlike here, there is a myriad of educational opportunities offered from an assortment of teachers and mentors-from the arts to the academic to the physical to the spiritual. There is a large all-inclusive group of homeschoolers to develop friendships and support that we no longer get to be a part of. There are pools and lakes and hills and trees and trails enough to try out and challenge ourselves in different outdoors activities. A heterogeneous population, educational experiences, and geography makes for a better homeschool learning environment.

I miss my family too. I miss my mom a lot. I’m an only child and have her only grandchildren and I really feel bad that her regular visits were taken away. I didn’t have many mom daughter issues that hadn’t been resolved so there was no need for a geographic distance. She is wonderful with the kids and so generous of her time and attention. Her grandkids will know she adores them because she gives them her full attention and is willing to just hang out with them on their terms. She is a truly nice and honest person who rarely speaks ill about anyone. She accepted my differences long ago and I’ve always felt comfortable being myself around her. I feel bad for my gram too. I wanted to help take care of her as she aged. Having little kids prevented me from doing much for a while but I helped when I could. I wanted to be there for my caretakers. I like the family I saw on a regular basis and wish I could have spent more time with them.

I miss other Hills People. The people I knew, the people I could fairly easily find anywhere, were genuine. Most people I knew were accepting of differences. Finding a tribe of like-minded people wasn’t difficult.  It’s frustrating to start from scratch to build a network of supportive, alternative-living friends and frankly I fear there isn’t much for that kind of network here, certainly not in the area of homeschooling (non-religious based), attachment parenting, and organic/natural living. The hills seemed to attract an eclectic group people and so people were fairly tolerant of differences. My hope is that we will eventually find a network of diverse, genuinely kind, supportive, and accepting people here.

I also love the outdoors and though summer is longer here, it’s also humid and so buggy my skin crawls.   I am trying to create a space outside where we feel comfortable enough to relax and to explore. It’s actually one of the distractions that keep me motivated to stay in my happy place. It can be hard when my skin itches every night and the house has to be shut up to keep the stickiness out. Even when the house is open, the smell is different-not all bad though sometimes it smells like swamp.  We’ve made some improvements. Being able to work outside is a key factor in maintaining my well-being. I’m excited with each natural play-space created and the fresh homegrown food. Gardening is therapy. Watching chickens is some of the best entertainment. Creating natural places to immerse ourselves in gives me joy.  I’m thankful we have large lot, a spacious home, and a unique out building (an old church) with lots of potential. I like imagining and carrying out plans to make it ours.

I don’t hate it here. Not all the time. My heart feels heavier and the landscape doesn’t bring the joy of a hilly region. But I can find things here that I love. I hold onto hope that we will still be able to offer the kids a lot of unique opportunities as they grow and want more from their life then our home. I’m thankful my mom is healthy enough to visit and that technology allows us to skype once in awhile. I appreciate that we have a lovely home and gardens and food on the table. I’m genuinely happy for J that he has many of the things he’s wanted for a long time. This is where he grew up and I imagine for him, the comfort of the prairie, brings him the same kind of comfort that the Hills bring me. But I am a Hills girl. It’s not an easy label to explain and it’s hard not to offend the people who don’t get it. I wasn’t happy there 100% of the time but I felt like I had more of the building blocks to create my happiness. In another post I talk about those building blocks  to my happiness. I came up with them after a period of great sadness and deep reflection. They are: feeling a part of a community and having a support network, mental growth and creative outlets, physical health and being active, a spiritual practice, a love for self and confidence, and finding happiness from within. I felt like I had those things in the Hills, maybe not all the time but I at least knew where to find them there. Even if I can eventually find all the components here, I will always be strongly connected to and think of home as The Black Hills, my beloved little hills.

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