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Illustration by April Dela Noche Milne

“Send her back to the city,” five-year-old Victoria said to her mommy with a roll of her eyes. She’d been watching her favourite older cousin William playing catch and laughing uproariously with his new big-city girlfriend. They’d just moved into a small farmhouse at the edge of her family’s country property in midwestern Ontario, and she wasn’t a fan of his new squeeze.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard the story. Hard. I laughed because I remember that I’d had doubts myself when we first met. I wore Lululemon and Adidas sneakers while he wore bootcut jeans with an oversized belt buckle. I listened to rapper Machine Gun Kelly and Michael Bublé's Christmas album (in June) while he listened to country singers Luke Combs and Jason Aldean. I worked as a bartender at a wine bar in Ottawa and he’s a professional bass fisherman who can drive tractors and bale hay.

But I’m here to share how a pair of cowboy boots walked into my life and kicked the city right out of me.

“So, you’re not from the country … how does that work?” That was the first question Will’s fishing partner asked me when I met him. “It just does,” we responded in unison.

Not long after, I moved into that farmhouse on the edge of his family’s property. Of course, moving to the country required some adaptation.

I learned that barn flies can be the size of a small bird, and lack the concept of personal space even more than the average city fly. I’ve never needed a fly swatter in every room of my house before. Nor have I had to endure (on a frequent basis) the pungent aroma of freshly spread manure, mice poop in the cupboards, alien insects in every nook and cranny or the neighbourhood rooster screaming bloody murder each morning.

Charming, right? Maybe not, but the litter of fox pups I noticed one day certainly is. That’s the moment I knew I never wanted to go back to the city. I was looking out my dining room window and saw a momma fox with her five babies frolicking in the front yard. I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my life. Every day, as the sun would set, Will and I pulled chairs up to the window and watched them play for hours.

How Scopa, the Italian card game, brought us closer together

I realized too that, for the first time in a while, I’d found a sense of peace in the country. Between the fresh air and the absence of cars, people and noise, how could you not? My new favourite pastime became climbing up to the roof with a mug of tea and watching the sky as it transitioned from blue to the perfect mix of pink, purple and orange. When I’m up there, I feel like I’m on vacation, having to soak up every second of serenity before going home. Then I remember I am home and that I can watch that perfect sunset (sunrises too but let’s be honest, I don’t see many of those) every day. I love the whisper of the trees that surround me as they dance in the wind and the smell of earth and fresh air. Sometimes you can hear coyotes and their pups howling in the distance or watch the barn cats as they gallop around chasing field mice. On a clear night, I can see thousands and thousands of stars.

One morning, a little Calico kitten waltzed into the garage while I was organizing our things. She was so tiny, so friendly and had an eye infection. Will wasn’t home that day and I chose to ignore his voice in my head reminding me that barn cats are not pets. I took it upon myself to treat her eye and feed her the last can of tuna we had in the cupboard. One thing led to another and the cat had a name and a corner in the garage for her food and water dish, a scratching pole, bed, blanket, toys and litter box.

“The cat will never be allowed in the house,” Will said for weeks. “Okay,” I’d reply with a calculating grin. Charlotte “KiKi” McFarlane is now a full-time indoor cat who walks around like she pays rent and lays on the couch like she bought it.

My grandkids don’t know how to play outside and it’s maddening

I never imagined that country life would be my life, but ever since I took a risk and moved away from the comfort of the city, I quickly realized that so-called “comfort” translated to chaos. I’m grateful for making a move that provides me with the space to dream, grow and achieve. Most of us are so comfortable with familiarity that we’re unable to recognize that we’re holding our own selves back.

Here I feel like I can finally breathe. I feel like my senses are heightened, my patience is stronger and my happiness more prominent; it was a change I didn’t even know I needed.

Madeleine White lives in the Township of Guelph/Eramosa, Ont.

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