We moved from South Hampton, NH, to Newton Junction, NH, when I was three years old. Both houses were on quiet, wooded streets… and both were colonial houses with sloping floors and multiple additions over their years, and both had large old barns… and bats.
My dad taught American history and my mom worked for the agency that accredited secondary schools. They were products of elite schools, my mom went from Abbot (now part of Phillips Andover) to Brown, and my dad from Governor Dummer (now The Governor’s Academy), to Colgate and then Brown, where they met, for his graduate work. How we ended up in small towns in rural New Hampshire is still a little murky to me, but I grew up wandering the woods of Newton Junction…building tree forts, following old train track beds, and falling into icy ponds as one does.
Things went upside down around 1983 when the local schools started to come up short in my parents’ estimation, and off I went to private school. By that time my father had become a successful antiques dealer, turning his interest in history into a passion for historical objects that still drives him today… and there were funds available to edumacate me in a manner that seemed suited to my particular curiosities. I donned a sport coat and tie and set about learning how money moves the world.
In the following years I got learned in all manner of subjects… and part of me got smarter while I slowly lost my connection to the natural world of my youth.
I lived in Newburyport, MA, near the ocean for years, but rarely made it to the coast. The city has protected parks and forests and occasionally I would wander wooded trails without being able to connect to anything beyond the demands of life… which eventually included ex-wives, children, running a busy recording studio, and multiple trips a month to a studio in Vermont where I was working.
In 2015 I hit a particularly dark wall, and as I was finding my way to some emotional and life clarity I discovered that the air at the ocean changed my energy. I started to breathe deeply for the first time in years, I began to listen more carefully to the waves and the wind, and I started to see trees again.
The Japanese have a term, “shinrin-yoku,” which translates to “forest bathing” and basically encapsulates the idea of allowing oneself to dwell in nature. The term was coined in 1982, just as I was leaving the woods for Latin lessons, and as a practice called “Windhaming” started to emerge (also in Japan) in which people would spend time outside whilst listening to music from a particular Palo Alto-based instrumental record company (the owner of that label later opened a recording studio in Vermont…). Curious.
Nature became central to my life, and essential to my sanity in the last several years, and as I brightened, my life took turns for the better. My quiet times breathing, taking photographs, and listening outside soon went alongside the more strenuous outdoor activities that my new girlfriend enjoyed. She invented an activity which I believe is called “let’s kill Tom” which involves me attempting to keep up with her as she runs, hikes, kayaks, or solves corn mazes.
Despite that, Sarah and I were married on the beach in May of 2021, and we started looking for a place to live that would allow us to be connected to nature without becoming disconnected from our respective familiar cities. We found a little house with a big barn in East Kingston, NH… not too far from Sarah’s Concord haunts or my coastal beaches… and we began the process of making a life here, next to a working farm and surrounded by trees.
In September of last year, just after we had signed the papers to buy the house, we stood on the balcony off the second floor of the barn at night listening to the goats next door yell at each other. They sounded a little drunk but I think that’s just what goats do. Suddenly my eyes caught a familiar shape above us in the twilight… and I was ten years old again standing outside our barn in Newton Junction. “Bats!” I pointed… and Sarah looked up. It felt like a welcoming… like a sign that I had returned home.
I wander back and forth between the house and barn multiple times a day for ear breaks (or snack breaks), and last week as I headed to the house for the night I found myself stopped in the driveway, breathing deeply while looking at Orion leaning over in the southern sky… and I realized I loved the air here. Something in those deep breaths connected me to my past, opened doors to the future, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was home.