Adin Murray and Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop at their home in Cape Ann, Massachusetts
Getting lost in one of Adin Murray’s expansive realist landscape paintings, it is hard to believe he ever lived within the confinements of a city. Adin and his wife, novelist Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop, had spent almost a decade living in the culturally rich and historic city of Savannah, Georgia when they began to think about making a move. When they found out their daughter Hazel was on the way, they decided that moving closer to relatives would be the best option for their growing family. Elizabeth was born and raised in New York City and Adin had spent most of his adult life living in one major metropolis after another. Moving to a small town in coastal Massachusetts was an exciting expedition but it came with many unforeseen bumps in the road. The couple bought an old farmhouse and discovered when making a few cosmetic changes that it was in need of pretty extensive repair. For two years Adin, Elizabeth, and baby Hazel lived out of boxes and family members' guest rooms while the house was being brought back to life. When the remodel dust had settled, the couple finally had a chance to plant roots and make their new house feel like home. Settling into country life and life as new parents wasn’t easy. Because both Elizabeth and Adin work from home, they had to adjust to the juggling act of both parenting and working, all in one space. Now, several years in, they have finally begun to adapt to the rhythms of country life. Adin and Elizabeth feel constantly inspired by their natural surroundings. Elizabeth’s latest novel The Why of Things takes place in their small community of Cape Ann. Adin no longer needs to go for long scouting expeditions, as there are endless painting opportunities within a few miles of their home: woods, marshlands and ocean vistas. The distinctive New England seasons are constantly transforming his landscapes and vantages. Although settling into the slower pace of country life, all the while learning the ropes of parenting, was certainly a hurdle, this highly creative and accomplished couple continues to blossom in their new surroundings. Raising their daughter, writing new novels and painting new works, all while being immersed in the quiet and inspiring wilderness that surround them.
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Q & A
What inspired you to move to the country?
After the better part of a decade living in the southern city of Savannah we decided it was time for a change. What that change would be exactly we really didn't know and then we discovered that a new baby (a first baby) would be part of the calculus. In the end we decided that being close to family was going to be important, so we headed back to the Northeast. After toying with the idea of Vermont, we both agreed that the ocean would have to be part of the equation, so to the coast we went.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
For us the hardest thing was being unable to make a smooth transition from one home to another. We bought an 18th century farmhouse that we quickly discovered would require a lot more work than either of us had anticipated or were able to do ourselves. So began a restoration and renovation project that took quite some time. Thanks to family we were lucky enough to have places to stay in the meantime, but we were essentially living out of boxes for the better part of two years, with most of our belongings in storage. We were not able to jump into our new country life and that made the move a lot harder. Add to this the considerable learning curve that comes with being a new parent and we often found ourselves questioning the wisdom of our decision making process.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
Adin: The Ticks! As a kid growing up in the Northeast I would spend all day in the woods playing and find nary a tick. The woods around our home now are infested with ticks. It is almost laughable how common they are here (laughable except for the fact that they harbor such terrible diseases). I think having a small child intensifies our repulsion towards them.
Elizabeth: In terms of expectations, I don’t think we really had any specifically. There weren’t any real surprises or disappointments; just differences, which is really what we were after.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Adin: Shoveling snow, especially this winter, has felt like a full-time job. In Savannah dealing with snow was obviously never an issue. There are lots of other new considerations, like remembering to regularly check the levels on the propane tanks, getting the septic tank pumped, making sure the generator is working properly before a storm and figuring out how much firewood we need over the course of the burning season. These were not concerns we had living in the city.
Elizabeth: I think for both of us the hardest thing to get used to was having to drive everywhere. One of the really nice things about city living is that you can walk to the grocery store, walk to the bookstore and walk to get coffee. It gets old having to climb in and out of the car every time you need something.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
That is something we discuss quite a bit. I think we would consider it under the right circumstances.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Adin: There is a wonderful quality to the solitude here. Being able to walk outside and be surrounded by nature instead of the built environment. Dark skies on cloudy nights and stars on clear nights, tracking the moon across an unobstructed sky. I love living in close proximity to a myriad of wildlife. Listening to the sounds of the ocean rising over the crest of the nearby ridge and sometimes with it the moaning of a bell buoy. Simply enjoying the ‘silence’ that is not at all silent. All sort of cliché but rightly so.
Elizabeth: If you catch me at the wrong moment, like anytime in late February or early March, I’d say I hate winter, but in fact I love all the seasons. I love how much more drastically they manifest in a natural, as opposed to an urban setting. I love the way things measurably change from week to week: the light, the air, the leaves, the colors, the smells, the birds that frequent the trees in our yard and the way the ocean transforms. Here the seasons are so distinct and I feel immersed in them.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
I think that really depends on what kind of rural setting one is thinking of relocating to, but overall I think you have to be prepared to be a little more (or a lot more) self-sufficient. Don’t expect it to be a panacea; whether in the city or the country, life has its ups and downs. Finally, get yourself a good shovel and something to cut grass with.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Walk. Get a good coffee. And, ironically, go to the farmers market.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Adin: From my surroundings.
Elizabeth: It might seem strange, but I draw my inspiration and passion from the work itself, once it takes off. I have the hardest time starting new things because I’ll sit around waiting for that “aha” moment when inspiration strikes and it doesn’t ever happen. I’ve got to force myself to write, and in that act (and only in that act) I’ll make an exciting discovery about a character or a plot point that inspires me to go on.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
Adin: Yes, but I do not think it has as much to do with the move as it does with being a parent.
Elizabeth: Agreed. We thought it would be ideal, having a child with both of us working at home. In fact, it is really, really hard to get as much work done as I think either of us would like. But that’s the trade-off for getting to spend so much important and fleeting time with her.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Adin: My studio and looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Get as much work done and be the best parents as possible.