One Landscape Does Not Fit All

That’s what our favorite landscapes can be if we let them — whether we come to mountain or ocean, craving connection or solitude — they are the places that allow us to push past the boundaries, into the new territory of ourselves.

Cameron Walker, “These Are a Few of Our Favorite Places”

* * *

Cameron Walker has an essay at The Last Word on Nothing on the connections between personalities and landscapes, specifically flat and mountainous ones.

She notes recent studies in which psychologists have found that extroverts tend to prefer the ocean, while introverts prefer mountains. The research also suggests that introverts tend to live in mountainous states rather than flat ones.

I’ve been thinking about landscapes over the past year, wondering what the ideal plot of land for our tiny house on wheels looks like. In the beginning, I thought I knew. I envisioned different scenarios in my head, inspired by the images on sites like Tiny House Swoon, from cute A-frame cabins in the woods to minimalist micro-houses on picturesque grounds. Sifting through people’s pinned dreams on Pinterest boards have also fed and shaped these romantic images.

Surely, this is what home looks like: a little house perfectly located along a river, on a private shore. No neighbors. No wires or hoses in the background. No obstructions of a beautiful view. An idyllic plot of land — completely accessible, totally affordable. A piece of the earth, just for us. Right?

At the beginning of February, after coming up empty in Craigslist and online searches and a number of dead ends through our blog’s contact form, we came to a point where we needed to aggressively search for land — and reach out to everyone we knew in the hope that there’s someone who might know someone who might know someone who had a suitable property, and were also open to this unique hosting arrangement. And when we began to visit potential places, I realized some of the unspoiled versions of home that I’d shaped in my head were not realistic — nor what I needed or wanted.

* * *

Walker lives near the sea in Santa Barbara and, contrary to what the research shows, loves the ocean despite being an introvert. I, too, am an introvert, yet also love living near the Pacific. I don’t think you can be a native Californian and not love the ocean, or at least I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t. No matter where wanderlust has taken me, I’ve always wanted to settle near the water, whether it be the ocean, a bay, or a river. But I’m not attracted to lakes, as I prefer water that travels the expanse of a region — that opens up possibilities, that breathes and changes just as we do.

russian river kayaking
Kayaking along the Russian River in Sonoma County, California.

A few years ago, Nick and I stayed at an Airbnb listing on the Russian River, just outside the town of Duncans Mills. We loved this riverfront property, owned by a kind couple who let us use their kayaks and, upon checking out, gave us a gigantic squash and other goodies from their garden. When we started our tiny house journey, I envisioned their patch of land, steps from the river that I love, when I first imagined a location to park. I’ve grown attached in this way to other properties — rural and romantic, worthy of swoon — but not because they are the perfect places to live, as I understand now that perfect does not exist, but because I just haven’t seen enough. It’s one thing to bookmark pictures on the internet of adorable 150-square-foot homes strategically placed in fields; it’s quite another to scout around for such a setting in person. If you have the money to buy paradise yourself, great. If you don’t, you need to know or find people who are open to sharing their land with you. Design blogs and Pinterest boards aside, these locations aren’t simply for the taking.

We considered one piece of land in the woods, on a ridgetop in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was undeveloped, a bit wild, and away from the main house, amongst gorgeous old trees. The closest town was down the mountain — less than ten minutes by car on a winding road, yet the grounds felt quite remote. Before we even viewed the property, I pictured our tiny house, snug in the middle of a forest. I might have imagined the cottage that the fairies lived in when they raised Sleeping Beauty, or a cabin I’d seen on a recent Tiny House Hunters, or a combination of the two. It doesn’t matter what exactly I saw in my head, but I had preconceptions of what life in the woods might be like.

I think about this plot of land in the context of the research study. Being an introvert, I like the idea of retreating into the mountains: the cover and shelter of magnificent trees, and finding one’s place deep in the woods. Blanketed in mountain fog, above everything. But when we walked around, I learned something about myself: I didn’t actually like being up here. All these trees, beautiful as they were, swallowed me whole. The forest made me feel claustrophobic. I recognize this feeling from the weekends we’ve spent over the years in Lake Tahoe, in California’s Sierra Nevada, and atop the slopes of mountains. It’s one of the reasons why I have a fear of skiing.

On top of the world. Unable to escape.

We crossed this place off our list, but I began to learn what I really need — and that I don’t want to live in the mountains after all.

* * *

ras shaitan
Where desert meets sea: Ras Shaitan on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

Walker talks to science writers about the appeal of flat, open spaces, from plains to deserts. I haven’t spent much time in deserts, though feel vulnerable just thinking about them. Nick, having lived in Egypt for a good while, tells me of his love and appreciation for a landscape that, while inhospitable, allows you to go deeper within yourself in a way unlike the sea.

In our search for land, we had early leads on a 43-acre Sonoma vineyard near the town of Petaluma, and an organic farm on the Santa Barbara coast. These flat, open landscapes are comforting because they’re familiar, but also because their expansiveness is liberating: I would love to look out of my kitchen window and see rows of Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes. Or to sit on my front porch, sip a beer, and hear the Pacific. It’s important to feel at peace within that transitional space between inside and outside.

Residing along the ocean is different from living in other flat, open spaces, like the farms we considered. You live on the edge of the world, always staring off into elsewhere, at once empowered yet insignificant. Like me, Nick loves the sea. I first felt this when we hiked along the coast of Cornwall in southwest England, when we’d decided to spend a week together after just five encounters; and on a boat off the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, as he stood at the bow for hours, watching for whales. We both need to be close to water, so we’re lucky to be currently near the Pacific.

The coast of Cornwall near Bude, England.
The coast of Cornwall near Bude, England.

Over the past month, we narrowed our search to Sebastopol in Sonoma County, near Sonoma and Napa, the towns along the Russian River, and Bodega Bay and the coast. We visited a few lovely farms, full of animals, teeming with wildlife, and surrounded by protected wetlands. The more properties we saw, the easier it became to visualize what we were looking for: the type of flat, open space that Walker and others describe. But it wasn’t just a certain kind of landscape. Our tiny house, at 131 square feet, will simply be the innermost core of our world. And so we seek a connection to the plot itself: the immediate area surrounding us, the very dirt under our feet. I want to be able to open my front door and feel that the landscape before me is also home.

The first location we’ve decided to park is off a country road and up a small hill: it’s private yet open, while the dedicated plot for the house overlooks a valley and a neighbor’s pasture in the distance. My view out of the kitchen window, as I wash dishes, will not be so different from some idyllic settings I’ve envisioned. But it’s not perfect. No place is perfect.

And after this process, I realize that perfect is not what I seek. Thinking about Walker’s essay, our location mixes elements of both flat and mountainous landscapes, which I love. Yes, I’m an introvert, and I might prefer this or that. But the places we inhabit both reflect and shape us. It’s natural to seek these variations in the landscapes we call our own, which ultimately give us the space to grow.

You can read more about our tiny house in the Tiny Thoughts category.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

I am an editor at Longreads. For over a decade, I've worked on curation, editing, and storytelling projects across Automattic, including

68 thoughts on “One Landscape Does Not Fit All

  1. That photo of people (you?) paddling made me remember when my girlfriend and I just had met and went on a canoe trip with some of my friends. Such nice memories.
    Nice read and nice thoughts.

  2. Reading this really got me reflecting on my own experience and consideration about landscape and personality. I live in a mountain area, and my oh my I love it so! I also very much enjoy/ed Sonoma County when I visit/ed for its wondrous ocean-side drive and view hwy 1. Sometimes I’m an introvert, I am a writer, sometimes an extrovert, I am very passionate and social, outgoing and a performer, but I suppose those things happen on the time in which I know how to ride in my element from an introverted place into the outer-world. I don’t know how much about the psychological aspects around internal and external I vibe with. I know for sure I wouldn’t do well in Washington because it’s too cloudy, I know I need sunlight to feel good and strong and able. I really appreciated the end of the article, on, that no place will be perfect, and that’s how I feel too. That life is about the journey and the journey is imperfect and somehow by life being about the journey, striking a middle-ground with the realities of imperfection, allows the whole thing to flow just as it is, but with a touch of humor and gentleness. I too am nomadic. Live from place to place, most of my jobs have been a live-in care-person, which, as a job, it doesn’t last long, usually. So I have found myself in the transience of houses, while retaining home where it matters most, within. Thanks for posting – it was really heart-felt and inspiring.

  3. Where I call home is more important to me than nearly anything else I can think of, and I have lived in more places than I’ve had hot dinners.
    I crave solace, and as a writer and an introvert this comes as no surprise. But I need a connection to nature and animals–all the elements and every season. I need weather, not climate. I need a sky full of motion and shades of unimaginable green. I need soil that suffuses the air with heady and memory-inducing scents. I’m drawn to the sound of water and a landscape that is continually shifting and fluid. Life that is static crushes my creativity.
    I so enjoyed your post on searching for this new landscape, and determining where you both see yourselves finding contentment. It resonated to the bone, Cheri. Every word of it.

    1. So happy to hear this resonated with you. I love what you say about needing a landscape that is fluid and continually shifting — and how stagnation can crush your creativity. I feel the same!

  4. It sounds very familiar to me. I live where landscapes are a breath of nature and I’m used to life with mountains and water everywhere. It’s amazing! Good luck searching for your ideal place (and congratulations on your incredible writing).

  5. Wow! Good thoughts, good photography! I found your blog and immediately got curious with both the featured photo and the title of the post. Ive been here in Switzerland, which is a very very lovely place for about two years now and although it is very very lovely, I still find myself longing for something out there. sigh.

  6. Finding that ‘perfect place that does not exist’ has been one of my favorite journeys in life. I have many different ideas of a perfect place and location, and for the most part all incompatible ~ although residing in Big Sur overlooking the Pacific (if it was possible to transport such a scene up to the Pacific Northwest…) is my biggest want in life. But great places do exist, and when found it is one of the best feelings ever. I have found a few, as you say, “places that allow us to push past the boundaries” is where to be. Cheers to your dreams ~

    1. Big Sur is one of those majestic places, isn’t it? I love driving down the coast and stopping along the ocean at various points (have you stopped/eaten/had a drink or coffee at Nepenthe?). Or wandering into the Henry Miller Library, or going to the Big Sur Bakery, or taking friends who are visiting California to the waterfall that spills out onto the sea, or camping at Pfeiffer Big Sur. Strangely, though, I cannot envision actually living in Big Sur — and I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because Big Sur feels too grand and wild — a place that simply cannot be tamed, and perhaps cannot be “claimed” as home. (If that makes any sense.) And yet people live there, along the sea, overlooking the ocean, or in the woods. I agree with you: it’s such an amazing place.

      1. Nothing quite like Big Sur. My first visit there, early one morning I got my coffee and headed outside to watch the clouds swoop in off the Pacific, and then a doe and her fawn walked by ~ definitely not Hong Kong. I think you are right about Big Sur and its grandness as living there would swallow up the spirit; to visit, though, is energizing and makes the mind think of ways to replicate such beauty in our own lives. It is interesting you say this, as when we were there we all thought it strange that there was not this sense of community.

  7. Wonderful journey. It’s a beautiful planet and we can never see all of it in our short lives but we can experience other parts of it through accounts like yours.

  8. Beautiful, in your constant thoughts of what feels right to you and your understanding that those “perfect” “swoon” photographs are but a moment captured, not a lifetime.

    My husband and I just uprooted our family from Southern California (it has been about 8 months). We were so unhappy with so much. We left our house, his tenured faculty job, leading a life that looked perfect on paper. We jumped to Humboldt County, I only knew of the incredible redwoods here. I cried when I got out of the car as my neck stretched back as far as it could to take in the expanse of the forest and feel it holding me. I had no idea how close to the coast we would be here, it is like my mind still has a hard time putting the two landscapes together.

    I am on the cusp of an introvert and and extrovert and so the trees/mountains in one direction and the ocean in the other (both easily accessible) feels like a beautiful balance. When I feel like I need to be exposed and open I head to the beach, when I need the comfort of the trees I walk among the giants. Everyday there is an element of nature layered into our day, what a gift.
    Good luck with your new place to land, I commend you on continuing to learn before just settling and parking your thoughtfully constructed tiny home. That is really remarkable. I am looking forward to following your journey!

    1. Everyday there is an element of nature layered into our day…

      This is a lovely thought, and really what I’m looking forward to in our own journey and this specific location we’re going to call home. I work from home full-time, and I often find myself never leaving the house all day. It’s a bad habit and routine, and there’s really no excuse — I could always sit out in my parents’ garden (our current temporary location) or work in a cafe or head into our coworking office in San Francisco. But I’ve been craving something different, and also interested in reshaping the very space I live and work in a way that allows me to experiment. Your words and own move out of Southern California and into the redwoods inspire me.

      1. Thank you for such a lovely response. That is such a nice thing to know that you found some inspiration in our story. Feeling and allowing the outside in, each day is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. I hope this next place you call “home” makes that easier for you. Enjoy the ride 🙂

  9. I would have to say that I am an introvert, but that my favourite landscapes tend to be of the ocean. I think that we should consider each person’s upbringing – I am a sea-dog through and through and have been in the waves since I was young. For me, the ideal landscape is a wild, tortured sea with absolutely no-one in sight…I can almost feel the wind on my cheek

  10. It’s very interesting to think about the meanings we make out of our surrounding environments. Having lived in rural contexts my entire life, this sort of environment not only has a nostalgia for me but furthermore reproduces the sense that ideal nature is woody, green, and mostly void of people. As I know I will likely be moving to a city in the future, I hope to find this is mostly socially-constructed and that I can find a sense of place somewhere so far out of my comfort zone!

  11. I agree with your sentiments. I don’t understand this need to box us and our personalities into predictable extrapolations of what we would choose. I am an introvert and love both the mountains and the sea. I find the nature in both to be overwhelming and awe-inspiring. There is so much to see and do, also the solitude and quiet are refreshing.

    I grew up in the city and don’t long for it like a lot of kids growing up in the country do. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so much of it that I don’t want to live in it. Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the luxuries of city living or the architecture. I just prefer the more natural areas, in order to live a life that makes me feel the most content.

    Also, things change with age. The older you get, your priorities shift and then you find there are other things you prefer. As the saying goes… “Never say never”.
    Be open to what may come and enjoy!

    1. I have to agree with you talesofaravingknitter. I find myself in a paradox, as an introvert with an extroverted career. I enjoy helping others and this career path has really exposed me to situations I would normally avoid. It has opened up a part of me that I did not feel brave enough to discover in my own social obstacles, but felt a necessity to suck it up and do so for work–and the sake of helping others. It has done so much for me in many ways, but I have also discovered on many occasions that I really am no longer ashamed of being an introvert. I love it actually! I am happier with this balance I am currently creating in ways of exposing myself to new experiences, but if I could find myself in an introverted career someday I think I would be happiest.

      I love how this article screams: go out there and find out for yourself what is right for you! The only way you will know whether you fit the norm is to try it out and the only way you will know what really is the best fit is to expose yourself to those situations. Also, this response is as much for you as it is for cherilucasrowlands. Thank you for writing such a great article! I loved your writing, themes, photos, and the topic of tinyhouses! 😀

  12. I am not an extrovert at all but always crave to feel the solitude of the sea. It’s roaring presence gives me the chance to engage myself in a self involved introspection.

  13. Well, they say life is an interesting ride. I like both places. I am in love with the sea, and I also adore the mountains. Funny, but oh well. Everyone is a bit different I suppose, and that is what makes things interesting. This was a great piece you wrote. I enjoyed reading it.

  14. Beautiful post, truly inspiring. I heard about this same study on the radio fairly recently, and was somewhat surprised; I’m an introvert who, if asked the “oceans or mountains” question, would choose the ocean in a heartbeat. Though I also like mountains, and deserts for that matter…

    No place is perfect, but it’s the vast diversity of regions that makes this world so amazing. There’s so much to find in every corner of it!

  15. This was such a beautifully written post (and very enjoyable to read). I loved the idea of extroverts and the ocean versus introverts and the woods. I’d like to think I’m similar to you, living in Huntington Beach I’m practically living on the beach but I’m an introvert. I love how you stated our inhabited areas reflect as well as shape us 🙂

  16. Interesting that extroverts tend to prefer mountains and introverts oceans. Is there any studies on the preferences for people who are both extroverted and introverted? I like oceans most, but am about equal when it comes to extraversion and introversion.

    1. I didn’t explore the research study in depth — and don’t do this sort of research on my own — so I don’t know if there are related studies looking specifically at people who are both intra/extraverted.

      Also, just to clarify, the research suggests the opposite of what you wrote (extroverts prefer the ocean; introverts gravitate to the mountains).

      Thanks for reading.

  17. Such an interesting topic… We decided to buy our home in an old neighborhood near a downtown. We both love the California coast, but would find it somewhat lonely to live on it and I also need a flat expanse to look over. The redwoods are lovely but I don’t want to live in them. There’s always a trade off — no one place has everything. It’s more productive to think in terms of real moods and visceral reactions in a landscape, as you did. Otherwise we are all slaves to a sort of Sunset magazine aesthetic of pre-processed notions of beauty. It’s not just landscape, but community that warms our lives. A view only goes so far. You will be neighbors now, as we live in Santa Rosa.

    1. Otherwise we are all slaves to a sort of Sunset magazine aesthetic of pre-processed notions of beauty.

      I love this line! So true. Your comment on how it’s not just landscape, but community that affects us and warms our lives also resonates. The property we’ll live on is owned by a lovely couple, and they have someone already living on the property in another tiny house — I’ve never shared land in this way, and I’m looking forward to being part of something like this. Sure, the view is awesome, but one of the reasons we picked this spot is because of the people.

      I have friends who’ve just bought their first house in Santa Rosa, so it’s nice to know there are people close by as we make this transition. I can’t wait to get up there! 🙂

  18. Lovely piece, dreamy photos. Ah, California!
    I’m fascinated by little houses, house boats, yurts. Moveable homes – home but not stuck. Yes, and living with less stuff! Now that I’ve almost launched my girl into the world, dreaming about such options does not seem so far-fetched.
    I look forward to following your adventures for inspiration.

  19. This is so beautifully written! And very thought provoking. I always thought I had to live near water and that I’d miss it when I moved to the mountains… and then whenever I’d come home, I missed the mountains more than I ever missed the ocean. Interesting!

  20. I know I am a city girl and have learned from staying with friends in rural areas. Also the fact, that my partner was a part-time farmer with cattle and we stayed at his place.

    Living in 3 contrasting regions of Canada –southern Ontario (lst 43 years), then Vancouver BC on the northwest Pacific coast (8 yrs. and still go back to 2nd home) and now in landlocked prairies in Alberta (4 yrs.), most definitely my personality soul longs for Pacific coast with abit of urban.

    Yes, home landscape unveils new creative inspiration opportunities for writing and making art. Canadian literature and art reflects very much how landscape is a touchstone how the artist defines and reimagines space, shape, colour and composition.

    1. “Longing for the Pacific with a bit of urban” — yes!

      When we talked to different hosts, Nick and I mentioned that we were indeed city rats — that this was certainly going to be a change for us (and one to which we’re looking forward). Initially I thought, “oh yeah, I could live in the middle of the woods, or way out in the country,” but after some time, I realized it’s important for us to live 5-10 minutes from the center of town. Baby steps. (Or, tiny steps.)

  21. I live in India and the diversity in the landscape every 100 kms is really a treat to the eyes. Your journey gives me an insight and gives the message that yes, nature is truly soothing. Loved it. All the best for your future endeavours.

  22. Love your post. I’m an introvert from Colorado and Lake Tahoe… mountains. 🙂 My husband and I are on a similar search as you, although looking from abroad. So interesting to read about where the journey has taken you. I suspect we’ll end up somewhere surprising and not perfect, too.

  23. Wow, now it all makes sense as to why I love the ocean more and my sister prefers the mountain…but I think I’m in between, perhaps living up in the mountains and still being able to look at the scene of the ocean from afar is the optimum place for me!

  24. We travel full-time in Australia it is an amazing and rewarding experience. We struggled with the idea of home for a while but decided our home is Australia (in its entirety) and where ever we are together is home. It is all about life’s journey not a destination.

    1. “Home is Australia (in its entirety)” — yes! That’s one of our goals here. Clichéd as it may sound, we’re looking forward to the outdoors being the outer layer of our home.

  25. We have friends from Seattle (actor friends) who relocated to Sebastopol and it sounds dreamy. One of them stopped acting and started making money, which is how they can afford to live there. The comment about no place is perfect resonates with me, because we found a perfect place and it doesn’t feel right now, because it’s a bit too perfect. That may be a funny notion, but I think there’s something there, to the spirit requiring constant movement. And there’s something about settling vs. stagnating. So…I’m uprooting our family for a year and we’re moving to Germany to live with my mom in a 500 year old house, this summer. Good fodder for WP, yeah? Cheers Cheri! – Bill

    1. Your move and adventure to Germany sounds great! Definitely something to look forward to in terms of life changes as well as writing material 🙂

      Neat to hear that your friends are in Sebastopol and, from what you said, are enjoying it. We can’t wait. Really looking forward to a big change and shift in my routine and just embarking on something different.

      Good luck with the pre-move preparations!

  26. I think there’s something intensely spiritual about “the desert,” but some of the qualities that make it so — its barrenness, its inhospitable nature, the “empty” space — are reasons I’m not sure I’d want to live in one again. I like seeing trees, but I suspect, as others have said, that living among them would be claustrophobic. I find a view of the ocean most soothing/expressive/inspiring, closely followed by mountains. So I guess I’m more Sea Elf than Wood Elf . . .

    Oh, and writing this has made me realize why I loved Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula so much: ocean and desert and mountains all together.

  27. I really enjoyed reading this essay, it resonated with much of my recent thinking! I am a mountain favouring introvert – I prefer longer reaching alpine views rather than claustrophobic tree-dense valleys, so I share that feeling about being swallowed by the forest. Forests are wonderful to walk through and explore, but might be difficult to live in – you need to see the sky…
    I do love the coast as well, so perhaps a compromise is to live on the fringe of a coastal forest with mountains in the back and sea to the front. How does the west coast of Vancouver Island sound? Tofino or Ucluelet? Beautiful places.
    We’ve talked about building a tiny house/cabin, and over and over we’ve struggled to decide where it would be located – perhaps we should also construct it on a trailer, and travel to different locations.
    Thanks for the enjoyable post, I look forward to reading more!

    1. I’ve been to the city of Vancouver many times, but Vancouver Island only once. I love the setting, and do find a coastal forest appealing — it’s also why we love California’s Mendocino coast as well.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed this post! Thanks for reading.

  28. I so enjoyed that word journey, and respect your careful place search. I knew as a 19 y.o. when spending a year in near Seattle on Lake Washington that I had to one day I had to live in the NW permanently. It took me over 30 years. I have lived in a second floor spot in a vibrant city for two decades. But I step outside and there are the hills and mountains and very soon I can reach forests, rivers, ocean and desert and more. And, really, I am at home. But it is because I am deeply at home within myself, as well. Best to you!

  29. I’m an introvert…love the ocean, love the mountains, but I, too, do not feel comfortable swallowed by trees (need the sun). I can do lakes, but not rivers, unless it’s the Mississippi, where there is vastness and activity (except when it freezes over) and bald eagles. I’ve lived in the Texas desert, the Arizona desert and in the Middle East. Desert pretty much sucks. I love the idea of tiny houses. I own a motorhome (that is now in storage just down the street from the OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ, and it lacks that je ne se quois of a wooden house, but I feel the way you do about the land outside my home being part of home. I have not found the one “right” place to park my home. And until I do, I will simply park it where ever the Fates guide me. Maybe Aspen in summer, Key West in winter. Sorry, did not mean to ramble–got inspired.

  30. I’m a city girl, and I’m fascinated by people that live in nature. Thanks for your insightful post into your own journey!

  31. One size fits all has never turned out to be true for the human saga. Good luck with finding your idyllic spot. Perhaps your tiny house rather than preferring one place, will enjoy traveling every so often to a new landscape?

    1. Indeed — trying on different locations for size was the one of the main reasons we wanted to do this. We don’t plan to move often — I’m guessing every year or so, but it depends on how things go at each location. If we really loved a place, and all was well in terms of the hosting arrangement, we’d probably stick around for as long as it makes sense.

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