We are so delighted to be joined this month by the lovely Jessica Cresswell. Jessica, her husband and young daughter live and work in a woodland. In between tending her hens and looking after the woodland (which is surprisingly time-consuming) Jessica writes a blog, The Woodland Wife, and takes stunning photographs of her everyday life.
The lush forest trees are not the only greenery here – our faces are green with envy at her simple, outdoorsy lifestyle. But it’s not all idyllic, and Jessica and her husband have made big sacrifices to attain a slower, off-the-beaten-track way of life. It’s wild in the woods, in the best sense of the word.
Here are Jessica’s thoughts on taking inspiration from the rhythms of nature, parenting, slow living, keeping on asking questions and how to be mindful when you are feeling anxious. Enjoy – this is a goodie!
Welcome, Jessica. Thanks so much for being here. Can you tell us what you do and how you came to be doing it?
The Woodland Wife was set up back in 2015 when the time came for our daughter to go to preschool a few days a week. I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on the sort of work I used to do (graphic design), as it would mean constantly breaking away from projects. Someone once mentioned that they liked my style of writing and photography and should share it online. Setting up The Woodland Wife gave me the creative outlet that I so enjoy, as well as keeping my mind focused on something else once my daughter began her journey of independence!
Another reason I set up The Woodland Wife was to raise awareness and start a conversation about traditional crafts and what it takes to maintain a healthy woodland, as well as parenting in a way that focused on the outdoors and being entertained by the environment around us. Living in the middle of the woods in the South East of England people have often commented on how our life here is aspirational, however it takes a huge amount of work which is why I wanted to share a true account of the highs and lows of living a slower, more sustainable way of life.
If you had one piece of advice or wisdom to pass on to your younger self, what would it be?
As a young child I remember sitting on my great-aunt’s lap, a little older than the age my daughter is now. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Jessica, you will always be a worrier” and I was – from a very young age I would worry about most things. So I would say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”.
The thought processes of my early years then continued through my teens and twenties, but by my mid twenties I knew that none of that truly mattered. What mattered was very simple: loving and living each moment, the environment around you and those who I am fortunate enough to call family and friends. It was the realisation after a trip to India in 2010 that life was full of the most wonderful opportunities if I/we just allow ourselves to be open to them, rather than worrying about where life will take us.
What is it about slow living and the simple life that you find appealing?
Although I practiced mindfulness every day after my 2010 visit to India, it wasn’t until we moved to the woods after the birth of our daughter in 2013 that slow living and living simply became the norm for me. As new parents, both running our own businesses, we had no option other than adapting to a slower pace just to get through the days.
Watching our daughter grow up and see how she connected to the environment that surrounds us here in the woods was when the focus really shifted. We could see that as adults we tend to overlook the smaller details that a child notices simply because we “Don’t have time” to stop and look around. It was then that my eyes were fully open to what slow living really meant.
Our days here are pretty varied, as the outside jobs are dependent on the seasons, so we tend to take the lead from nature. Another favourite quote that I remind myself most days is by Lao Tzu who said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”. It is so easy to get caught up in ‘to-do’ lists and get into a fog or blind panic, but reminding myself of that particular quote allows me to take a moment, refocus and realise that anything and everything is achievable even at a slower pace. After all, you are never going to notice the beauty around you if you don’t stop to savour the moment.
Who inspires you?
My daughter has been my biggest inspiration, as well as my husband. My husband is so wonderfully creative and has such an incredible knowledge of the environment and traditional crafts like oak framing. We talk for hours about all sorts of exciting work projects as well as dreams and aspirations for our future. My daughter is a daily source of inspiration because she not only makes me stop and notice the small moments that are so wonderfully joyful, but each day there is something new she is learning. That inspires me to never stop asking questions and seeking our new opportunities.
Online I have ‘met’ such wonderful creatives, from bloggers to photographers – the list is endless – but someone I have so much admiration for is the incredible Vashti Whitfield.
Some years ago, I watched a film and through the power of social media, I ‘met’ a woman who inspires me from afar. The film was Be Here Now and followed the all-inspiring Andy Whitfield and his wife Vashti on a journey embracing and exploring the true meaning of life as they faced what they defined as their ‘next great adventure’ with the return of his cancer.
Despite her profound loss, Vashti has a sparkling wit, is fearlessly bold and truly embraces LIVING. Although we have only ever communicated online she inspires me to be truly present and simply BE every single day, as well as approaching my own life from a completely different perspective.
What are your essential homeware items/ things you couldn’t do without?
There are so many creature comforts and homeware items I love in our home, most of which have been passed down the family with a story to tell. However the absolute essential homeware item that I couldn’t live without is our bed, pillows and duvet!
I suffer from a chronic illness; an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis which invisible on the outside but at times can be completely crippling from pain and fatigue that is indescribable. As much as getting outdoors and keeping active is important for this condition both physically and emotionally, rest is equally as important. So our bed and the bedding is an absolutely essential item, and a space for quality rest and relaxation.
What would you like to be doing in 10 years’ time?
To continue living as we do currently. I try to live each day as it comes. Creatively, I hope that The Woodland Wife continues to be a source of inspiration, as well as a source of discussion for those seeking a slower and/or more sustainable lifestyle.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?
Back in 2009 I experienced one of my lowest lows personally, struggling to understand who I was and where my life was going. So, in December that year, at an all-time low, I booked a ticket to India, a place I have always wanted to visit. Having only ever travelled as part of a couple or larger group, I decided to go it alone and leave my comfort zone. I headed to South India and for a few weeks visited some incredible places, floated down the backwaters of Kerala, visited tiny villages and took part in fabulous festivals, as well as practiced daily yoga, meditation and learnt all about mindfulness.
I visited India again, many times, in the years that followed, but it was that trip that changed my life and I believe it was that trip that set me on the path I am today.
Thank you so much Jessica, for your honesty, integrity and completely fascinating glimpse into woodland life and the things that keep you on your slow living path.