In 2021, Dublin woman Fiona Byrne Ryan sold her home and business to live out of a tent full-time in Michigan, North America with her husband Brandon Garlow and their two-year-old son Dasan.
In the mornings, they wake up to temperatures of -17C.
But more specifically, the pandemic served the young family a wake-up call to live in alignment with their core beliefs, of which climate action is a major one.
Fiona, 32, who was born and reared in Dublin and who studied landscape architecture at University College Dublin, always knew office life was not for her and upon graduation she traveled the world, visiting places like Cuba, Guatemala and the urban jungle of Portland, Oregon.
She couch-surfed across North America, or Turtle Island as it’s called by indigenous people, with the aim of reaching Detroit – another city Fiona was fascinated by. It was here she met Brandon, 38, who is native American, and of the Mohawk tribe. Supporting indigenous people is another major part of their impetus to uproot themselves from urban life.
Up until October 2021, Detroit was their home, where they lived and ran their real estate business that served the elderly. But the pandemic and the various lockdowns gave them room to reflect and it turned out that their way of life was no longer morally sustainable for them.
We spent a lot of time building our company, but we were ultimately left unfulfilled. We realised the life we were building wasn’t aligned with who we are.
“We collected the largest pay cheque we’d ever collected and we were left feeling empty. That was a wake-up call. So we asked ourselves: ‘What do we really want on a deeper level?’ The route we were taking wasn’t doing that, and we knew it was time to change,” says Brandon.
In August 2019, Fiona gave birth to the couple’s first child. Welcoming Dasan to the world also contributed to the wake-up, she says.
“With Covid and that whole time, we spent a lot of time going inwards and doing a lot of healing. We have a young son and just seeing the world we were leaving behind. And we just asked: ‘What do our souls want to do while we are on this earth?”‘” Fiona explains.
These large existential questions led them down various paths – one of which was to return to Brandon’s tribe’s traditional lands in upstate New York, and another was looking up YouTube videos about how to live out of an RV (recreational vehicle).
All of these options were going through their minds while they were trying to run a business that was almost shut down by the pandemic. And it was not like the family were not already living in a sustainable way.
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