Before renting the cottage, they had lived in a 3,600-square-foot, five-bedroom house with two kitchens. There was a playroom. There was a laundry room. There was enough space not to see each other for hours at a stretch. "I didn't even use some of the rooms," Kristen says. In the cottage, privacy is nonexistent, yet she loves her home with unbridled fervor.

Her new lifestyle has a precedent. "I lived in the woods when I was 21, 22," she says. "I had my own garden. I was really into my nice, quiet, cheap life."

Then she got engaged to a businessman and told herself grown-ups didn't live in the woods, without a television or a set of china. So after she got married, she found herself in a huge home, full of things, which she took great care in placing here and there, while ignoring the signs that all was not well beneath the surface.

The babies were a distraction for a time. Then they weren't. Depression followed. And insomnia. Then medications, therapy. None of it worked. Kristen found herself unable to get out of bed. She lost 20 pounds. Her husband, earnest and traditional, was confused by her unhappiness. After all, they were supposed to be living the American dream.

"I knew it was time to get out when my life started to make me physically sick," she says now.

Kristen realized that to become the person she longed to be, she had to leave her marriage. So, after much soul-searching, she abandoned her old life in its entirety—her spouse, her furniture, excess clothes, collectible salt and pepper shakers—and returned, with her children, to the woods of her youth.

"The day I moved, I brought only my car, a few clothes, and food," she says. "I got to the cottage around 4 in the afternoon and went out looking for firewood. As I made a big pile by my door, I kept thinking, I'm getting my do-over!"

Kristen started keeping a journal.

"I want to explore, to climb trees, to kayak different rivers," she wrote. "I want to continue building strong, healthy friendships. I want to make a difference. I want to sleep on my own. I want to grow spiritually and emotionally. To have more patience and stillness. To be quiet inside. I want to be at ease with myself, to create, to give, to love, and to laugh my ass off."

"So, how's it going?" I ask as we zip down I-95.

She smiles. "So far, really, really good. My electric bill went from $150 to $35."

"You can't warm that place with body heat alone?" I joke.

"You're just bitter because your bill is $500 a month," she shoots back good-naturedly.


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