Off The Grid, Into Nature: Global Family Interview
Stephanie Matthew is a highly sought after commercial photographer who traded in her suburban California family life for a slow paced, nature filled, minimalist life on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. She was a natural choice for a Global Guardian interview in part because of her first hand story of a recent life shift, but also because she and her children have always been natural Global Guardians at heart. Tell us a little bit about your family. We are a family of four living a completely different life on a little island in the middle of the Pacific. I am a commercial photographer Who was lucky enough to have the last year off of work to play with my girls on the north shore of Oahu. We've always been a beach family, my husband has been surfing since he could walk and he lives and breathes it. My oldest daughter, Zoe, inherited that from him. She is only completely happy in the water and when she's having a hard day I just put her in it and let it wash it all away. She's my mermaid wild child and I'm completely jealous of her fearlessness. She jumps off sea cliffs and waterfalls and will be out in the waves when even grown ups won't. My younger one Kaya, is my mini me. She's my hand holder, my sweet little soul who rides on my back when we snorkel and dive for sea glass. Always happy and smiling this one but a little mermaid as well. She'll swim so far out that when I look underwater I'm delighted to see her little feet dangling on top of all that blue. Why did you decide to leave California for Hawaii? It definitely wasn't a hard decision to move over here. I had fallen in love with Hawaii years and years before when I would come over to visit my cousin. He's the one who inspired my adventurous spirit in the first place. He would take me to every waterfall on the island, we would kayak to the little islands off the coast, sneak over fences to the rock pools that a fill up from the crashing waves. I told myself I would live here and right after college I moved over. It was the most magical time but i had a job offer in California and we moved back. I never thought we would ever go back to Hawaii. We had little trinkets around the house, shells and other souvenirs that the girls would ask us about and I would tell them about an island with warm blue water filled with sea turtles and colorful fish and flowers that smell so sweet they would fill the whole air. It was like this abstract concept to them though. We were given an amazing opportunity to come back and we thought, these girls have got to experience it. A completely new place, a completely different culture and with in a few months we had sold or given away just about everything we had and here we are. How has the return to nature shifted your family dynamic? We are completely different than how we can use to be in California. I was just thinking the other day about how every single one of my days were filled in the car, rushing them around to a different lesson- ballet, jazz, gymnastics. We were so suburban. Now, they have no lessons- we live across the street from the beach one way and the jungle the other. We are barefoot all the time. I'm in my car maybe once a week to go into town to get groceries but other than that we are on our bikes. We are in the ocean every single day and they are in swim suits at all times. We ride bikes together to school and the farmer's market. Everything is outside now. On Christmas we decided to start a new tradition and so we did a six hour hike to a waterfall with three different pools and rope swings. We'll never forget that day. We have the doors and windows open 24/7 to bring in those trade winds and we can hear the huge waves in the winter time. It's just so much more simple here. We have papaya and bananas and guava and mango in our own backyard and the girls know how to use the fruit picker and they love to run in with the fruit they've picked. Do your children feel more connected to nature now? If so, explain. They are completely immersed in it now. We go to the beach and we always have bags to pick up all the little pieces of plastic and when we are at the store we talk about why maybe we shouldn't buy that plastic toy, or that balloon because of how much we see this stuff washed up on the beach. We can dive underwater and see fishing line and pieces of rope in the coral. We saw The most beautiful puffer fish on the beach but it was dead with a cut fishing line in its mouth. Same thing with an eel. they are learning first hand how that cheap plastic toy and even toothbrushes end up on our favorite beaches and are eaten by sea birds and fish. We are surrounded by small farms and then we go to the farmers market and the people running them are our friends and our school mates. It has become so important to us to know where our food is coming from and how they are treating the land and the soil over here. We also started to think about how far are food has to come. We are the most isolated landmass in the whole world and most things have to come over on a ship so it's super important to us to buy from the local farmers. And it's so cool that there is a huge local food, small farm movement over here. One of the funnest thing about the North Shore are all the wild chickens running around because so many people have chickens in their backyards, but hey, they are fun to watch and they eat the centipedes. my girls love cocnut milk and i love the meat and they help me tear into it, we have a friend who makes the most amazing vegan food only from the jackfruits, egg fruits and fruits and veggies in her backyard- she gives us samples of everything wrapped up in ti leaves and tied with cane grass. What are your hopes for your girls by letting them live more connected to nature? They are completely surrounded by the most beautiful scenery in the world but I also want them to look closer and see how delicate the balance is to keep it that way. We just had a huge storm and the run off caused the ocean to turn brown for the day and we can't go in it. So we have the talk about soil run off and what is going into the ocean and why it's so important for it to stay beautiful and blue. They have swam with green sea turtles but they also understand how important is not to touch them or go to close to them because they are endangered, same with the monk seals. I was starting to see kids a little bit older than them in California completely obsessed with their phones and staying inside and it terrified me. Over here the kids are outside every day and I love it. The kids here surf and paddle board and skate and they are shown love of the land and respect of the land from the beginning. Aloha aina and malama aina mean to love and respect of the land and these kids are taught those phrases early on. The biggest club at the school is Aina club and the kids learn about native Hawaiian plants and to compost, weed and take care of the land. What would be one piece of advice for families who want to reconnect to nature but can’t move to an island? You definitely do not have to move to an island to connect with nature. I'd say the two biggest things you could do even if you are in an apartment or a House with a tiny backyard, like we used to live in, is to go barefoot and play in the dirt. Go outside, go to the park, Go into the forest, go into a lake or anywhere without cement and just be barefoot and ground yourself and connect with the earth. You have so many nerve endings on the bottom of your feet and they are the key to balance. My aunt came over recently and she couldnt walk on the beach because of years of wearing shoes and pedicures. I thought it was so sad that she couldnt have that connection to the earth, to nature. You can sign up for the Global Guardian Learning Capsules subscription here in our store and get full access to all our content.