MONROE, Maine — Nancy Durand Lanson lives with her family in a rambling wooden house down an unpaved country road in the small Waldo County town of Monroe.
Through the windows in the kitchen — a room with a high ceiling that a previous owner had decked out in shades of pink — she can watch the birds and other creatures that are drawn to a pond across the road. It’s a bucolic sight and a far cry from the apartment buildings and densely populated streets and boulevards of Paris’s 20th arrondissement, where she grew up.
Still, it is amid the woods, fields and communities of rural midcoast Maine that Durand Lanson, 47, a slight, dark-haired woman with a soft accent, recently has learned she feels most at home.
“I am beginning to wonder why I wasn’t born here,” she said. “France has evolved, and I have evolved a different way. I love that here, we can go as far in our thinking as we can.”
In Maine, where the family has lived for a little more than a year, that evolution has looked like taking a deep dive into the Waldo County home-schooling community. Or like saying yes last March when daughter Babette Cohen-Solal, then 15, said she wanted to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Or like making plans to grow sunflowers so that Durand Lanson can use the oil in her home soap-making business. Or like filling their Monroe home’s sunny front room with a tableful of Tibetan singing bowls “and good energy” so that Durand Lanson can do Reiki and other healing work.
“I can go back to Paris, and after two weeks, I’m already missing the countryside,” she said.
In short, this part of Maine has been a good fit for Durand Lanson, her husband, Eric Cohen-Solal, and daughters Babette Cohen-Solal, 16, and Armonie Cohen-Solal, 12, who moved into their Monroe home just a few weeks ago. Before that, the family lived in a small rented house in Swanville. An older daughter, Lea Cohen-Solal, 20, did not come to Maine but stayed in New York, where the family lived for many years. Eric Cohen-Solal worked in Westchester County as an electronics scientist, and Durand Lanson home-schooled their children.
“I realized after a few years that New York was not the kind of place I loved,” Durand Lanson said.
There was a home-schooling community there, too, but while many of the other parents pushed their children to achieve, they did so by sacrificing other things.
“It felt like we didn’t have the time just to be,” Durand Lanson said. “I realized that was what I was missing.”
Additionally, the family tried to have backyard chickens, but some of their Westchester neighbors vehemently complained. She wanted a bigger garden than was possible there, and no one in the family liked that Eric Cohen-Solal’s workdays began very early and ended late. Ultimately, they decided to address their dissatisfactions by pulling up their roots and starting over somewhere else.
“We had to correct all this,” she said. “Instead of moving an hour north, we decided to change everything.”
They settled on Maine, after Durand Lanson visited a friend who had purchased a home in Swanville.
“It felt like home,” she said.
“She came back and said, ‘We’re moving to Maine,” Babette Cohen-Solal recalled, saying that she initially felt unmoored by the family’s move north. “I was feeling completely uprooted from everything I knew.”
So when a friend from the Waldo County home-schooling community decided to hike the Appalachian Trail last spring and asked Babette Cohen-Solal to join her, she said yes. And her parents did, too.
“I knew she could do it,” Durand Lanson said.
They agreed on a goal: that their daughter would check in daily, or as often as she could given patchy cellphone service along parts of the trail. She and her Maine friend hiked together for awhile, but then Babette Cohen-Solal — whose trail name was “Pebbles” — split off and hiked alone. For more than five months, she moved north, sometimes traveling more than 25 miles per day. When she finished in September, she believes she became the youngest solo northbound thru-hiker to complete the trail this year.
“A lot of people assume that because you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you’re by yourself, which is absolutely not true,” Babette Cohen-Solal said of her long walk in the woods. “I felt more comfortable being on the trail than I did off the trail.”
Now that she is back in Maine, the family is figuring out what their normal is. It likely will mean more settling into their new home, more game nights with new friends, more healing sessions with Durand Lanson working the Tibetan singing bowl, and more planting of gardens and crops when spring comes round again.
And more of a feeling of being in the right place.
“It felt that there is something that people are looking for — and it feels like we have found it,” Durand Lanson said.