I grew up surrounded by nature. When I was a young child, my family and I lived on 10 acres of grass and trees. My days were spent running around the backyard playing make-believe and adventuring in imaginary worlds. Then, at age 10, my parents moved my siblings and me onto a sailboat. This move deepened my connection with the world around me.

On the boat, nature’s whims became my reality, for the sea was my floor and the sky was my roof. In a house, I could go all day without feeling nature around me, but on a boat, inside or out, any little shift had a direct effect on my life. If the wind picked up, I could feel it funnel down through the hatches and sweep through the boat. I could feel it as it caused the momentum of the water to push its way under the bow and slap against the hull. If it was rainy, I could hear the pattering of the water, the trickling as it pooled on the side decks and drained away. Most of all, I could feel the night. My childhood evenings were spent abovedecks in the cockpit. We, as a family, gathered there as the dusk settled around us. We spent this time together connecting, sharing and planning our future.

On passage, the cycles of the moon affected our vision as we sailed through complete inky blackness or a moonlit silver sea. At anchor, the cycles of the tide constantly swept under our hull in an unending ebb and flow. Nature was the life force that powered our boat. Solar and wind energy gave us electricity, and harnessed breeze in our sails moved us from place to place.

Nature embedded itself into my experiences. Once we arrived in the tropics, beaches became my backyard. I spent every day playing in the sand and swimming in the clear warm water. I cracked coconuts and ate nature. I hiked ­mountains and felt nature. I explored cultures and their relationships with nature. I relied on the world I was surrounded by, and this gave me a deep connection and appreciation of it.

Olympic Adventure 47
Gromit, an Olympic Adventure 47.Zoë Buratynsky

My childhood in nature forced my creativity to surface as I explored the vastness of the world. As much as I relied on nature, it was also an obstacle. During long bouts away from civilization, the tight quarters of the boat left me with minimal options for entertainment. It forced me to develop my creativity in the form of writing, sketching and other compact-space activities. After days and weeks of the monotony of life at sea, my thoughts would spiral in my head and begin to drive me crazy. I longed to talk to someone outside of the boat, someone beyond the vast horizon. Because this was not an option, I instead turned to a notebook and pen. I wrote and wrote, letting this be my outlet, my way to make an imprint on our vast world as the size of the ocean made me realize how very insignificant I was. Writing gave me release from my tumultuous thoughts and the loneliness of being at sea. I also turned to art as a form of therapy that drew me into a different world and made me forget my surroundings. I drew on my creativity to overcome the obstacles in my life, using it as an outlet for my pent-up thoughts.

My childhood on a boat was filled with freedoms that I am only now beginning to ­understand. I had minimal societal pressures, and this gave me the space to explore who I was, independent of any peer influences. I learned what true freedom looked like because I had the best example of it right in front of me — my parents, who were teaching me exactly what embracing independence looked like. They showed me how to follow dreams, make independent ­decisions and be self-reliant.

Mozambique
Gromit took the family to far away places, such as Mozambique.Zoë Buratynsky

My childhood adventure was of a different sort. While my peers at home were ­adventuring through woods and fields, through middle school and childhood relationships, I was adventuring through the world. I was exploring foreign markets, foreign foods; I was hiking mountains and learning to sail. My childhood adventure was exploring a world of foreign cultures and nature, all under the protective wing of my world-savvy parents, who were always there to guide and teach.

Childhood is wild with ­adventures of the ­imagination and in reality. Childhood is where creativity is born and nurtured into adult life. This was my wilderness of ­childhood, scattered around the globe.

Zoë Buratynsky, now 20, lives in Southern Ontario, where she is starting her second year of ­university, studying sociology.