Last Tuesday morning, I spent a few hours in a kayak watching a beaver drag twigs around a lake. The Tuesday before that, Aaron and I hiked to the top of a mountain with bald-top views of the Presidential Range. The one before that, we had a picnic at the base of New Hampshire’s tallest waterfall.
We live in the center of the White Mountain National Forest, 750,000 acres of public lands crisscrossed with trails and forest roads. The 29th edition of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s “White Mountain Guide” lists over 500 trails (and those are only the named ones).
One hot Sunday afternoon in the summer of 2004, we were arriving back at the Coppermine trailhead after a trip up to Bridalveil Falls. “That was so nice,” I said. “We should do that more often.” In my memory of this moment, there’s a record-scratch, or thunder in the distance, or a crow cawing. I think, though, probably there was just a nice breeze and some chickadees. “What a sad thing to say,” Aaron laughed. “We control our own schedules, and live in the mountains. What’s our excuse for not going out more?” We looked at our calendars and saw our next few Tuesday mornings open, so we blocked off the time and headed out to the woods.
That was 11 years ago, and we’ve gone out nearly every Tuesday morning since then. In the summer we hike or go kayaking. In the winter, we snowshoe, cross-country ski, or go skating on the 4-mile loop on a nearby lake. We’ve walked every named trail within an hour of our house, and we return to our favorites over and over through the seasons.
If we’re traveling, we sometimes reschedule to another day in the week. If one of us is sick or exhausted, we go kayaking on a calm pond, or on a flat and easy hike not far from home. Unless it’s actually unsafe to be outside, we go out in all types of weather. I haven’t kept track, but my best guess is that we miss no more than 6 weeks each year.
The weird thing about removing a chunk of time from our weekly calendar is that, as far as I can tell, we do the same amount in a week as everyone else. Work gets done, deliverables get delivered. No client has ever cared that we’re not available for calls on Tuesday mornings.
During the rest of the week, I have plenty of energy to devote to client problems, and do a decent job at keeping a level head during times of project stress. My standing appointment with nature is nothing less than a form of intense therapy and self-care, renewing my internal reserves while I clamber across streams and squeal at every tiny eft I see.
It’s easy to see the work calendar as a fixed beacon that the rest of our lives – our real lives – have to adjust around. Reclaiming a part of that schedule a decade ago, for the sole purpose of tending to our mental health and wellbeing, was one of the simplest and smartest decisions we’ve ever made.