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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
After more than 2,300 days in a row heading outside for at least 20 consecutive minutes, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make getting out there interesting.
Not every day is exciting — don’t get me wrong. In the summer there are plenty of days spent just sitting on my porch, enjoying the sun and a cup of coffee. In the winter I often head to the same route through some woods behind our house where I ski, walk or snowshoe, depending on how much snow there is or how high it’s drifted in the wind.
At the beginning of my habit I was worried that if I did the same thing over and over again I’d fall into a rut of sorts. And I really didn’t want that to happen. But over time I found that was not really a problem — that the ever-changing variety of what I saw even through visiting the same route or spot time after time if I just paid attention guaranteed that things would never be dull, ever.
So that worry went out the window. And instead I started to wonder what would happen if I built into my habit some forest bathing practices, particularly the concept of a “sit spot” — a particular place you pick and go back to and just, well, sit for long periods of time just being and observing.
But it sounded, frankly, boring and unpleasant. I didnt want to go sit in the snow under some random tree for an hour once a week. Too cold. Too boring. Too whatever. But I still kind of liked the idea, and wished it was something I did want to do.
Which is why when I heard author and adventurer Alastair Humphries share his practice of a year in a tree, which has of course turned into more than a year in a tree as all good ideas tend to do I was intrigued. Once a month on the same time during the same day of the week in the first week of the month, out he goes and climbs into a certain spot in a certain tree and hangs out there for 20 minutes just to see how things are going. He takes a thermos of coffee. He does his best to not look at his phone. And he observes how time marches on all around him.
It’s only once a month. And it’s only 20 minutes. THAT I have time for.
I’m not much of a tree climber and we don’t have many fabulous climbing trees around here, so I decided to copy this habit, but without the tree. Instead, I took a few weeks to look around our town and think about somewhere I might like to spend 20 minutes once a month.
Of course I could’ve just picked the corner of my yard — easy, right? But because I’ve got all these outside days under my belt and give advice on how people can create their own outdoor habit, I know that if I’m going to make something new up it should stick to my basic standards.
20 minutes checked the “yes I have time for this” box, as did only planning it once a month. That’s important because if I convince myself something is inconvenient, I won’t do it. I also know if something is wildly unpleasant, Ill find a reason not to go or Ill simply forget. So I knew I need to pick a monthly spot that was going to be out of whatever tremendous cold wind happens to be blowing on my scheduled day — that ruled out the corner of my yard and a variety of scenic spots on the river. I knew I wanted it to be close to my home so I could squeeze in a journey to get there, so I immediately tossed out any trips all the way across town. And I wanted to pick a spot that would be interesting, with lots of life and for-sure dramatic changes over the season, so I ruled out a certain picnic pavilion next to a field as way too boring.
What did I settle on? A picnic table by a nearby lake, at noon mid week during the first week of the month. The parking lot is regularly plowed, the wind will be at my back, and the place changes dramatically over the seasons. Perfect.
And so, at the appointed time during the first week of January, I poured coffee in a mug, put on the big jacket and the pants, and drove to the lake. It was snowing sideways not 20 minutes before I was supposed to leave, but when I got there the sun had broken out and the wind had died down a little.
I sat down at the bench, shoved my phone in my pocket after taking a quick photo, and set out to see what’s what.
Over my 20 minutes I looked at the bare trees, the snow swirling across the frozen lake, felt the wind pushing in my back, thought about how I definitely should’ve worn warmer socks, sipped my coffee, watched three trucks drive onto the lake ice to ice fish, realized I didn’t know trucks drove on the lake here and then realized I had never actually been to this lake outside of the summer and one Easter visit a few years ago. I thought about the ducks I usually see here, felt the sun on my face and checked my 20 minute timer only once about halfway through out of curiosity after realizing Id been sitting there awhile but hadnt even gotten bored.
All in all it was absolutely lovely. A pocket of peace in my day, a visit to somewhere I like that I suspect I will only grow to love more. I reserve the right to lay on the table in the June sun and watch the sky instead of the water. And honestly I can’t wait to go back in February and see what’s changed.
It’s not too late — it’s never too late, honestly — for you to start this kind of thing for yourself. Pick a spot go there for 20 minutes on a certain day this month, and go back again next month. Alister advises literally setting it on your calendar — his dings at noon on the first wednesday of the month to tell him it’s time for his monthly appointment with climbing a tree. And how fun is that?
You’ll be able to see a photo of my monthly visit to my lake on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram, and I want to see your photos too — monthly, daily, whatever. Share them with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.