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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
As someone who loves, LOVES consistency, it’s a lot for me to say that I’m finding joy in the unpredictability of what I’ll encounter outside. And it’s an even bigger deal for me to admit that not only has encountering those surprises outside made my life better, but it’s also made me kind of like the fact that this unpredictability exists.
When I say I’m a person of habit, I mean it in an almost extreme way. As I sit here working on this episode, I see the coffee mug sitting to my left. I drink coffee from the same mug every single day because I like the shape of this particular mug in my hand. I like that it holds a perfect amount of coffee for me to drink before it gets cold. I have, oh, probably around 20 mugs — I know that’s ridiculous. But I use this same mug every day.
I like the feeling of routines. I get up at the same time every day, go to the same fitness class at the same time each week, have the same morning routine.
And, yes, the part of me that loves and finds comfort in that consistency would love it if I lean on nature to deliver that same comfort. And yet, through my over 2,000 days outside I have found that the constant changes brought by heading outside are their own kind of gift. I have found that instead of the comfort of predictability, they bring the joy of daily unexpected delights, with one small key for making it happen:
I have to be looking for it. I have to be willing to try.
The mid-fall, early winter is the perfect time in Alaska to realize this truth because outdoor delights, frankly, take some hunting. Generally speaking, October is simply terrible. I mean it really is. The daylight is suddenly gone. It’s probably cold and uncomfortable. I’ve inevitably forgotten how to dress for cold weather. Everything is brown looking and dead and gross. It’s just frozen enough to be low on the fun scale. I honestly just hate it. Early November is usually not much better.
Unless, that is, I hunt for and cling to small daily wonders.
For me, these wonders look like a pause to note how the bark peels itself from birch trees in this fancy, perfectly curvy way. It looked like noting some little ice crystals on some leaves on the ground. I saw these buds on the tips of the nearby trees — they hold the leaves that will show up next spring and right just sitting there waiting like some kind of small future miracle.
More and more my small wonders include bringing my questions about things I’ve seen outside back in the house, and coming up with the answers. Does the ice that forms in the mud have a name? And how do these tiny little birds survive the winter?
And honestly, everything isn’t actually terrible if I’m willing to look for the larger, unpredictable wonders that I know bring me joy, and then lean into them when they happen. During the dark months I check the sky for the aurora when I get up in the morning. If it’s putting on a show, everything else gets paused so I can watch. During the season’s first snow, which finally just happened, I took the dogs for a morning walk – something unusual for me – so that I could be the first to leave footsteps down the path.
Even right now as I’m typing this, the snow is coming down just a little more heavily than it was a few moments ago. It’s a quiet wonder to see how it incrementally blankets the ground. Only yesterday everything was dull and brown and boring. Today it’s white and bright and fresh. I love this transformation.
The small wonders can also be found in the bigger things. This snowfalls closes the book on a spectacular few weeks of perfect ice skating conditions on lakes near where I live. Instead of giving into my busy this week, I took two hours to feel the small wonder of skating over ice. It took very little effort — we literally drove up to the lake just 15 minutes down the road. And once I was there I watched for the small things, like the patterns of crystals in the frozen water, or the birds soaring overhead or the way the early day light reflected off the ice. These are small things I could’ve taken for granted that are giving me gifts even now as I am remembering them.
I hope you take the time to notice the small things around you, and let them inspire you towards not just wonder outside, but a better attitude inside. You can see photos of my outdoor time on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. And I want to see yours, too. Tag your outdoor photos with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.