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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
When I was a teenager I had no close in person friends. That’s really not an exaggeration, I promise. I was homeschooled and took no group classes to speak of, and when I did it was with people I wasn’t allowed to hang out with. Our church was 45 minutes away, but again there was no one my age that my parents wanted me to spend time with. I had a dog, a really gorgeous Gordon Setter named Taffy, but when some of my seven siblings were allergic, my parents returned her to the breeder. I had a few penpals, but no one I spent time with.
And so I really into exactly three things: reading classic literature, wandering the beach a few blocks from my house, and playing the piano.
If memory serves, I practiced the piano an hour or two a day there for a long time. I thought I’d be a professional concert pianist for awhile there, although in retrospect I wasn’t particularly talented — I had to work very, very hard for every success. I also realized that making a living as a concert pianist wasnt really going to be a thing, so I ultimately abandoned that idea. But I still worked hard at it. And with the rest of my spare time I was either reading a book or at the beach looking for cool sea glass or just walking, watching the waves, whatever. One time my sister and I decided to mess with a campfire and I burned the crap out of my hand. But that’s a story for a different day.
So even though it wasnt until adulthood that I really took an active interest in spending time outside in all kinds of weather for long periods of time, or in doing anything even remotely challenging outside, spending time on the beach specifically was an important part of growing up for me, just like the playing the piano. With the stories I was reading, they were important places I escaped from the chaos of where I grew up. Both the piano and the beach were my containers. Having 8 kids in a not very big house all homeschooling is not for people who like peace and quiet, I can tell you that. And because of the friend thing I mentioned earlier, piano and the beach were also places I learned to lean into the all important company of myself.
As a married adult when we lived in Tennessee, a few years before we moved to Alaska, we bought a piano. It was the only piano I had had readily accessible to me since I had lived at home more than a decade prior, and while I didnt play it every day, I did quickly learn that the old safety I felt when working through Mozart of Bach was still there. It was like self soothing, that I could enter a piece of music and find order and calm where chaos existed in the rest of my world.
That’s the same thing heading outside did, I realized. I knew what to expect as a teen at the beach — the way the waves would come and go, how the fog would settle on the coast.
And when I head outside today it’s with the same experience. My friends the trees and the mountains work as a conduit to help me find order in chaos.
We sold the piano when we moved, so for six years I hadnt played even one note. And I forgot the peace it brings.
That is, until I encountered the Palmer community piano, sitting on the sidewalk on a gray fall day next to a few trees. I had decided to take a walk through Palmer for my outside time, since I was already in town and hadnt wandered there for awhile.
And there it was, waiting for me like a magical gift. I sat down. I found some sheet music on my phone — a familiar Bach prelude — and I started to play as the leaves blew around me and the mountains stood in the distance.
The music — those simple notes easy to move through and floating across the street — filled me with a sense of peace and order and calm. I took a deep breath of the cool fall air. And I felt a perfect colliding of all of my worlds, all of my outdoor escapes and all of the safety of that music and the act of playing it came tumbling into the same beautiful, magical moment — like if you had walked up on me you would’ve seen the air pausing around me, a haze hanging s I was lost in my own world.
When I finished the piece I paused. I stood up. I took a deep breathe. And I finished me walk.
I’ve driven by the piano out there since, but I dont think I could recreate the magic of that moment, so I haven’t tried. Instead I’ve been spending my outdoor time quietly coming to terms with the truth that winter is basically here. The temperature has dropped this week — it’s been in the low 20s and mid-30s, and I will admit that I am cold. It just takes me a week or so get to used to the temperature change, I think. Maybe I have a cold week every year. The hot tub sure is nice for that so I can thaw out my poor cold toes.
You can see photos of how I’m spending my outdoor time on Facebook and Instagram, and I want to see yours too. Share them with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.