The Power of the Environment
And the glorious benefits of vacation.
The McDermott women, dining out during the annual beach trip.
In the 1970s, my family often packed up our station wagon to spend an extended weekend at my grandfather's "vacation" cabins in Blue, WV. The cabins had gas heat and electricity, but no running water. We bathed in Middle Island Creek, throwing the Ivory soap ("so pure, it floats") upstream while we dunked ourselves under water to rinse off. Toilet activities happened in the two-seater outhouse, or made use of the chamber pots kept beneath the beds -- but you had to empty and wash your own chamber pot, so I avoided that option at all costs.
By today's standards, not many would consider Blue WV a prime vacation spot. Our family has a saying, "Don't blink your eyes in Blue." Meaning, if you blinked your eyes while driving through, you might miss it completely. Blue, at that time, included a small gas station and the owner's home, an intersection, my grandparent's cabins, and a trailer. For my grandparents and parents, "The Cabins" didn't include much of a break from work. There were fields to be mowed, roofs to tar, orchards to tend, and my grandparent’s annual garden. To this day, I can still envision my grandmother, in the front porch swing, stringing beans in preparation for canning jars.
But for us kids, it was a paradise of swimming, fishing, playing in the fields and woods, searching the shallow Blue Creek for treasure, and on rainy days, jigsaw puzzles, pickup sticks, and card games. On occasion, we were orderded to weed the garden, and pick half-runner beans, or strawberries. But for the most part, we ran wild outdoors.
In addition, my father packed up the family to enjoy a vacation when he served his two weeks of active duty as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve. Most often, he was assigned to a base in Florida, and while Daddy was on duty, the rest of the family enjoyed the ocean and the area's tourist attractions.
If you have ever said, or even thought to yourself, "I need a vacation," truth is, you probably do. Scientists have noted that with two weeks' vacation, twice a year, we are happier, healthier, less stressed, and more creative and productive upon return.
Like so many words that joined the English language, vacation comes from Anglo-French, and ultimately from Latin: vacātiō means "exemption from service, a respite from work," and traces back to vacāre, "to be empty, be free, have leisure."
What are the benefits of vacation? This empty, free-flowing, leisure? Improved productivity, increased motivation, better overall mental health and well-being, greater creativity, and overall happiness. Lower stress, and lower risk of heart disease, burnout, and depression.
Think about it. When was the last time you felt empty, free, leisurely? When was the last time you “ran away from home”? If Americans took more vacations, perhaps they would require fewer medications.
According to research, a truly perfect vacation lasts around eight days — and ideally, happens twice a year. There’s no need for plane tickets or busy itineraries. For the full benefits of vacation, include:
a change of scenery
and spend the majority of your vacation time unplugged.
I was recently blessed with a two-week vacation in North Myrtle Beach. For the first time in I don't even remember how long, I encountered the ocean during a warm season when I could actually enjoy the beach.
We were there for four days before the stresses in my life began evaporating. I was still restless in those early days, pacing the ocean shore twice a day--towards the morning sun and back, then towards the setting sun and back. On the fifth day, I was finally able to chill in the pool on my raft, soaking up Vitamin D from the sun.
By day 10, I began feeling pangs of homesickness, unable to recall why I was so stressed out about certain things. I felt more grounded, clearer about my intentions for the future, and reminded that truly, I am merely a speck in this massive universe, and am more blessed than most. I remember again that life, itself, is a blessing. We spend so much of our lives struggling--recovering from the past and worrying about the future--we forget to be still and know that our present moments can be moments of comfort and joy.
Vacations are life-changing experiences. Or, at least they should be. Somehow, my vacation changed me for the better and I came home a different person with a different mindset. My perspective was altered, and I had all but forgotten what I was so wound tight about before.
We returned to West Virginia to discover Fall arrived in our absense, with cold winds and damp, chilly nights. I spent my first day home sneezing and blowing my nose, and the following week putting away bathing suits and shorts until next year and digging out my winter wardrobe of wool socks and warm, long-sleeve shirts and jackets.
A week after my vacation ended, I was traveling again. This time to Canaan Valley Resort for the fall WVLA Conference. My traveling companion and I were thrilled to discover that the Canaan region was at the height of full autumn color. And, the wet summer helped bring out those bright yellows and oranges this year, resulting in a truly splendorous display.
The morning we left, I paused at the resort exit, and looked at my travel pal. "Are you in a hurry to get home today?"
"Not at all," she replied.
"Then I think we'll take the long way home," I replied, turning left, away from the fastest path to four lanes. To heck with the current gas prices; it was worth it. The two-lane route was like swimming through fall colors.
Though I once knew, deep down in, that our natural environment is a healing environment, I had forgotten. Like so many others, my life got so complicated that I had forgotten that soil is healing, as is the sun. That wind in our hair is a healing touch, that fall colors can be an ointment for the soul. Time communing with our natural world is healing -- mentally, physically, spiritually.
It's so simple. And yet, we live in a culture and a country that has forgotten. Children who play outside are healthier and happier children. Adults who spend intentional time focused on earth, air, and existence are more grounded, more creative, more pleasant, and more patient. In other words, better human beings. We need aimless time away, outdoors. Periods of stillness and of seemingly pointless activity. Unplugged, unscheduled, time without intention. Time to just be.
Yes. Life is struggle, defeated, we live and exist in a Curruptocracy under oligarchy control. (The most Googled "should I" question posted by West Virginians is, "should I care?") But, many of us are remembering that we are not machines. Yes, we should care, but not about material things. We are more than consumers and workers. Treated as such for so long, we've been left to take care of ourselves.
Our leaders don't care about us. Employers don't appreciate us. Working to get ahead gets us nowhere. The time we have spent trying to go above and beyond for administrators, companies, and employers is better spent taking care of ourselves. "They" have not taken care of us. Our time is much better spent doing nothing but watching the grass grow, listening to the crickets sing, contemplating the full sunset, breathing fresh air.
The second renaissance has begun.
I am ready.
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