Column: Getting outdoors is something we should do more often

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 5, 2002

Jacket weather is finally here, and if I looked out the window right now I’d see wet streets and a steady drizzle. The sky is gray and the wind brings a chill for the first time in months.

It’s great outdoors weather.

There’s something about being outdoors in the fall that refreshes you. Unfortunately, many of us don’t really notice or miss that feeling because we’re too busy with all the other demands on our time to step outside.

Email newsletter signup

All year long, there’s plenty of things keeping us &045; the lazier among us, anyway (myself included) &045; from enjoying the outdoors. Excuses abound. In the summer, it’s too darn hot during the day, and clouds of mosquitoes drift about from dusk to dawn. Mowing the lawn, messing around in the garden, cleaning the garage and other chores do bring us outside from time to time, but we’re heavy into an activity, and in my case, rushing to finish it because it’s too hot.

In the winter, shoveling snow and scraping car windows are two of the only activities that cause a person like me to stand outside for any measurable length of time.

And all year-round, it seems like work, household chores, running around in the car and the all-important nap takes precedence over getting outside and enjoying myself.

Last weekend, I got a reminder of how nice it can be to just be outdoors &045; not with anything in particular to do; to just be there. My family and I packed our tent up and decided to go camping.

This was not camping by any real outdoorsman’s standard; there was no hiking to our campsite, cooking meals over a fire or canoeing across raging rivers. We stopped at a campground in Lake Elmo, near the Twin Cities, where we selected a modern campsite.

Even in that relatively contrived situation, the effect of the outdoors was striking.

By the time we managed to assemble the two-room tent, and get a fire started in the pit, and get a big air mattress blown up on which to sleep, it was dark, and the three of us sat on a picnic table by the fire for a while. It was dark, and quiet, and I felt the kind of freedom you feel when you’re no longer encumbered by the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Our three-year-old, Jimmy, looked up at the sky.

&uot;Look at the beautiful stars,&uot; he said. He sees the stars at home, too, but I think he was feeling that same connection with the environment that I was. The air was chilly but refreshing, the sounds were limited to those of night insects and the wind in the trees, and maybe most importantly, there was nothing to do &045; no tasks to worry about, no dinner to make and no dishes to wash for any of us. We could just sit in the little circle of light cast by the campfire and pass time.

Of course, you’ve got to roast marshmallows. Something about holding your food over a fire on a stick hearkens back to caveman days. It’s a simple little pleasure that I know Jimmy appreciated.

&uot;Marshmallows make me sick and happy,&uot; he commented, summing up perfectly the mix of enjoyment and nausea brought on by a large dose of the sweet, puffy semi-food.

It was a cold night, but we brought along enough of our indoor comfort , in the form of three quilts, to keep warm.

That little dose of the outdoors was a good reminder that we should take the time to get outside when the chance comes up, and preferably with nothing on the agenda except for strolling and taking in the surroundings.

My wife, Amy, has been trying to get the family to take frequent walks. Although I never feel like it when the idea comes up, when I go, I always feel strangely recharged by the time we’re done.

The strangest part about it is that after taking a long walk, when I get back home, the house doesn’t seem the same. Familiar things suddenly look strange. My mind must have adapted to an outdoor mode, and when I go back inside, it’s like my brain is protesting.

Especially at this time of year, I think I should start heeding that brain and spending more time outside the four-walled boxes that I’ve gotten so used to.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays.