In Defense of the Backyard

We woke up early. Grudgingly. Even the worst of sleeping bags and hardest of ground feel warm and inviting at 5 a.m. Slowly, we stirred and dragged ourselves out of the tents. The fire had died and needed relighting, but a short while later, we were gorging ourselves on pancakes, eggs, and bacon, laughing, hollering, and enjoying a morning outside to the fullest. Stories were shared, most of them well-rehearsed classics and a few untried. We were a rowdy bunch, no doubt, but who would complain? No one could hear us but the birds and squirrels and maybe a few larger creatures.

The earliest rays of light began to cut through the trees, nagging and prodding us to be on our way. We packed up only what was needed and set off, leaving the bulk of the load behind and carrying only some water, a few snacks, and maybe a light jacket. We weren’t going far. Our gear would forgive us for this brief time apart.

The going is slow, as are most things before the sun rises. We trudge along without saying much—just listening. But, just as the trek begins to feel strenuous, it ends.

Our destination isn’t new. We’ve all been here at least a dozen times. It’s a summertime favorite: a small cascade that some go so far as to call a waterfall. At the bottom, the water is just deep enough to take a dip. There’s hardly enough room to truly swim but plenty to submerge and refresh—our shower for the day. We spend a few hours, kicking back and enjoying the scenery and good company. Eventually, one of us is forced to check the time, confirming what we all feared. We grab our things and head back to our camp.

We broke down camp while cursing our office obligations. Bags are packed poorly, carried the stones-throw distance back to cars, and tossed in with loving neglect. Our retreat, grand as it may have been, had an expiration date, which we surely exceeded by a healthy margin. Everyone heads off in their own direction, to work or other commitments. It’s nearly 9 o’clock, Wednesday morning, and we’re all late for work.

Our retreat, grand as it may have been, had an expiration date, which we surely exceeded by a healthy margin.

We hadn’t gone very far. We didn’t reach a 4,000-, 3,000-, or even 2,000-foot peak—or any summit, for that matter. None of us were more than 20 minutes from home. Some of us were biking- or even walking-distance from our own back doors. Zero out of 10 doctors recommend the amount of sleep we got, and caffeine was necessary to get through work the next day. Regardless, that night and the following morning became one of my favorite adventures. It was small, without much planning and nearly no investment, but served its purpose. The work week seemed a little less daunting, and the weekend not so far away. Our only cost was breakfast, the total hike was a mile at most, the travel time measured in minutes, and no time was taken off from work.

This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with traveling: You should every chance you get. There isn’t anything wrong with week-long trips, either: That’s the perfect length in my mind. Finally, this isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with peak bagging. In fact, I race to the Adirondacks and White Mountains every chance I get.

A bed of pine needles may not cradle you like your memory foam mattress, but the night-sky promises better dreams than your ceiling.

But, in the age of social media, it can be easy to think that you need to tour a national park to enjoy the outdoors. Your Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with photos of expensive trips in far-off places. That friend you haven’t talked to since high school now lives on the slopes of the Rockies. Your uncle takes his old RV across the country each summer. A coworker runs up a mountain before work and comes in with a fresh kale smoothie. That girl you met that one time that seems to know everybody is somewhere new every single month, and we’re all wondering how she can afford it.

You don’t need to travel far to get outside, or weeks off at a time to do so. You don’t need to be a superhuman, or to be rich to catch a sunrise. From what I hear, it’s the same sun no matter where you go.

Credit: Luke Brown

Just get out. There are plenty of incredible places only a short drive from home. How many sites do you drive by twice a day, reminding yourself to check it out some time? You’ve lived in the same town for years: How many of its mundane trails or public park loops have you roamed? If you only have a few hours, take a quick walk in the woods. It’ll do you more good than a few hours in front of a screen. A bed of pine needles may not cradle you like your memory foam mattress, but the night-sky promises better dreams than your ceiling. If you can’t walk very far, who says you need to go for miles? If you work all day, buy a headlamp, and own the night. Not every day needs to feature a life-list objective, if your life is already filled with everyday objectives.