Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
29 Jun

7 Old School Ways to Relish Summer

There’s nothing like living Primal in summer. Certain aspects just come easier: the copious fresh produce, unlimited outdoor exercise, long daylight, ample sunshine. True, those of us in the warmer states have some year-long advantage here. Nonetheless, summer remains my favorite season – probably a result of my New England roots. The brevity of the season there inevitably inspires a true carpe diem attitude. Wherever you go, however, I think summer brings with it a sense of adventure and spontaneity. Even if our school years are (decades) long gone, we still embrace summer as a kind of “holiday” from the routine. For many of us, the season is a time to explore, travel, and live outside, relegating the house to role of mere storage unit. There are the elaborate vacations, the well-planned day trips, the sporting and social events. Today, however, I’m thinking along nostalgic lines, some old school pastimes that invoke the (somewhat endangered) ease of summer.

As a kid, my favorite summer days and evenings were all about playing rough, running free, and living like the young savage I was. Needless to say, by the end of the day, I was wearing and eating the elements. Here are a few of my favorites – little to no equipment or planning required. Some, you could say, have subtle survivalist elements. Others are just an afternoon’s adventure or an invitation to lose yourself in a few hours of outdoor daydreaming. (The PB is about enjoying the best of life after all.) Each of them in some way, I think, fit the Primal theme, and they’re family friendly to boot. Here’s to kicking it old school this summer. Enjoy, everyone!

Night Walk

I’ll just say it: we don’t appreciate the dark enough these days. Caught up in the world of 24-hour illumination, we’ve lost touch with how to live at night as our ancestors did. As Richard Louv noted in Last Child in the Woods, many urban children have never even been in darkness before. They represent and feel more dramatically what our society as a whole has gravitated toward in recent decades: a fear of and disowning of natural darkness.

On the nights when I got to stay out late, I relished wandering into the thick of the darkened woods. My heart would beat faster. My palms would sweat. I felt like an alert animal, excitedly crossing a mysterious threshold. Yet, within a few yards I was one with the shadows.

There’s a more practical Primal lesson to be absorbed as well. Many have written about the modern undeveloped sense of night vision. Paul Shepard, Peter Nabokov, and others explain that the peripheral vision (compliments of those handy rod cells) we inherently use to “see” our way through a dark trail accesses a primitive level of consciousness – the primal “unconscious” as it’s often called. We can see finally when we stop thinking, when we let these long-buried, primeval abilities take the reins. For a young child, this comes naturally. For the rest of us, it’s a skill and adventure worth rediscovering. Check out your local recreation and environmental chapters, which often host night walks or at least moonlit walks during the summer.

Creek Stomping

It’s not exactly “leave no trace,” I realize, but it doesn’t get much more raw or earthy than this. (Make a mud shirt while you’re at it.) You’ve got the sun, the mud, and the water. (What more does a kid/Primal type need?) Truth be told, it’s just walking through the water, but that never dampened our exuberance. You can easily burn an afternoon alternatively gliding and rushing through the water, stopping as often as you want to inspect something curious along the banks or to check out the wildlife crawling or swimming by you – if you haven’t scared them away. (Plus, there were always the fits of laughter after someone flipped out about a leech – or several – on their leg.) We did it barefoot when left to our own devices or in old sneakers at summer camp. Done stealthily, you can snag yourself a snack, which leads me to the next pastime….

Cooking Your Own Catch

No cooler or kitchen here. Try on the old school scouting endeavor of making a fire and cooking up – right there in the dirt and sticks – whatever you can hunt, catch, or gather (observing state laws of course). Those fish or crawdads you snagged creek stomping? How about cooking ‘em up beachside? Make your feast as recreational or survivalist as you want. No need for matches or a Bic. Go hunting for some kindling and good fire bow materials. Want a brush up on primitive fire building? Check out this article.


First thing’s first: there’s absolutely no exercise or thought that goes into this endeavor. (Of course, that’s the point.) The more cerebral among us might enjoy studying the currents or taking advantage of bird watching opportunities. Mostly, though, tubing is the most soothing activity I’ve ever found. It’s literally impossible to be stressed while meandering down the river watching the trees, birds, and random wildlife/farm animals. (Cows especially love to watch tubers.) I’ll admit it’s been too long since my last go, but I recall the times I’ve tubed like they were yesterday. There are still a number of local tubing “societies” around the country that can hook you up with the best routes and get you happily acclimated into the summer tubing culture. (Although some like the solitary approach, others go in sizable groups with stocked floating coolers in tow.)

If you don’t have a tube worthy river by you (obviously not recommended for rivers with undertow or significant white water), use your tube to float on a nearby pond or small lake. No, you don’t get the benefit of constantly changing scenery around every bend, but it’s just as relaxing.


One of my favorite memories of camping when I was younger was sleeping on the beach of a small island where there was no light for miles around. Truth be told, I was too excited to sleep much that night. The sky was like a velvet backdrop dusted with millions of stars. Although there wasn’t a moon, the collective light of the stars was bright enough to light the beach and water. It was mid-August to boot, which meant we got to savor one of the best meteor showers of the year. I think we stopped counting shooting stars somewhere around 130.

There’s more to stargazing, of course, than shooting stars. How about mapping the constellations or learning to navigate by the stars like our primitive brethren?

Need a refresher on the constellations and the shifting night sky? Check out this PDF, for a summer night tour or Wunderground’s site, where you can get an exact map designed for your zip code.

Trail Running

I know a number of you out there do trail runs. Having abandoned my marathoning training years ago, this is the kind of running I most enjoy now (though, admittedly, it’s more walking than running these days). There’s something uniquely fortifying about the time on the trail that I just don’t get from a running path or even the beach for that matter. Of course, I often imagine myself running after or even with an imagined deer or other prey animal. With trail running, the key is becoming one with the trail as you allow yourself to “feel” it intuitively. As Peter Nabokov writes, certain indigenous groups have traditions of “trance running,” which grows from the runner’s relationship to the trail itself. The run becomes, in essence, a spiritual interaction between the earth and the runner him/herself. The trail isn’t to be learned but trusted. As a child it just inspired a kind of high, and today it does the same.

Early Dawn Climb

Years ago on a backpacking trip, we hiked our way to what would be our base camp in thick fog. As much of a PIA as it was at the time, the next morning’s view made it all worth it. We unknowingly woke up at the base of a majestic peak. We were all in total awe.

How about earning a similar moment of wonder without the overnight trek? Head out in the earliest light of dawn for what you know to be a rewarding trail. Although you’ll be making your way in dim light on the way up, you’ll enjoy your breakfast in the company of an incredible vista. Just think: you can still make that 8:00 a.m. meeting – although you’ll probably find yourself tempted to take the rest of the day off. Not a bad idea there.

Got your own old school summer exploits to share? (In my book, you can never have too many.) Comment away! Have a great week, everybody, and enjoy getting out there!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. We take our 20 month old son to the creek most days after work to throw rocks. It’s fun for him and it loosens me up after a day at my desk.

    Jane wrote on June 29th, 2011
  2. If you have children, or plan on having them, Last Child in the Woods is a GREAT book. So is Natural Childhood. It is by far my favorite child development book.

    Alyssa wrote on June 29th, 2011
  3. Great subject – I recently noticed my boys have become very buff since they have been climbing the trees in our back yard a lot, building tree forts and playing tree tag. I did that as a boy and loved it. Seems like it would be a great whole-body exercise. I plan to drag my 40-something buttocks out and climb with them.

    mrplavick wrote on June 29th, 2011
  4. I would do anything to get back out west where I actually enjoy being outdoors in summer. I’m not cut out for the nasty and disgusting humidity in the east – saps all joy out of the summer months. :(

    anon wrote on June 29th, 2011
  5. I take my paddle board to the beach really early morning and glide along in the very still morning waters of the gulf of mexico. It’s mystical and magical….I watch the sun come up or “fire up” if you will. I also love night walks.


    Marc wrote on June 29th, 2011
  6. I prefer water sports, like wakeboarding, water skis! Its a great workout for your upper body!

    frank wrote on June 29th, 2011
  7. Two great rivers to tube on in Nebraska: The Niobrara River and the Elkhorn River. The Elkhorn originates in the sparsely populated Sandhills and flows into the Missouri River near Omaha. (Stay away from that area this year!) The river is not very deep and has a nice sand bottom with lots of sandbars or sandy beaches to get out and relax on. You will float past beautiful country, small towns and wide open prairie/tree lined views. There is also a nice bike path which follows this river between Norfolk and O’neill.

    elkhorn husker wrote on June 29th, 2011
  8. Funny this topic should come up today. I just returned from a night climb of a local peak here in the North Cascades. I sat on the summit and watched the sun rise over a sea of clouds with other peaks sticking up like islands. It was amazing, beautiful, and even a little bit lonely. It hits you at your core. Man I love it.

    Jordan wrote on June 29th, 2011
  9. Best dawn climb we ever did was Mount Kenya. Up at 3AM with the guides. Got to summit (about 15,000ft) at 7AM to see the dawn. It was the top of the world!!

    Mike wrote on June 29th, 2011
  10. Such a great post! Triggers wonderful childhood memories.

    I’m with mrplavick about the tree climbing. We used to pack a picnic lunch (probably peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…today I would take some grilled chicken and an apple) and hike to ‘the tree of no-return.’ It was a big old pine tree about 1/2 a mile from home. We would climb to the top and eat our lunch and then hike home. It was an all day adventure.

    And then there was nighttime tag! Oh, what fun. Shadows darting out from behind trees…giggles and titters piercing the silent darkness.

    Thanks for the memories…and inspiration!

    Jan wrote on June 29th, 2011
  11. Tubing in the Ozark rivers like the Jacks Fork is a great trip. Next week we’re canoeing the Buffalo river in Arkansas and should have plenty of time to fish, hike, run trails and watch stars.

    Steve wrote on June 29th, 2011
  12. GROK APPROVED BE-havior
    Cuz ya have to BE it…to DO it
    So BE the you DO the summer fun…and my toes don’t get cold in my flip-flops..LOLOL>>>>>>

    Daveman wrote on June 29th, 2011
  13. Brilliant post Mark. Now I just need to get through this winter so I can appreciate summer again!

    Peter@themensdomain wrote on June 29th, 2011
  14. Ahhh. I night walk sounds lovely!! Great summer ideas.

    bleu wrote on June 29th, 2011
  15. Once upon a time I did a night walk through the tirolian forest with a bunch of people. My friend and I left most of the newbies behind and started marching ahead. It was a full moon but the forest was too thick to really see the ground. The trail all of a sudden stopped, ahead of us the open prarie and a stunning, blinding full moon.
    A teenage boy who was exhausted from the night hike, sweating and panting, pushed my friend and I out of the way to head into the open prarie where at the end of it was our little Lodge.
    The boy went ahead of us, fell over a log and dropped off the earth.
    The boy rolled about 300 meters down the steep hill (over rocks and ant piles) non of us saw because of the blinding moon.
    I never laughed so hard in my life. Priceless.

    Primal Palate wrote on June 29th, 2011
  16. What I love about these comments is how we all sound like exuberant children again. It’s still there in us, and it can be all the time, if we view life with that kind of fresh, wide-eyed wonder.

    kerrybonnie wrote on June 29th, 2011
  17. A favorite childhood summer activity: catching lightning bugs. Some places don’t have them any more, but we do here in rural TN. We used to play outside until dark and then try to catch lightning bugs.

    shannon wrote on June 29th, 2011
  18. Summer in Phoenix AZ: Right now the days are 110+F and nights are cooling down to about 80F. The birds are hanging out in the shade of bushes and trees and only flying when they absolutely have to. The water coming out of the cold water tap is just cool, but in a few weeks it will be warm. Swimming pools are great, but by the end of July, the water will be bathwater warm. The 6-foot tall brick fences that surround homes trap in the heat and don’t let breezes in. The overabundance of asphalt pavement and concrete traps the heat and releases it at night keeping the temperatures up.

    Right now the humidity and dew point are pretty low, but in a few weeks, the monsoon season will start and the humidity will make it uncomfortable to be outside anytime of the day or night — unless a dust storm or thunderstorm is raging. The weather won’t start cooling off until late October.

    The lakes around the city are crowded. Camping in the high country is a tradition in Arizona, but the northern part of the state has been ravaged by forest fires. Forests are closed and camping is restricted.

    You’ll find people walking or jogging at sunrise, but in the middle of the day the only people outside are landscaping crews and people who have to take the bus or ride their bicycles to get anywhere. Phoenix is not a pedestrian city and will never be. It’s too spread out.

    We get cabin fever in the summer because it’s just too hot to do anything outside.

    Linda in AZ wrote on June 29th, 2011
    • That sounds horrible. I never thought of the impact of the walls surrounding housing areas. I also saw a documentary that stated that AZ esp. Phoenix is drying up and getting hotter with each summer. The water comes from another state through a HUGE canal, which stretches for hundreds of miles, is that true?

      So that part of AZ has no water of its own, why did ‘white man’ settle down in that area when they first came over?
      I guess they never thought they’d run out of ANY resources.
      Sure makes it hard for everyone there now.

      Primal Palate wrote on June 30th, 2011
  19. Catfish noodling! The most masculine, Primal, sexy thing a man can do in the summer!

    Iris wrote on June 29th, 2011
  20. It winter here in New Zealand. I take my dogs for a walk most nights and have an abundance of trails to follow. I used to take a torch but it’s just so much more relaxing without. No need to concentrate on the lighted area; just trust your instincts and go.

    Patrick wrote on June 29th, 2011
  21. I love this! I grew up in the Midwest and we truly celebrated summer. Now I live in the subtropical Florida weather and summers aren’t celebrated with the same zeal.

    Jessica K wrote on June 29th, 2011
  22. I live in Charleston, South Carolina. This evening we had a summer storm and, I took my dog, Zoe. to the beach (Sullivan’s Island)

    Because of the weather it was just she and I. AND… She got so FRIGGING excited and ran and was so happy- I thought, man, I am lucky to be there and be around her, and, why don’t I feel like that every time I get to be near the ocean.

    Happy summer everyone :)

    Shaun wrote on June 29th, 2011
  23. Catching (and releasing) fireflies – for those of you in the Upper Midwest. You get some exercise chasing after those lightning bugs, and it’s super fun for kids.

    When I was little I was scared of the dark so at about age 8 or so, my dad started taking me for night hikes during the summer. All the night noises that had scared me suddenly became more familiar – and less scary. Owls, coyotes, crickets, frogs… (ok, the coyotes still freak me out!). But those were some of my fondest memories and it meant so much to have that quality time and be learning something besides.

    Dawn wrote on June 29th, 2011
  24. this is so crazy!
    the other night i really wanted to go for a late night walk.
    i have not gone creek walking in years and am recently decided i need to go agian this summer.
    as i was leaving my moms house tonight(she lives in some what country) I looked up at the stars and thought i want to go out and just lay on a blanket and stare up at them.
    i love sunrises and not going for a morning hike but will venture out to see one in the near future.
    and now i just read this list! glad we agree on many summer favorites! thnks

    me wrote on June 29th, 2011
  25. We spent the summers on our bikes. We left the house at some very early hour and didn’t come back until it was dark. We didn’t go inside until forced to because we would play kick the can in the woods across the street from our house until bodily forced into the house by our mothers. We raided gardens for peas, carrots, raspberries, crab apples and drank from whatever hose was handy. The joys of living in a small town where such behaviour wasn’t only indulged but expected….

    Allison wrote on June 30th, 2011
  26. ‘unlimited outdoor exercise, long daylight, ample sunshine. True, those of us in the warmer states have some year-long advantage here.’

    Actually, for those of us in the warmer states, summer is an absolutely miserable time.

    Betterways wrote on June 30th, 2011
  27. Nothing beats going out on the boat! Fishing, tubing, skiing, doesn’t matter what you do.

    Gary Deagle wrote on June 30th, 2011
  28. Reading in a tree — not sure how primal this would be, but I spent most of my childhood in the crotch of a tree reading. It was in the front yard of my suburban house and I just now got a flash of what the neighbors must have thought about that weird girl who spent hours in tree every day with her nose buried in a book. LOL! At least it was outdoors. Bugs, heat, wind — ah, that feeling just before a thunderstorm hits when the air is alive and you don’t want to EVER go inside, so you wait until the first drops fall — when you have to go in so that your book isn’t ruined. :) I spent too much time reading and not enough time doing as a kid, but I’m making up for it now.

    Ann Coleman wrote on June 30th, 2011
  29. We love summer around here in MN!!! Its not a long season for us and we try to take advantage of it as much as we can!! After dinner summer walks with the kids, grilling out almost every night!! Our fav is sitting around the fire pit enjoying a great summer evening!!

    The Real Food Mama wrote on June 30th, 2011
  30. I think those of us in more northern regions have a special experience of summer with our super-short nights. I love late-evening walks in the summertime–there’s something magic about the lingering daylight. I remember one Solstice night where my friends and I stayed up all night,laying stretched out on the grass, drinking homemade hard cider from the previous fall and watching the sun linger, barely disappear in the twilight, and then return to the sky.

    I also love summer thunderstorms. I used to hang out with my dad under the porch roof and watch the lightning flash across the sky. These days, my partner is also a storm lover, and we sit out under the shelter of the eaves with our arms around each other and relish the thunder.

    Owly wrote on June 30th, 2011
  31. My summer relaxation is paddle boarding on the calm Lake Michigan. I love watching the sunset, and moon rise, and the calming sound of the waves crashing on the beach. I love summer time!

    Christine wrote on June 30th, 2011
  32. Surfing at night. Nothing equal.

    Barry wrote on June 30th, 2011
  33. I’ve been gone a long time, but reading these fellow Michiganders reminds me of a trip when I was about 13. Dad took the five of us (two sisters, me and mom) on a hiking/canoe trip around the inland lakes of Isle Royale in the middle of Lake Superior. Long lakes dot the island, and dad and I (older brother) had to portage between. We lasted a week or so in the woods on freeze-dried stuff and some fish, if I remember right. What an adventure!

    Jonny wrote on June 30th, 2011
  34. Hi Mark….THANKS again for another wonderful post! As always, your zeal and 110% belief in the PB lifestyle comes across beautifully in your writings. Your words of wisdom are always welcome guidance on my journey of becoming more Primal. Today’s post brought on goose bumps with the long forgotten childhood memories of true carefree FUN. The night walk, tubing, and trail running are absolutely on my list of things to do this summer.

    I’ve been reading your post for months now, it’s about time I say “thanks”!

    pgs98 wrote on July 1st, 2011
  35. What, no mention of catching fireflies? That’s one of my favorite childhood memories, running around in the dark in a backyard or field, with my brothers and our friends, collecting jars of fireflies to glow up our rooms for the night. My parents would always let them go after we fell asleep…

    Harrison_Bergeron wrote on July 1st, 2011
  36. It may be for the younger, whether chronological or merely the young at heart, but catching fire flies was one of my favourite things as a youngin. There was also hide-and-seek at night.

    Harold Crews wrote on July 1st, 2011
  37. This list sounds great, but sadly it’s hard to enjoy summer Primally with an insect phobia :/ I really must get over this. Going to the beach and some trail walking is the most I can do at the moment.

    RobyRey wrote on July 1st, 2011
  38. I love my teaching job but summer is sweet! my 7 are:
    1. stand in a small creek catching and releasing trout
    2. climb anyplace there’s bolts in the rock, climb as much as possible.
    3. sleep in the bed of the pickup in the forest or by climbing areas struggling to keep my eyes open to spot falling stars
    4. campfires (in the backyard and campgrounds)
    5. ROAD TRIP
    6. picnics at the lake with the sailboat, kayaks and slack line set up on shore
    7. get the mountain bike on singletrack

    DThalman wrote on July 2nd, 2011

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