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!
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.
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….
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?
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.
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!