the need for “down time” and getting back to nature

the need for “down time” and getting back to nature

We could have made the title “fond memories of getting back to nature”.  And, in fact, we have 2 essays in one for today.

We often do not realize how stressed our nervous systems are in modern, urban life.  Our lives are very pressured, so very hectic with so many demands placed upon us each and every day.  This is true at work and at home.  Our senses are overwhelmed by stimuli and our brains work over time to sift through everything being fed to them from the senses.

There is a need for “down time” or relaxation and rest – and not just for the body, but for the mind as well.  One can practice meditation, but, it is helpful for many of us to change our surroundings and get away from our homes and routines for brief periods.

Even simple activities like rowing a boat on a lake, or taking a hike in a state park or wilderness area, can be enjoyable without constant titillation of the senses.  When you go back to nature, even if it is only tending your backyard garden for an hour or two, leave the radios, televisions, cell phones, I-pads, etc. behind.  Humans lived without these gadgets for thousands of years.  You can live without them for a few days.

Before continuing, let us note that nature can be a killer as we all know.  The recent deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma (central US) come to mind.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, floods, avalanches, volcanoes, etc. also claim many lives each year around the world.

Yet, we humans are a part of nature.  At the beach, the sunbathers are every bit a part of the natural environment there as are the waves, the sand, the sea birds, the sun in the sky, etc.  (We see that young women in bikinis appear quite frequently in pictures taken at the beaches.)

A beach on Mexico’s Pacific coast.


beach in western Mexico


The need to “get away” from the home surroundings now and then is real.  The British in colonial India would journey to the so-called “hill stations” in the foothills of the Himalaya to escape the intense summer heat of the Ganges’ plain.  These were retreats that were cooler due to their higher elevation.  (They say that the folks in Alice Springs (central Australia) live under ground to avoid the summer heat.)

It is good to get close to nature.  To walk in the forest and along a stream or river, or boat on a lake, are simple ways of doing so.  Hiking, camping, fishing and hunting are ways to enjoy the outdoors.  For those not liking to fish or hunt, you can take a “photographic safari” by taking a camera with you into the outdoors and seeing what wildlife you can capture on film.

Viewing a sunset, or a moonrise is enjoyable and relaxing, too, especially along a sea-shore or on a bay or lake.  When you are in or near the forest or wooded areas, enjoy the sounds of the birds, the scents of the plant life, and the wind sighing in the tall trees.

When going out to the wilderness, do exercise reasonable caution and common sense.  At higher elevations, it is much easier to be burned by the sun’s rays.  Wear appropriate clothing including a hat, long sleeve cotton shirts and use a strong sun screen on exposed skin.  If you are hiking in areas where there can be snakes, wear hiking boots and long pants.  Scan the ground as you walk.  If you see a snake, avoid it, go around it with many yards (meters) between you and the snake.  They are not going to chase after you if you leave them alone.  Only a very small number of all those who walk in the forest (in the US) will contract Lyme disease from infected ticks.  But, by wearing long sleeves and a hat, you reduce your risk even further.  If hats are not for you, then run your fingers through your hair now and then to feel for ticks that may have dropped on to you from the trees above. (Lyme disease is treated by a very lengthy antibiotic regimen, I believe.  It is good to avoid contracting it in the first place.)

some fond memories

Some years ago (1986 – 1996), I worked for a major electric and gas utility based in San Francisco.  The company had built barracks or cabins for its construction workers at a number of remote hydroelectric sites in northern California.  These sites were where small dams on rivers had been constructed, and small hydro plants had been built.  The company, for a small user fee per day, rented these cabins out to its employees and their families for vacation use. (Some of these sites were open year round (with resident caretakers).  Other camps were only open from early April to mid October because of heavy winter snow.)

Situated in the mountains at elevations of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, some higher than 1,000 meters, these camps did often get significant amounts of snow over the course of a winter.  The northernmost mountainous inland part of California gets colder winters than many people realize.  Lakes (formed by the dams) were nearby and offered fishing and boating, and in summer, swimming.  As well, at one camp there was a waterfall at the end of a trail through the woods along a stream (that fed the lake).  (This was Burney Falls near to Camp Britton with lake of same name.)

The cabins at these various lakes were pretty rustic or basic and lacked some amenities.  That, of course, was part of their appeal.  These had no central heating and lacked natural gas service due to their remoteness from any utility gas pipelines.  Thus, the kitchens were all-electric.  Cannot now recall if they had ovens, but they did have electric stove burners for boiling and frying.  As for heat, you were provided with some portable electric heaters – the kind that make a bit of noise when they heat up as they cycle on and off throughout the night.  There was running water and toilets.  At some camps, the showers were pretty basic.  But, this was easier than camping outside in a tent.

Being located about ten miles (16 kilometers) or more from the nearest town meant that you had to bring your own supplies with you, and that included food, toiletries, and, for many, beer.  The usual routine was to stop in the nearest town and purchase the beer (in quantity) on your drive to the campsite.

There were no TVs, no radios, etc.  (This was in the time prior to cell phones and I-pads, etc.)  Even your car radio would not pick up much other than static in the mountains.  If you wanted music, you either brought along a guitar, or some cassettes for the car’s cassette player.  We usually packed a few cassettes for the drive.

We visited these camps during the “off-season” a few times (in late March or early April, and once in November).  The camps were normally not full to capacity at such times. Thus, we could rent multiple cabins as some of Lucy’s siblings came along with their children.

I can fondly recall the visits to Camp Britton, about 10 miles from the town of Burney.  We stayed there in early April a couple of times.  There was one long building that had been divided by walls into several independent apartments.  Each “apartment” or “cabin” had a front door for bringing in your supplies from the car, and a back door that opened on to a wooden walkway that ran the length of the building.  From the back door, you were only about 25 or 30 yards from the lake.  Row boats were at the lakeshore.  One could row out on the lake and enjoy the sky, the trees along the shore, and the cool air.  As well, one could walk around the lake on various trails, one of which took you up to the waterfall.

In the morning, you could open the back door and see large blue jays strutting along the top of the wooden hand rail of the walkway only a few feet away.  In the afternoon, one could take out a chair and sit on this walkway (now in shade) and drink your beverage of choice.  Beer or coffee or tea – it was relaxing without a care in the world.  In this setting, time passes more slowly and you are not living to any schedule.  You are not stressed in any way.

At another camp, Lake Almanor (open year round), the cabins were individual structures.  The lake was more distant from the cabins and the whole area was less heavily wooded.  On our visit there in late March, 1989, the children made a large snow man on the first evening behind one of the cabins.  As the snow melted over the next few days, I was able to do some walking.  I can recall walking along the remote railroad tracks some distance from the cabins.  There was a little remaining snow in patches still melting on the ground.  I was by myself out in the open with the trees many of which were without leaves and the evergreens.  The blue sky above me with some thin, wispy white clouds and the lake to my left some distance away framed my view this afternoon.

One can lose one’s sense of self at times like this.  If you let your mind go blank for a few moments, you can feel a part of the surroundings.  The subject – object dichotomy breaks down.  You are not separate from the surroundings, but are a part of the scene.

The railroad tracks were well maintained but puzzled me.  The only reason for a spur off the distant north-south mainline would be for logging operations as there is no heavy industry nor mining in this remote part of the state.

There was also a company campsite at Bass Lake much further to the south (southwest of Yosemite National Park).  That camp was memorable for the nearby forests and for its quiet surroundings.  But, it had the most primitive cabins that were cold and draughty.

Thanks for reading!  And, get away from the “rat race” from time to time if you can.  (Next essay, we’ll do less words and more pictures.)

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