The other day my husband and I had a burning. The smoke was everywhere, flames so high they scorched our hairline a bit and yet the fire department knew, we had a permit, all was well with the world. Of course I had gone to the gym already that day (I know, I’m trying) but it just didn’t compare with the joy in my muscles as I hauled wood from the pile of small trees he’d cut over to the enormous fire, raked the thousands of leaves away, down the hill, over toward the woods, out of harm’s way.
We kept looking at each other and smiling because the wonder of working outside does it for us every time. When we’re tucked away at our computers or cooking up a meal, driving, or, in my case, standing over the copy machine for a good portion of an hour at work, or teaching math, or sitting in meetings, we feel safe, sure, we feel productive. But there’s something transformative about getting outside and doing actual physical labor that reconnects us to the house and land we are so grateful to live in and upon and that reconnects us with Earth, brings our energies all into alignment and tires us out in a way that feels more real, somehow, than the exercise bike ever does.
Being outside is therapeutic. It binds us with the parts of ourselves that are ageless, timeless, older than that new house down the road but still younger than the trees some distance away. It ignites our inner animal, the parts of us that react without editing, to the sun or the wind on our skin, to the rhythm of our footfall or the way our eye catches a rabbit bouncing past.
The shape of nature is so silent, so strong, beckoning us to exist without so much inner and outer judgment or criticism, without so much self-doubt or inquiry into the nature of our social status or financial status. As my older son proceeds through middle school and begins to battle the “winner versus loser” war within his peer group, I mourn for the innocent days when he played in the sandbox and spent hours on the beach, splashing in the waves… I realize we are all struggling with these middle school labels, still, who has the better apartment, house, car, job, spouse, children.