It turns out I’m not the person I thought I was. Not exactly, anyway.
For years, I’ve described myself with a term coined by a college friend: indoorsy. I’ve always preferred being within four walls. I love watching movies, cooking, writing, reading. If I were to summarize my childhood in a single image, it would be me wearing late-80s stretch pants and a crewneck sweatshirt, hair in coordinating scrunchie, stretched long on the living room couch with a book.
It’s not that I never went outside. No, my mom (avid gardener and walker) and dad (a man of many hobbies that have included windsurfing, long boarding, and mountain biking) made sure of that. I cross-country skied, played catch in the front yard and romped in the woods. I walked to school and went on plenty of family bike rides. But given a choice, I’d usually stay in. I like sitting on upholstered furniture, keeping my fair skin out of the sun, resting assured that a gust of wind is not going to whoosh up and blow away my napkin, and knowing that a flushing toilet is footsteps away.
As I’ve contributed pieces to “Out There Monthly” over the years, my true identity has kind of tickled me, being this avid indoorswoman who doesn’t rock climb or kayak or spelunk and rarely even hikes, whose camping experiences have all taken place within 20 feet of my car’s parking spot. I like to learn about the activities of all you intrepid outdoor adventurers. I even love writing about them – as long as it’s from the comfort of my own home or neighborhood coffee shop.
But I realized something recently: I’ve changed. The shift was so gradual that for a while, I didn’t recognize it. Fifteen years ago, in college in western Washington, I started jogging with a friend. Before long I was spending time outside, for fun, for almost an hour a day. Unlike when I’d been forced to run in high school P.E., this was running for pleasure, and that made all the difference.
On foot I’d notice the things that would have blurred by out a car window. I ran to a park on the waterfront where I’d sit by the bay, watching the waves and seagulls for a few minutes before heading home. I ran the switchbacks up a wooded hillside and jogged the steps of a tower overlooking the city. I learned my neighborhood intimately, then expanded my circle to other neighborhoods. I discovered that, to quote explorer Ranulph Fiennes, “there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” I ran in the rain and the sun and the mud and the frost. I loved it.
Then, nine years ago, after I’d gotten married and moved to Spokane, my husband and I got a dog. She had a puppy’s trademark floppy-eared, klutzy energy and needed two walks a day, plus plenty of chasing around the yard. Getting outside multiple times a day was a necessity. And then, several years later, we began having kids. And man, if there’s anything that will make you crave a change of scenery, it’s indoor life with small children. From the time we got home from the hospital, I made it a priority to go outdoors every day – because otherwise I was going to lose my mind.
These days, I’ll pull my girls (now 3 and 1) down the street in their little blue wagon for 15 minutes simply to know we left the house that day, or push them on the swings in a frosty park, where our energy can dissipate into the blue sky rather than bouncing off the walls. We’ll stand out on the driveway after we get home from church on Sunday nights, marveling together at the stars in the sky, noting the moon’s shape, letting the cold air turn our cheeks pink.
Our stargazing might last all of three minutes, but I’ve come to love these small moments and tiny adventures, just as I love my runs and my walks with the dog. I realize I need them as much as time curled up with a book or standing at my kitchen counter with a new recipe. They knock down the walls of my comfortable life, reminding me how vast and beautiful and utterly uncontrollable life actually is. They make me grateful for what I have and where I am. Each of those little, relatively tame outdoor moments has given me something, slowly growing my love for the wide, wild world out there. //