The cabin has no electricity or running water. The trees press close around it. The house of the friends who own it is a short walk away. The sense of isolation is complete. I have ten days in this place where moose and bear come wandering across the front lawn. Ten splendid days of vacation.
My friends are devoted hikers. One of them, like me, has taken into her head that she wants to hike all the 4,000 foot mountains in NH, and towards that end we have planned two ambitious hikes two weekends in a row to bag some peaks. To save a bit of driving, I’m staying with them between hikes in their guest cabin here in the north country.
The week between is a span of unstructured time. Long, lovely days of nothing in particular to do. I sleep late, go up to the house after my hosts have left for work to make myself a cup of tea. I sit with their cat on the deck and plan out my day. Take a walk, do some writing, drive into town to make use of the public library’s wireless to check email and get a little work done. My choice.
This is how time off should be. Days like a blank canvas waiting to be filled. People plan vacations as if it were paint-by-numbers. If the schedule is departed from, if the wrong color goes in the wrong place or the brush smears outside the lines, their perfect picture is spoiled.
I came into these ten days with a vague idea of what the picture might be, but it is composing itself, much as stories often do, taking unexpected turns into unanticipated directions. I have the luxury of being able to follow where it goes. Wouldn’t it be splendid to live this way, to not be constantly juggling the demands of others! Genuine leisure, to fill as one wishes. It is very selfish.
A hundred and a half miles away are the obligations and rewards of unselfishness, the family waiting for my return, the animals that depend on me to look after them, the duties at work being carried out by someone else putting in extra hours, everyone sacrificing a bit so that I can enjoy this release. I would do the same for them. Would I love it as much if I lived every day as I am now during these ten days? Would I come to long for the bustle and noise, connected and structured, social and familial?
A full, happy life includes all of it. And it isn’t just that leisure unearned is not as much appreciated. Even if the work never netted a day’s vacation it would have value in itself. What we do for others enriches the world, and an enriched world benefits all of us.
But for now, at this moment, I have five more days of drifting, floating, lazy freedom. I shall relish it.