I was nine years old, in the middle of a summer at my Aunt Anita’s house near the Puget Sound in Washington state. When we weren’t out on the water in my uncle’s commercial fishing boat, long summer days were spent in their sprawling old home. Each afternoon when it was “time to play outside,” I could be found perched on top of the three cement stairs that lead to the kitchen. I would lean my back against the screen door and read my book. I could be forced to go outside, but they couldn’t make me like it.
I did ride my bike in my neighborhood growing up, my childhood summers always included a period of time with scrapes on elbows or knees from the inevitable bike crashes I became known for. We camped in the summer, spent time at the lake, and visited the beach often. I liked to be outside, it was fine. I just liked to be inside more.
When I was a teenager, I staked out a spot at the end of the path that connected one side of base housing to the other. At the far end of the path, there was a lake, a picnic table covered by a carport with a soda machine tucked into the corner. It was perfect. When life got crazy, I retreated to this safe spot. It was outside, but not too outside. I was covered, there was cold soda, and yet I could enjoy the sights, sounds, and sensations of the wilder world.
I love to walk on the beach and I love to explore the wooded paths closer to home. Getting out in the kayaks, riding our bikes, or just hanging out in the yard are all equally enjoyable ways to spend a day. And yet, if I’m honest, I am always relieved to head back inside when the day is over.
Once, I heard someone say that they loved rainy days because they didn’t demand anything of you. I heartily agree. In New England, when the weather is nice it is irresponsible not to respond by going out to enjoy it. And so, I do. But my favorite days are those perfect few that align with a negotiable schedule. The kind of day that says, yes, stay in your pajamas and have a second cup of tea. There’s no need to rouse yourself. It’s an inside kind of day.
We are moving toward a whole season of those days. The winter here is brutal. The wind chill bottoms out in the below zero range, and the snow often piles up to the window sills. As the thin sun brings light but no heat, we retreat into the warmth of our homes. There will be a wood stove, books, blankets, and a pot of tea. But not yet.
Yesterday, it was almost eighty degrees. I spent time walking through the garden at the college where I work. The leaves are about to turn. Winter preparations are underway, but the long limbs that spread across the campus still hold their leaves. Soon, we will see them fluttering slowly toward the ground. Fall is a series of fits and starts, one day thick and warm, the next brisk. But we are moving inevitably toward winter.
Until then, I will gather up sunny afternoons, and brisk walks across campus. I will enjoy the tracing of frost across the windshield, and the antics of the squirrels saving up for winter. I will pay attention to the changes, the smell of leaves gathering under trees, and the long wide V flying overhead. I will notice that the mums have replaced petunias in the planters I drive by on my way to work and the way the light comes later and later each morning.
Fall inevitably leads to winter, and when it arrives I will welcome it as an old friend. It is finally time to go back inside.