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Is 30 Minutes Enough?

I have been thinking about a simple question for awhile now. In fact, as I successfully completed my 2012 challenge to get outside for at least thirty minutes every day, I wondered if thirty minutes of outdoor time was enough.  The question came with me on my walks and lingered well after I returned home.

I contemplated upping the challenge to go out for at least 60 minutes a day during 2013. Was 30 minutes of my day a tough enough challenge? Would I have more to write about and would it be more interesting to my readers if I went out longer? Is 1/48th of a day a sufficient amount of outdoor time? Most days 30 minutes is pretty easy to accomplish—what would 60 minutes feel like when the wind chill is well below zero or when I had a fever of 102?  Would 1/24 of a day be twice as good? Does the ratio of outdoor time to indoor time even matter? And what does it mean to be enough? What is the core goal here?

The concept reentered my thinking in February after I presented at the Portland Trails 2013 Annual Meeting. I presented what I’m doing here in this Everyday Outside blog and what the 365 Everyday Outside Challenge is. The format only allowed me to share the essence of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

(You can watch the video here.  My introduction starts at 43:22 and my presentation starts with a little nervous laughter at 44:46.)

After the presentation my mother-in-law said, “It seems like such a simple thing to do… I must already go outside for at least 30 minutes. I walk to and from the car a lot.”  Then I could see her remember that the only thing I don’t count towards my outdoor time is walking to and from the car. Before I started the challenge, I too would have thought that I was outside for at least 30 minutes most days, but as I began to keep track of my minutes, I was shocked at how much more I was going outdoors than I had in the past. The goal of not missing more than one day a month pushed me to make a conscious effort, and that made all the difference.

There were many days when I would not have gone for a walk if it wasn’t for the challenge, nights when I was about to crawl into bed after 10:00, having just slipped on my cozy fleece pajamas only to remember that that I hadn’t gone outside. Without the challenge, I wouldn’t have bothered, but with it, I had just enough of a push to get me out of bed and out the back door with my pajamas on. In 2012 I went out that back door in the wee hours like that more times than I could count because I was counting.

After the presentation, my husband thought that my talk made the challenge sound easy, and he knows otherwise. In 2012, when I started this journey to get outside every day, I would absolutely agree, that it isn’t easy. But it is much easier now than it was for the first year. People say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I gave myself a whole year, and it is now certainly a habit that will last a lifetime. So far in 2013 I’ve missed only one day.

This habit has made me noticeably happier. I’m pretty sure my happiness is directly proportional to how much outdoor time I get. Maybe it is in part because my indoor time is connected to work, responsibilities, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and stuff that I have to do and which I rarely feel on top of. Outdoor time almost always involves stuff I really want to do. Maybe I am happier because I am getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D or more exercise or fresh air. Or is it possible that my increased happiness level is a result of a deep, sustained, everyday connection with the natural world? I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly what is responsible for making me feel happier but I know that my outdoor time has contributed significantly. I also know that the key is at least 30 minutes.  Anything less than 30 minutes would not be enough because most days 30 minutes isn’t sufficient for my nature connection.

In part I’m keeping my challenge to 30 minutes because I really want others to join me, and for the challenge to be an attainable goal that others want to achieve. My dog walking family and friends go outside every day and between 20-40 people have said they’re taking the outdoor challenge this year. So lots of people are getting outside regularly, but I know that most aren’t. Most days I get outside for more than a half-hour, but there are days when it is all I can do to make those thirty precious minutes happen, and those are the days when I need that time the most.  On those days 30 minutes is enough.

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What do you think?  Is thirty minutes of daily outdoor time enough for you?

 

The Pull of a Trail

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Do you feel it?  Do you feel the pull?  There is something about a well made trail that pulls me along, makes me want to continue to run, walk, or ski over it. Helping me forget about the zillion details and responsibilities that make up my life. That pull calls me back again and again to discover the same beautiful and yet ever changing combination of rocks, wood, soil, leaves, animals, and light. Maybe it is the width of the trail and how it appears to narrow as you look far ahead, maybe it is how it twists and turns, maybe it is the knowledge that some unexpected beauty may exist somewhere ahead of where I am, maybe it is the lure of the unknown, the unseen.  Whatever it is, I feel it.  I feel it in the core of my being.

Treacherous Trails, Swollen Jewell Falls, Unexpected Treasure

I woke up at 3:30 am last night. I tossed and turned for 1.5 hours before dragging my tired tush out of bed. I worked for 1.5 hours and then decided to go outside. I grabbed my camera and drove to one of the Portland Trail entrances to Jewell Falls and hoped to walk all the way to Stroudwater. Upon arrival I learned this was going to be a slow crawl of a walk. The ice was often 4-6 inches thick and along the edges where the ice had melted was 4-6 inches of mud.  There were a few spots of snow along which I could find some secure footing, but for the most part I had to be very, very careful.

The falls were swollen with the recent rain and the snow melt.  jewell falls_horizontal_130313jewell falls_vertical_130313

After taking several minutes to absorb the sounds, smell, and sight of the waterfall I carried on along the trail. I managed to get pretty far down the trail and enjoyed my walk. Just as I turned to head home I heard two incredibly angry crows who indicated to  me that a predator was about.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the flash of big wings and I was pretty sure the crows were pissed that an owl or hawk was near by.  I was leaning towards an owl so I followed the racket until I could see it.  I actually said, “Yes!” in an out-loud whisper in response to making eye contact with this guy.  (Look in the center of the photo below…)owl_jewell falls_130313

I was hoping he’d fly toward me so I could capture an even closer photo, but it was enough to stand and have a starring contest. Certainly made up for a terrible night sleep.

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The Blizzard of ’13, Record Snow in Portland

The Blizzard of ’13 brought just shy of 32″ to Portland, ME.  Snow started falling on Friday morning even though the meteorologists said Nemo would hit in the evening. The snow didn’t let up until late the next day. The temperatures were down in the single digits, with a fierce wind driving the wind chill into dangerous territory.

I posted on Facebook that I might not go outside on Saturday until the blizzard blew out of town, which returned some cheerleading and mild grief from my community of on-line friends. Soon after this my daughter turned off the TV and announced, “I’m going out,” Of course, I decided to join her and my son dropped his X-box game to jump into gear.

We bundled up covering every inch of our bodies except for our eyes, and soon we were shoveling our way out of the house. Once we made it off the back porch, my children and the neighbors’ kids abandoned shoveling in favor of fort making. The snow-bank forts were tall and needed some simple carving to make places to sit and hide. We took time from our building to sit in the snow and admire the work of Mother Nature. How heavy it weighed on our old white pine, how thoroughly it blanketed our world in such a thick layer, and how it so quickly fell from the white sky. And when the gusts would kick up and sting passed, we’d duck our heads and turn away from the wind. Some of the neighborhood mommas and I would hug our kids’ faces into our chests as though they were babies again. The kids got their faces protected while unknowingly warming their mothers’ hearts.

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Later, my son came in exhausted from several hours of deep snow adventure and observed, “Taking two steps today is like taking 100 steps during the summer.” To me, it’s much harder, but he’s got the right idea. Each step through all this snow involves both lifting the foot as high as three household stairs and then pushing that very stair down into the floor.

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IMG_1391IMG_1388On both Friday and Saturday skiers outnumbered cars on my street.  When I lived in Boston, I was alone when I’d go skiing on the streets after a big storm.  Here in Portland, I’m just one of the gang, so by late afternoon, I was skiing towards the cemetery with a friend from around the block. We hopped on a wooded trail near the Brentwood Garden and found the snow packed down nicely by snowshoes. We tried to break our own trail at a couple points, but found it incredibly challenging. It’s a tough slog through that much fresh snow, so thanks snowshoe-ers! When we reached the bottom of the first hill behind the garden, we turned right into a strand of white pines. The breeze was still strong enough to clank these massive giants against each other, and we could easily imagine a branch – or even a whole tree – falling on us so we got out of the woods and skied through the cemetery.  Making trail on these unplowed roads was tougher than in the woods, but once a trail was cut, the conditions were fabulous.

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Our city is recovering rapidly from this massive storm. The kids are at school and it is time to get back to work. To all my New England readers, I hope that you were safe and warm during the storm and that you were able to get outside to enjoy the massive power of Mother Nature.  She left me in awe. Again.