A few weeks ago I made the herculean push to get myself out of bed in time to make an 8 a.m. coffee date. When I shuffled into the coffee shop in downtown Palmer, I was, well, sleepy. It was still dark outside and I gave myself silent applause for successfully being present.
I went because some people I like were meeting, and I was invited. The thing is, I’m not fully friends yet with any of them. We are friendly, and I felt entirely welcomed, but adult friendships are hard. I don’t know when you fully cross that line into “friendship” but I know it when I’ve crossed it, and the friendships with these particular women are just now on their fuzzy ways to forming. It’s cute.
It took a big push of energy to get me out the door to that spot, because I didn’t know what to expect. About five minutes into everyone getting settled and the conversation starting to pick up, something bizarre happened. The electricity went out.
I wasn’t even aware of the loud, humming noises until, with a click, everything flickered off and it was dark. Then the light flicked back on again, with a beep and a brief whirr. We cheered. Then, off again. It stayed off.
Only one emergency light, a cool but not blinding spotlight, lit up the spot exactly where our table was. After about five minutes, other patrons packed up and wandered off, shadows in our peripheral vision, but our conversation seemed to actually pick up steam.
My exact thought, as I enjoyed the people around me and the excited talk around our table all lit up by that one blue light, was: if you don’t do anything, nothing happens.
I imagined myself back home in my robe scrolling Apple News instead of being at the coffee shop and thought about what a shame that would be. I would never have that experience, which on the one hand was kind of dull — so what, the electricity went off in a coffee shop — but on the other hand was magical, like being a kid playing with a flashlight.
Later, I started thinking about that in terms of being outside. If you don’t do anything, nothing happens. There’s no adventure without a push into something not fully comfortable, or known. Isn’t that what being outside is about?
Not necessarily. A colleague who lives in Park City, Utah, recently said she’s sick of seeing people using trails like a treadmill. There’s no sense of connection, she said, or of any whole.
She wants people to ask, how was the land made to be preserved in the first place? Who installed and maintains the trails? What are the issues facing the area?
People don’t ask all of those questions about a gym membership. Yet it seems like there is something intrinsic about being outside that causes curiosity. So, what gives?
Speaking as a frequent hamster on a wheel, even if that wheel is the boring old outdoors route I run every week, I understand relating to the outdoors more or less as a gym. It’s unfortunate.
Sometimes, I think of my time outside as the dose I need just to keep my head above water in the rest of my life. Fresh air and a pumping heart leads to at least moderately more stable moods, and a healthier immune system.
But running my normal route isn’t about adventure. It’s not the equivalent of pushing myself out the door earlier than I’d like so I can meet up with new friends, and — hey! — the electricity went out, because things happen when you actually leave your house.
The equivalent is trying a new hiking trail. It’s trying a new sport entirely — ice climbing, back-country skiing or rafting. It’s leaving the house even in unpredictable conditions, with many layers just in case, and seeing what happens.
Or maybe sometimes it’s just about making new pathways, like riding bikes with my husband to go grocery shopping on the weekend instead of driving a car, or taking a friend’s dog along on a normal hike.
It’s really about breaking out of comfort and routine, which sounds trite but it’s true.
I’m thinking about this as we move further into winter. What are the ways I can push myself into something new? How can I more often bring that feeling of seeing the world through a slightly different and more novel perspective?
Perhaps it starts with getting up earlier. But I’m not quite ready to go that far.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.