Taking Some Days Off


In a recent essay for The New York Times titled “A Day Off From the World,” Jennifer Finney Boylan opens with a passage that must mirror how millions of Americans feel about the current state of politics and POTUS:

This is the story of a day in Maine. It contains no mention of Himself, because He is all we ever talk about now, in these days of the Troubles. Instead, I hope you will allow me to celebrate a few small things, now that so much else has been lost.

What follows is a touching account. A day with loved ones, with good food, with a range of sensory experiences. Time is being cherished. It’s a love letter to those moments that we take for granted in our busy lives.

It was hot for Maine — in the high 80s — and I spent part of the day swimming in the lake. Long Pond is full of rocks, and I banged my knee against one of them as I swam, and said, “Ow!” “Jenny,” said my wife. “Are you O.K.?”

She’d been working in the garden. There she was, surrounded by elfin mountain laurel, Joe Pye weed, penstemon and masterwort.

I was fine. I took a walk down our dirt road. One of my neighbors passed me on an ATV. I tipped my straw hat to him as he went by.

In the afternoon my daughter and her girlfriend and three of her friends arrived, having driven up from Washington, where it was considerably hotter. There was a lot of hugging and kissing. The dogs barked at everybody. Bottles of ale were cracked open.

Boylan’s writing resonates with me on several levels. When I scroll through my Twitter feed, I sometimes end up wanting to palm-slap my forehead if I pay too much attention to Trump’s tweets and the toxic stench emanating from his swamp full of racism, corruption, enablers, and lie after lie after lie after lie. It is stressful thinking too hard about what is going on in Washington. Sometimes I feel hopeless.

But unlike many people, I don’t lack time to step away from the deluge of distressing information or a demanding job. At least for now, I can attempt to celebrate days like Boylan. The small things matter. As does a less frantic pace.

So this is the story of a recent day in New Hampshire.

In the morning, I sat with my dad on the porch. We sipped coffee–mine lightly sweetened with maple syrup–and the breeze almost chilled us. The sun would be brilliant and warm in a few hours. Dad scrolled his Twitter feed and chatted about Him and his latest Troubles, but the conversation shifted towards swimming holes, which we both enjoy.

Later in the morning, I picked blueberries at a local farm during my morning work shift. Some branches, heavy with fruit, bent sharply towards the ground. I checked carefully for purple coloring on the stem-side of the berries–that means they’re still tart. When I dropped the ripe berries into my plastic collection pail, it reminded me of boyhood visits to my parents’ hometown in Michigan. Grandma Gribbs and I would pick blueberries. She said I was best picker around, able to relieve her from laboring too hard for low-hanging fruit.

The farmer then showed me how to drive an old front-loader tractor. My body vibrated from the engine and I nearly ran over a few bushes. I delivered several loads of pruned branches to the northeast corner of the field, adding to an existing pile. On a fall cool night, this will become a bonfire gathering full of laughter, soaring flames, and sips of bourbon.

After nearly four hours, I checked my phone for the first time since work started. Then I left and enjoyed lunch with my wife on the porch. Then I departed for another farm job.

Around 4:00 pm, my legs and arms were caked in soft dirt and sweat from harvesting potatoes. A fellow farmhand had said this was one of his favorite jobs. It reminded him of a treasure hunt. I was hot and dehydrated, but my mind felt at ease. I would soon jump into the Merrimack River and scour my skin with sand to clean up for the drive home. Windows down.  

I’m blessed to be having many days like described above. Full of challenging but often meditative work. Plenty of fresh air. On the move. If these are considered days off from the world, then I’ll surely be taking more days off.  But I’ll continue striving to figure out how to stay abreast of political news and being civically engaged without being glued to the breaking news and hysterics. It’s too easily all-consuming, encroaching on the time we have to be present for little moments that seem inconsequential but can add up to the best kind of living.