Recently I read the book, Living on Wilderness Time, by Melissa Walker. It is a memoir of a woman in her early fifties who was seeking a change in her life after years of working in a busy academic career and raising her children. Remembering her youthful days spent roaming the countryside at her parent’s home in south Georgia, she decided to be intentional about getting back into nature, and not only that, she wanted to learn about America’s designated wilderness areas.
Over the course of two years, she took a series of trips, driving through natural areas and camping in several different national parks—by herself. A couple of times during her travels, her husband joined her, and once a good friend, and she met all kinds of interesting people. There were occasions when she needed to spend the night in a hotel or at least in the back of her van, but usually she camped in a tent by herself.
I know I wouldn’t want to do that. Not only would I not feel safe, I’m simply not interested in camping alone. I do, however, understand the longing to be alone in nature. I totally get that. So I didn’t mind living vicariously through her as I read about her crash course in how to survive alone in the wild, and I also enjoyed learning about our designated wilderness areas and the challenges and controversies there are surrounding keeping a place “wild.”
But what I most enjoyed about the book was how she often described herself as entering “wilderness time” when she left home and got on the road. In other words, she didn’t have any deadlines. Though she occasionally made meetings with park rangers and other wilderness experts, she didn’t give herself much of an agenda. A wilderness ranger she volunteered with said, “Our work in there will take as long as it takes.”
Walker explains how her goal was to take this lesson learned in the wild and apply it to her life when she returned home. I couldn’t help but nod and think, “I want to live on wilderness time too.” Like Walker, I would like to spend my time wisely, working toward what is important and doing it well without worrying about how long it will take.
I realize I’m a very lucky person. I get to stay home with my kids, homeschool them, and pursue things that I am passionate about. Not everyone has that luxury. Despite this, I can get caught up in a race where I’m the only one racing-racing to finish whatever is on my to do list or whatever is foremost in my mind. Why in the world would I do that when there’s no one holding me accountable?
Yes, of course, I have obligations to my family and even myself. But not getting things done is not my problem. I can afford to stop racing. I can live on wilderness time right here in my own house.
And what a gift it will be to my children when I repeat that little mantra in my head—“wilderness time, wilderness time” – and say, “Our work will take as long as it takes.” If my son needs extra time in math, we’ll take the extra time. If he wants to build a complicated structure, we’ll work on it until it’s finished. If he’s undecided about how to complete it, I’ll let him take the time he needs to figure it out. And, of course, taking the time to stop what we’re doing and getting into nature is a big part of that.
I’m not worried about my kids trying to keep up with the “rat race” when they become adults. Everybody has a knack for falling into the rat race. What I want to accomplish right now is letting them practice working in wilderness time. Letting them know that there are actually very few things that need to be rushed. Letting them know that whether they hit the trails or stay at home, they can usually choose how to spend their time and using it wisely might make all the difference.