Working in D.C. is an experience. It’s a vibrant, dynamic city full of people rushing to and from work by bus, metro, bike, or car. Maintaining the hectic pace keeps me on my toes. I love it, but everyone needs the occasional break. A few years ago I made the decision to spend a weekend alone at my uncle’s cottage on the Chesapeake Bay.
I love the old cottage that sits surrounded by bay, pine trees, and marsh, but before that weekend I’d only spent time there with family. There are usually so many of us that between kids squealing, television blaring, and dishes clanking, it’s no quieter than Pennsylvania Avenue during rush hour. I’d never experienced the place alone and my plan was to leave behind work, phone, and television for a long weekend of solitude. I was excited to abandon “civilization”. Or was I? Spend a weekend alone with no one and no technology?
Why do this to myself?
Unpacking was easy. I threw one small bag onto the bed, turned off my cell phone, vowed not to use the television, and sat to watch waves roll on the bay. Minutes later I reached for my phone. Surely someone had called, emailed, or sent a text. No, I wasn’t to check, I remembered. I put down the phone and reached for the television remote. Surely there was something in the news I needed to hear. No, I wasn’t to check that either.
I swatted mosquitoes on the way to my car. I’d decided to lock my phone and the remote in the glove compartment so as to avoid temptation. Once back inside I looked around the little cottage where usually kids laughed, television blared, and someone chatted on a phone. Now – dead silence. I twiddled my thumbs and wondered whether there might be a radio around. I resisted the urge to search and continued to twiddle and stare at the room.
Why do this to myself?
Bored, I went to bed early and braced myself for a dull morning – but it dawned beautifully. Without an alarm clock to shock me into awareness I slept until pink rays of diluted sunrise streamed into the bedroom. I sat up and looked towards the water. A smattering of clouds along the horizon gave the light something to play with, making the sight all the more spectacular.
Unable to check my phone, I walked to the beach to see a startled heron poke at small fish just out of reach. Knowing I couldn’t watch the morning news, I walked a bit further and witnessed an osprey snatching a silvery fish from the salt water. Further on my walk two bald eagles watched me from high in a dead pine at the edge of the marsh. Sun bleached driftwood, tiny shells, and horseshoe crabs were here and there along the way.
That evening, unable to check email, I walked down the sandy road leading from the cottage. Deer hidden in cattails along the swampy ditch grunted before they disappeared with graceful leaps. A fox paused while crossing the road and sunset hitting its reddish coat made it the color of fire. As it bolted towards the marsh, a bluebird swooped down from a nearby tree to pick up a cricket for dinner. That evening I again went to bed early, not from boredom, but with the satisfaction of a good day and the expectation of another.
Over the next few days I fell effortlessly into the cycle of sunrise and sunset. Changes on the bay were hourly as wind molded the waves and sunlight gave them glitter. When there were no waves at all the bay was majestically peaceful. A thunderstorm on the second evening made for an unbelievable show over the water and I’d never truly listened to rain until that night. What a magical few days I’d had.
At the end of the weekend I packed reluctantly and realized I’d not thought about my phone anymore. What had I done with it? And where was the remote that was usually on the table? Ah, yes, now I remembered. As I checked drawers to make sure I’d packed everything I’d brought I saw a radio. I laughed as I tossed it back. Who would need one of those?
I left the cozy cottage and drove down the sandy road heading home. Along the way, half hidden by a blanket of trumpet vines heavy with orange flowers, a deer stared at me for a moment. She flicked her ears to shoo mosquitoes then turned and melted easily into the woods. Her fawn followed but looked at me over its speckled shoulder before melting away just as easily as its mother. They were lucky, I thought, being parts of the rhythm and peace that was this place.
Once on the paved road I turned on my phone and it buzzed incessantly with incoming messages. The car radio had been on when I’d arrived and it now blasted bad songs and bad news. I remembered things at work I needed to handle, deadlines were now closer, and there would be meetings to attend. Tomorrow I would make a tedious work commute before the sunrise I would miss, then battle emails and phone calls and not be home before the sunset I would also miss.
Somewhere back there by the water a fawn would follow its mother, an osprey would watch for fish, and sun sparkling on the waves of the bay would go unseen because I would be back at work surrounded by schedules and technology.
Why do this to myself?
Stuart M. Perkins