Thriving on an almost-deserted island

A screed on Vacationland

They say that vacation is a state of mind. Who says? I don’t know exactly, but there are 164,000,000 Google results for the phrase, so lots of people.

I didn’t really grow up in a “vacation” family. “Vacation” was a camping trip at an Arizona state park in between art fairs; “vacation” was visiting family in California, or attending a family reunion near Mount Rushmore. I loved these vacations—don’t get me wrong—but the associated leisure was almost incidental to the primary purpose of these trips.

However, I have had the pleasure and privilege of becoming a vacationing adult, and took to it quite well, thank you very much.

That said, leisure still sometimes seems in short supply. I tend to walk a lot on these vacations, more than might be strictly necessary. And as a freelance journalist, I’ve been known to turn these trips into content (whoops!) to pay the bills.

But renting a house on a tiny, car-free island off the coast of Maine for a week with a group of friends and no set activities outside of eating and drinking felt like the absolute pinnacle of vacation-leisure, some cross between summer camp and wilderness-yoga-meditation retreat, but with alcohol. One friend said it was the closest she’ll ever get to camping.

Our days consisted of some combination of sunning ourselves on the deck, with or without a book, walking or running around the island, jumping into the frigid salt water, cooking, eating, drinking, playing board games, stargazing. The island could bring out the latent naturalist in anyone. We followed ospreys and woodpeckers with the house binoculars, stalked a deer along the trail, wondered at the hundreds of small, translucent, pale pink-purple jellyfish flowing past the dock, and at the periwinkles (sea snails) and little crabs living in tide pools. This early in the summer, most of the houses were still empty and we practically had the island to ourselves.

And, while I love hiking, it felt enormously restorative to spend time surrounded by trees and water and rocks without having to make miles—like choosing child’s pose over a more challenging posture in yoga class.

Vacation is not a state of mind. Per Merriam-Webster, it is “a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation,” from (in part) vacāre: “to be empty, be free, have leisure.” On one hand, you probably do have to mentally and emotionally distance yourself from work to really vacation, but on the other, you can’t just take a mental vacation without taking real time and space away from work. I wish we lived in a society in which everyone was fortunate enough to take time off from work and other obligations to “to be empty, be free, have leisure.”

So: Consider this a friendly reminder to normalize vacation! Take all the time off you’re allotted. Ask for more! (Especially if you get a measly 10 days.) If you’re self-employed or work at one of those “unlimited” vacation days companies, take/make all the vacation time you need and want. (If you’re in management, encourage your employees or direct reports or whatever to do the same.) It’s JUNE, there’s still plenty of time to make summer plans, but you can vacation in fall, winter, and spring, too (in addition to).

I have already had one thousand doubts about writing this, because it feels braggy and privileged and also might make me look lazy if editors are reading, but that’s WEIRD. Vacation is normal! Take it! Tell your friends!

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Dozens of beachgoers in Maine and New Hampshire say the soles of their feet turned black after walking barefoot on the sand; millions of tiny black kelp fly corpses might be to blame! (Heather Murphy for The New York Times) A lobster diver says he was swallowed whole by a humpback whale for 30 - 40 seconds before being spat back out (Doug Fraser for the Cape Cod Times). Ok, I fully admit to being the more credulous, gullible member of my household, but where do my readers stand? (Click thru to take the poll)

ICYMI: Earlier this month, paid subscribers received an itinerary for day hikes and ghost towns near(ish) Emporia, Kansas. You, too, can subscribe to receive personalized itineraries for the outdoorsy parts of your vacations. Think: Nature walks, garden tours, kayak camping.

And, if you’re craving more Maine content, I’m doing a day-by-day vacation journal on Instagram to accompany some of the photos I took! It starts here:

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