Associate Editor, Leah Pellegrini, just returned from two weeks in the close company of Mother Nature, spending long days in the sun with an automatic away message on her email account. Below, she shares the value of getting in touch with our natural surroundings, urging us to try spending more time outdoors and off the grid.
I was two bites into my breakfast – coconut yogurt with mint and blackberries, hand-picked just minutes before – when the knocking started. Rap-rap-rap-rap, went the persistent wood tapping – the sound of a visitor, asking to come in.
Except, I was the one outside. I was sitting barefoot at a picnic table at a healing arts center in Vermont, surrounded by a vast organic garden where I was volunteering for a two-week stint. I ate every meal at that slanted wood bench, sprinkled with sweat and squinting up at the sun, in between harvesting fresh fruits and preparing new flower beds and tugging wild weeds from the ground.
"I'm going off the grid for a little while," I had told my coworkers and friends as I packed up my New York apartment in June when my two-year rental agreement ended, shutting the door quietly behind me. Before signing my name on the stringent straight line of another binding Brooklyn lease, I wanted to try something different. I wanted to see how it felt to get my hands dirty with my laptop tucked safely away (and with it, my Gmail inbox, my Twitter feed, and all of those other online boxes begging to be checked on a daily basis).
That's how I wound up at this Vermont oasis, where the knocker, as it turned out, was a woodpecker. Even from a distance, the thing looked gargantuan, with flamboyant red plumes tufting from its head. As I enjoyed my breakfast, it was biting into its own, mining bark for bugs while rap-rap-rap-rapping into one of the many towering trees between the chicken coop and the small house belonging to the arts center's owner.
I stepped foot inside her home only for each night's much-needed shower and to occasionally borrow a cooking utensil. Otherwise, I stored my belongings in a tent, prepared my food in a makeshift kitchen in the garage, and slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of the center's small sound healing temple. Mostly, I spent my time in the sun, in the soil, unbound by doors and walls – off the grid, sure, but certainly not alone there.
There was the woodpecker. There was the hummingbird that looked me straight in the eye before flitting away with a wink of its wings. There was the tiny snake with its glinting skin, skinnier than my pinky. There were the butterflies, the worms, the beetles, the bumblebees; the mosquitoes that nipped at my ankles; the chickens and the pet cat that was as friendly as a lapdog; on the farms nearby, goats, cows and horses. Each of these critters and creatures, swarming around me or flickering past in brief moments, seemed to say, "You're welcome here. Come in." Or, rather, come out.
My two weeks rooted in nature's bounty taught me more than I could have imagined. I learned how to tell when garlic is ready to harvest. I made tinctures from Mullein blossoms and St. John's Wort. I studied permaculture principles and the points in each moon cycle that are best for particular gardening practices. But perhaps the most valuable takeaway was this one: off the grid, life is growing. Seedlings are sprouting. Stalks are flowering. Birds are hunting for their own feral feasts.
It can sometimes seem like surrendering technology, even temporarily, might require missing out on too much. When unglued from our computers, we're forced us to overlook imperative emails, skip pivotal social invitations sent through Facebook, or neglect the latest news headlines. There is so much happening online – but there's so much happening out there, too. You just have to be the one to open up the door if you want to experience it. You have to consciously step away from the laptop, ditch the grid and the grind for a moment, and get your bare feet in the grass.
Let's address one obvious caveat: I don't have a partner or children to care for, and I work freelance and remote jobs that allow me to shift my schedule relatively easily. Not everyone has the flexibility (or even the desire) to forgo routines and regular amenities for two full weeks. If you do, and if you're particularly drawn to gardening or farming as an outdoorsy escape, I'd recommend looking into the WWOOF network, which was how I found my place to work and stay in Vermont. But for each person, going "off the grid" and into the wild might mean something a little different.
It might mean spending a weekend afternoon adventuring at your nearest national park or nearby hiking paths with your cellphone brought along only for emergency's sake. It might mean starting the vegetable plots you've always daydreamed about or planting your own blackberry bushes instead of purchasing produce at the grocery store. It might mean volunteering at a local urban garden. It might mean choosing one day a week to abandon your email inbox and get your hands in a flower bed instead.
Mother Nature is knocking – rap-rap-rap-rap – and how you answer is your choice. But she's waiting just past your doorstep, urging you to step away your everyday framework and come outside to play.
p.s. How about bringing a bit of the outdoors back inside with you, too?