Why go on vacation and read e-mails and surf the Web? God's nature is right outside waiting for you.
Immersion in the cyber world makes the natural world a less familiar place. Nowadays enjoying one’s place in nature, sans computer or BlackBerry, may seem self-indulgent to others. After a weekend getaway, I returned to discover non-urgent, volunteer committee business on my e-mail. When replying I explained I had no Internet access for 48 hours.
“Where were you? On a desert island?”
“Break down and buy yourself an iPhone.”
Apparently, it is freakish not to be Internet-connected at all times. Sometimes spending time in a wi-fi-less location is a healthy reality check for adults, but especially for children.
I learned this last summer when we spent a weekend on Cape Cod with a couple and their two teenage sons. With no Internet access, we envisioned beach time, reading, long walks and playing board games. Keyboard tapping would be replaced by the sound of our own voices.
This was shocking for the two young brothers who arrived with laptops. I broke the bad news, “Oops, I forgot to tell you, this place is not wireless.” The two teens were stunned at the prospect of being faceless on Facebook for two whole days. No e-mails? No Web surfing? It was comical to watch them search frantically for any stray wi-fi signal. But eventually, playing tennis, swimming in the sea and their first-ever clam digging efforts proved to be the best kind of social networking. When it got too dark to commune with nature, we communed with each other, sharing meals and funny memories. The older son told his parents, “We should eat together as a family more often.”
Last year was full of technology-free memories. Yet recently I was stung by criticisms about my 48-hour cyber absence. Am I an unrealistic purist about temporary escapes from technology? Last weekend, David and I went away, but this time, we brought our laptops to “do a little work and check in.” Saturday morning found us reading e-mails, writing second drafts and getting a jump on projects. Half the day zipped by and we hadn’t once set foot outside.
Let’s go! Sunshine and red azaleas warmed our chilly dispositions. A swath of tiny lilies perfumed the air as we headed toward a nearby bridge where waters sparkled on either side like liquid diamonds.
Minutes later we leaned over the railing and observed a maritime changing of the seasons. During winter, the empty expanse of harbor had gleamed like a ballroom floor flanked on one side by yachts set like draped over summer furniture in storage. Now a few boats were back in the water, docked in rows, soon to be joined by dozens more.
Above us, cloud shapes hung suspended, a running rooster and a dolphin arching out of billowy cotton. On the beach the tide cut scalloped edges through sea pebbles. My link with nature was immediate and restorative. Maybe God was making a suggestion, “Make me your wireless connection.”
My husband had plugged into the same energy. Inhaling the briny air had revived his spirit. “This is what we come here for, not to check on e-mails. Look at the beauty,” said David.
Mere minutes away from technology had transformed us. I asked the obvious. “So do you think it’s a sign that during our getaways we don’t need to bring our laptops?”
My husband shook his head, “No, but it’s a sign that what we think we need is very different from what God knows we need.”
Gesturing toward an open sky and a lone sailboat in the distant waters, David added, “This is all we need. We just have to make sure this remains a priority.”
“Googling” God’s creation requires five senses, not a keyboard. I’ve learned that memories with family, friends and especially children are far richer when created in technology-free zones. Despite the cyber world’s demands, our full presence in the natural world is our most pressing need.
Suzette Standring is the award-winning author of “The Art of Column Writing” and teaches writing workshops nationally. She is syndicated with Gatehouse News Service. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.readsuzette.com.