Summer, Slowly

Learning to take it easy

Last summer, my kids and I spent four or five days by the Yellowstone River. I watched them play for hours as the river cruised by.

Swallows skimmed the water, darting from nests in nearby cliffs. Anglers floated past, casting for trout and bragging rights. I leaned back in my chair, slathered on sunscreen, and handed out watermelon slices.

Like most people, I suffer from commitment overload. I also want to make my free time count, so I hike mountains, train for marathons, backpack the Beartooths, and take mini-adventures with my family. There’s little down time, and rarely a quiet moment. This summer will be different. This summer, doing nothing will be a priority.

Doing nothing allows us to recharge, and makes us more productive in the long run. Even in a wild state like Montana, we overvalue busyness and undervalue serenity and emptiness. According to Zen Master Tich Nhat Hanh, “In our society, we’re inclined to see doing nothing as something negative, even evil. But when we lose ourselves in activities we diminish our quality of being. We do ourselves a disservice.”

I don’t want to do myself that disservice anymore. I’m not looking for more productivity or a flash of genius. I want to feel time slow. Montana summers are short and I want to savor every minute. I want to feel sunshine on my face, sand on my feet, and a downriver breeze in my hair.

I want my kids to stop growing up so fast. This is the only summer they will be six and seven years old—I want it to last as long as possible. Maybe sitting along the Yellowstone all day doing nothing can lengthen our time. It sure beats running from soccer camp to art camp. Instead of learning how to sculpt, they’ll realize stillness. Instead of head-butting a ball, they’ll discover the joys of letting their brains wander.

I like working hard and helping support my family. I am drawn to exploring new places and peaking over the next saddle. But I think there are also benefits to sitting quietly next to the Yellowstone week after week, slowing down the time it takes my kids to grow, relaxing my busy mind, and letting the stillness take over.