Archive for July, 2011

Unplugged, Part I: An Unlikely Environmentalist Subjects Her Family to a Vacation Without Electricity or Running Water

Contributed by Dr. Sarah Warren

Having just returned from our annual extended family vacation on an inland island in Maine, I want to share my thoughts–as a psychologist, a parent, and an “unlikely environmentalist”–about why it is so special for us as a family to maintain this 36 year tradition of heading to an island with no electricity, no land lines, no Internet, and no running water.

Let me start with a visual clue as to why we subject ourselves to the deprivations of this place.

First let me say that I call myself an “unlikely environmentalist.” I enjoy creature comforts– I love wearing cute high heels, playing with cosmetics, drinking espresso drinks. I do not enjoy camping… But on this tiny peaceful island, we get to have a bed under us and a roof over heads.

So here’s my perspective on why it’s so wonderful and valuable– aside from the incredible beauty.

Unplugging – Because there’s no electricity or Internet on the island, unplugging paves the way for all the experiences and opportunities that I describe below.

In the age of cell phones, we can use our phones (unlike in the past), but the ethos is that we don’t take our attention off the island– and each other– unless we have to.

My sister ribbed me about the irony of me tweeting from my iPhone while we were on vacation.  One of Chicago’s top Twitterers has a little trouble leaving her social media life behind… Point taken.

Adding to the irony, I spent some time on vacation reading psychologist Sherry Turkle’s new and important book Alone Together on the psychological and social cost of our intense digital relationships.

But mostly, I was present for my family.

Quality Family Time – On the island we hang out with my sister and her husband and their two- and five- year olds who live 1000 miles from us. My kids and her kids are now at an age to really connect with each other– but they need time to develop those relationships. At the island, the kids eagerly follow each other around and play endlessly in the water. The HamSter, my 8 year-old son, loves to read to his young cousins. My boys created an economy based on pinecones.  The HamSter wanted me to take him canoeing (in spite of the risks associated with my ignorance!), so then the DudeSter wanted a special canoe ride with mom. Sibling rivalry persists regardless of the setting!

Slowing Down – Sleeping when the sun is down, preparing meals in a leisurely manner, hanging out and catching up on “the afternoon dock.” We enjoy the tastiest of fresh (and healthy) food, like the local salmon I grilled and served with a wild rice cranberry citrus salad. And, of course, the lucious “Fwo’s Bwond Bwonies,” which have been pronounced that way since my sister and her cousin were younger than her kids and mine are now.

I sleep more and better on the island than anywhere, ever. Going to sleep when the sun goes down is a real treat. And from a psychological standpoint, I can attest that studies indicate that we would do much better mentally and physically if we slept on that kind of schedule– we are a sleep-deprived society and we pay for it!

Connecting with Nature – My kids and I live a pretty urban life in Chicagoland. We see squirrels and swallows and robins, and the occasional coyote! But we pretty much have to seek out opportunities to find wildlife, and really pause to appreciate them.

Nature abounds on the island, but it’s not just that. The fact that there is no Wii (which they have at their dad’s house), no VCR, no TV and no computer means that playing outside is just what the kids do. This year the HamSter protested a bit for the first time about not having all those tech trappings, but mostly I think (hope!) it was just posturing.

There’s an eagle that inhabits the next island over which is always of interest– including its absence this year.  And this year, the HamSter kept on telling me about a little bird he’d never seen before that he wanted to point out to me. I never got to see it, alas– but he did.

Unfortunately, we missed the moose (moose!) that visited the island the day after our wing of the family returned to Chicago. According to my step-mom, the moose ran the length of the island, looked in a cabin, then dove into the lake and swam away. When my dudes heard this they said, “Whoa. Just ‘Whoa.'”

Stay tuned for Part II in which I will detail what makes this vacation “green.” HINT: It’s not just the lack of electricity. Subscribe if you want to make sure you see the next installment!

How have you unplugged? How has your family benefited? Share your story! Post a comment!

July 5, 2011 at 12:08 am

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