Life at the cabin has a different cadence. We know this, and yet somehow it continues to surprise us. We drive north a few hours for a week away, but ideally, the cabin feels a million miles and a hundred years away. This week will not be measured in days but in sunsets, good conversations, and the slouchy relaxation of family in old bathing suits and well-loved t-shirts.
Waves lap the shoreline. A loon sounds its eerie cry. Clothes are draped over Adirondack chairs in casual disarray. People emerge late in the morning to make coffee and breakfast. We eat standing around the large butcher block island. No one bothers to sit at the dining room table. This kitchen island is where the family circles, gathers, and shares the news of the morning—and news up here consists of plans for a canoe paddle or jet ski. There is talk of a swim and a late afternoon pontoon ride, but no plans at the cabin get made more than a few hours in advance.
Without a watch, the day extends in front of us with no starting gate and no finish line. We eat when we are hungry, we swim when we are hot, and we nap when we are tired. Well-thumbed paperbacks rest in chairs on the screen porch; a never-ending Risk game owns its own table. Each day brings no to-do lists or agenda and invites us to the goodness of family and the healing power of the wilderness.
Unstructured time offers unpredictable gifts for being together and being alone. In a 2015 column, Frank Bruni of The New York Times wrote, “With a more expansive stretch, there’s a better chance that I’ll be around at the precise, random moment when one of my nephews drops his guard and solicits my advice about something private. Or when one of my nieces will need someone other than her parents to tell her that she’s smart and beautiful. Or when one of my siblings will flash back on an incident from our childhood that makes us laugh uncontrollably, and suddenly the cozy, happy chain of our love is cinched that much tighter.” In a different column about solitude, he also wrote, “It’s in solitude that much of the sharpest thinking is done and many of the best ideas are hatched.”
Yearning for unstructured time is not new. After John the Baptist was beheaded, the disciples returned to Jesus, who said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) In our busy world, we would do well to heed his advice.