Guest View: Don’t Vacate, Recreate

Guest View: Don’t Vacate, Recreate

(Rebecca Hammond, Oct. 15, 2017)

Our culture has two terms for time off, one involving vacating one’s life, the other recreating it. We Michiganians, however, live in a state so wonderful, it doesn’t really need vacating. It does offers multiple opportunities to recreate, locally.

A few years back, my husband and I were trying to up the amount of hiking we did, and coincidentally were hearing from multiple friends that we needed to visit Glacier National Park. Phil loves crunching numbers, so I asked him to crunch this: how many local hikes could we do for the co2 output of one flight to glacier, me being interested in environmental issues, and liking to walk my talk, as well as walk as many trails as possible.

You might be wondering how many Oakland-County-area hikes there even ARE. We all know Kensington. It was our only go-to spot for over a decade, and it’s nice. Jim DuFresne’s Fifty Hikes in Michigan let us to the Graham Lakes pathway at Bald Mountain. We noticed other trails branching off that loop, but at that time, signposts with maps were not standard at junctures also state hiking trails. I went home, I googled. The DNR not only had a full Bald Mountain map online, it had an easy way to browse other trail systems in the state. From there we found Holly Recreation Area, and near that Seven Lakes State Park, now two of our favorites. Each has a great up-north feel. If you like making a day of it, the nearby cities of Holly and Fenton have restaurants and shops. As relative newcomers to Michigan, I’ve ended up surprised that many who were born and raised in the metro area don’t know about these local gems.

Back to Glacier: we have a Prius, so first Phil figured the amount of gas we use for each drive, which he averaged to 35 minutes. He then looked mileage to Glacier, and amount of fuel a plane uses. What he found surprised even me. More on that in a moment.

Vacations need savings on multiple levels. Time off work, money, planning, often we arrive home needing a rest from the vacation, which we often feel the need to run ourselves ragged during, since it’s our one shot each year. But constant recreation has no such limits. Each trip doesn’t even need to be good, because if you go often enough, enough outings will be good that by comparison, the off ones are laughable, instead of disappointing. And a bad day at work or home can be better just by knowing a day outside is immanent. There’s also no heart-sinking day of returning to reality, knowing your next vacation is a year away. Your next recreation might be tomorrow. Whether or not it ends up being tomorrow, you always know it can be.

Michigan cities like Marquette often make lists of Best Outdoor Cities. No wonder. It’s easy to find trails for hiking, mountain biking, off-roading, we have probably the best collection of canoeable rivers in the nation, sea kayaking has taken off in the state, with most towns on a Great Lake having liveries and water trails.

We may be putting carts before horses in this culture. It seems natural, even laudable, to take care of needed tasks before recreation, but it might actually free up energy FOR those tasks to first get out in the woods or on the water, get some exercise, breathe good air. As Thoreau said, it might be time above and beyond our normal allowance, not time subtracted. The Japanese have a term, Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, and have studied the chemistry of humans via saliva samples, finding that time in the woods is measurably healthy, producing a predictable change in levels of stress hormones. And being out in local environments connects a person to the issues those locales face. We may be less likely to permit destruction or pollution of our region if we know it well, and visit its gems often.

So how many local hikes CAN we do for one flight to Glacier? I was surprised to find it’s eighty, if you have a high-mileage car. If you don’t, it may be a mere 50, or 40. And that’s not counting the hypothetical drive to and from Metro, or a rental car to get around Glacier. Of course, carbon is carbon and the climate can’t sort out “good” from bad. But for outdoorsy people, it simply makes good sense to spend our allotment wisely. And car travel doesn’t mainline carbon directly into the high atmosphere as air travel does. Some experts claim that a mile by air is worth two by land. I’m also not too sure that grandeur matters, although we have plenty of grandeur here in Michigan. The spirit may soar at lofty heights, but the soul is renewed by regular contact with trees, lakes, rivers. Those we have as well.

Rebecca Hammond lives in Ferndale and runs the Ferndale/Michigan Monarch Project. Find it on facebook.

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