If you had asked me at any point in my life if I was outdoorsy, I might have hesitated before answering. My own childhood was a study in dichotomy as I was both free-range across the fields and woods of rural Illinois and latch-keyed to the TV of a weekday afternoon. As an adult there have passed whole decades where I worked so much that my relationship with nature was based on the hike from the car to my office. Yes, I raised my daughters with lots and lots of time in the woods, but also trained them to seek out a blanket, Jane Austen flick, and lap cat at the first sign of bad weather.
As I reflect, the truth remains: my connection to nature is strong and deep and has shaped me as a human. Some magic formula of romance and imagination, some quota of unscheduled outdoor hours, some reverence and respect instilled by my parents took root. As I've aged, I've craved nature and have developed a family lifestyle that includes much time in the open air.
I live in Michigan where outdoorsy is a way of life for most. We have beaches, forests, dunes, and waterfalls. Some families hunt (ours doesn't) and some families wander (ours does). We picnic and cook out and farm and garden and ski and snowshoe and sunbathe and swim. And when we aren't doing those things, we feel it.
In Norway and across Scandinavia there is a word that describes their cultural propensity towards time in nature. Friluftsliv literally translates to English as "free air life." There is no direct translation, though, for the true meaning of the word. Scandinavians experience friluftsliv as recreation in nature that is a significant, daily lifestyle element. It shapes their experience of childhood, parenthood, and family. It is part of who they are.
We don't have a word in English for that deep, defining relationship with nature!
I once asked a Norwegian friend to describe to me what friluftsliv meant to him. Ole, who is SO GREAT, talked about childhood memories and how nature helps him manage stress. He didn't describe much that I haven't experienced as a Michigander, aside from the cultural recognition and embrace of nature as a means of well being. Oh, and that WORD.
Did I mention we don't have a word? We should have a word. Without one, we can still recognize the critical role nature plays in the overall health and well being of a human. But don't you think naming a thing makes it more meaningful (says the woman who takes the naming of her houses as seriously as the naming of her children)? Yes.
Until we have a word of our own, let's do what we've done with hygge. Let's borrow it. Below you'll find a short guide to finding your friluftsliv:
BE LIKE OLE: FIND YOUR FRILUFTSLIV
1. Reflect on how time spent in nature makes you feel. Bring forth fond memories of nature from your childhood. Think on the places in nature you visit in your dreams. Think about your favorite outdoor activities in each season. Recognize the positive emotional impact nature has on you.
2. Make outdoor activity a daily indulgence. Dismiss all excuses. Invest in cold weather/wet weather gear and keep it handy near the front door. Put it on. Step outside. Everyday!
3. Take your routine outside. Cancel the gym membership and take up a daily run on at a local state park. Eat on the patio, even if it's brisk or drizzling. Eat picnic lunches with your kids. Read outdoors. Return emails outdoors. Bundle up and keep the sunset company with a cup of tea. Use the shade of a maple tree as your home office.
4. Take it to the next level and find some adventure. Try downhill skiing, or if you fear speed, try cross country. Buy a kayak. Snowshoe 50 miles this winter. Hike 100 on a national trail this summer. Invest in recreational equipment like you do in digital devices!
5. Invite your friends, family, and colleagues to join you. Friluftsliv is a culture; it is a shared experience, even when it is expressed through a solitary activity. Share the word and the movement with those you love and discover the true meaning friluftsliv.
See you out there!
When not working with children and their caregivers, "Lady" Lisa and her family enjoy exploring the woods, lakes, and beaches that surround their northern Michigan home. She holds a masters degree in early childhood studies, a graduate certificate in teaching adults in the early childhood field, and accreditation in wilderness safety and the forest school ethos.