“Having Nothing to Do”
by Arthur G. Staples, published in “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”, 1921, Lewiston Journal Company, Lewiston, Maine
I have been in the woods for two weeks, in a log-house on a bluff fronting a rippling stream. From its door we look upon a pond and beyond the pond, we see a mountain whose feet seem to stand in the pond, and whose sides are covered with golden-leaved aspens, crimson maples and deep garnet oak. And all of this 3,000- foot bouquet swims in the placid mirror of that pond and lead the eye down to caverns of lush color, below the waters.
Up here in this camp in the woods are no telephones, no trolleys, no newspapers, no callers, no stock markets, no bank-accounts, no bills, no daily grist of business-letters. The silent forest stands about. The moose-birds flit silently about the camp. The wild duck swims in the pool. The stars rise in the twilight and complete their torch-like processional thru the long, still night and the dawn breaks not like thunder “out of China cross the bay”, but comes like a debutante into the quiet room or else standing tip-toe on the mountain tops flings it streaming banners thru the trees and across the misty ponds.
I often reproach myself, when I go into this camp in October, at the selfishness that fills my heart with its drug-like appeal. I go after wasting my effort in getting ready for the absence: the doing of a month’s work in two weeks; in the preparation of “copy” in advance; and when I really lay down this work and look out of the rear door of the car of the train that speeds away to woodland, I wonder if it is right to be so eager for something that I so often preach against- the almost lost are of doing nothing whatsoever.
Let me picture to you the long room in the cabin filled with men of the first morning in camp, most of them up and about, getting ready for breakfast, and I lying there, suddenly aroused from an unaccustomed deep sleep, wondering just where I am. One shakes himself into semi-consciousness and as the full truth of the situation breaks upon him he snuggles into his bed and says to himself, “I have not even a single, tiny infinitesimal, microscopical, darned thing to do”
Did you ever feel that way? And if so, how many times in your life have you felt that way? At home even on a Sunday morning, you don’t get that feeling. You have to get up. Here you don’t have to get up- someone will bring you your coffee in bed. At home you have to eat. Here, you don’t have to eat. At home you to shave. Here you don’t have to shave. At home you have to dress. Here you don’t have to dress. You can’t think of a single duty running counter to your wishes. You don’t have to wash your face or brush your teeth. You don’t have to think, even. Not one of the customary cares of home encroaches upon your time. You don’t have to speak. You don’t have to meditate, even. All you have to do is lie there, and swim in the luxury of doing exactly as you please.
It occurs to me that we get very little of that in this world even in our vacationing and that is why I advocate this sort of vacation rather than one that sends people skurrying by railroad trains with fixed schedules over long-drawn tours, housed often in hotels with strict social customs that must be observed. I would say that we are torn and frazzled by our daily round of duties and by the ceaseless beating upon our nerves of the ten million tiny impacts of the noises of civilization, the telephone bells, the slamming of doors, the interruption of visitors, the demands of business upon our judgments and the never-ending feeling of unaccomplished work. Under this, men and women suddenly find themselves unbalanced, the physical subordinate at last to the tense strumming of the nerves vibrated until they refuse to cease vibrations.
The remedy lies in “nothing to do,” selfish as it may seem. Absolutely nothing imperative! Away from the town, in the deep hospital of the healing woods of Maine; away from telephone and telegraph, when big things stand about soothingly and steadfast, like big trees, big mountains, big, silent ponds, big game stalking thru the forest aisles, big silences. This joyous morning rest that I have indicated; this snuggling into a bed with a feeling that you are no truant from business but that this IS your business, makes you into a child-like person. You feel like the small boy who stays in bed with a painless illness, that is ever afterward remembered as so delicious an experience- perhaps the happiest event of your childhood because you then had “nothing to do”‘ no school; no chores; nothing but just to turn over and sleep again.
Thus have I spent two weeks and found it philosophically perfect; rich in renewal of boyhood memories; drowsy in comfort; happy in its freedom; and ending only when, at last, the mood passed and the tug of the town again overcame the tendency to rest. Other vacations have I had – seashore, with its fitful activities, travel, city life, automobiling, but none like that of the deep woods that ever call to me like the memories of the arms of a mother lulling her child upon her bosom.