How Vitality Works

Don’t some people just seem enthused and alive? Not manic or hyperactive or over-caffeinated or over-medicated, but alive, awake. Spend a good amount of time with these people, and you learn that they hold a key to living. And that key, my friends, is feeling alive.

Growing up, my grandfather on my mom’s side – we call him “Pappy” – woke me up on many occasions when my family visited him and my “Grammy” a few days each summer. On one such occasion, once I awoke – or maybe even before – he presented me with my uncle’s mens size 10 running shoes. Bear in mind that I was 11 years old and probably wore a size 6 or 7. He said, “we’re going to catch minnows today. And you’re gonna wear those shoes and help me get those minnows in a net.”

Off we drove to a nearby creek. The late summer heat and creek’s shallow stream made wading into the water a not unpleasant experience. Pappy held a net about 10 yards away, and showed me how to flap my floppy shoe-adorned feet. This was to cajole the minnow toward his net. With glee, he pep-talked every unbalanced step I took, “that’s right, keep coming, nice job!” When finished an hour later, he bought me a soft-serve chocolate ice cream, and took me to see “a man about a saw I need to borrow.” Pappy was about 65 years old then, yet he harnessed the energy of a teenage track star.

A fisherman, hunter, builder of structures on his 6-acre property, and a dedicated polka dancer – yeah, I don’t get the appeal either – the man evokes aliveness well into his 80s. And though not exactly a “deep thinker” – he didn’t advance past the 8th grade and to my knowledge, seldom reads – he reminds me, in one way, of Henry David Thoreau.

To see what I mean, here’s a passage from the Thoreau’s fabulous essay, Walking:

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

Like Thoreau, Pappy’s “health and spirits” would suffer were he not allowed to ramble around out of doors.

During a recent hiking trip to Sedona, Arizona, my wife and I tasted some of Pappy’s and Thoreau’s zest for exploration. Every morning, we awoke at 6am and quite literally bound out of our hotel room. The gorgeous cedar and pine and crimson rock-line trails called to us.

On the trails we encountered cacti and lizards and strange birds, a woman riding a horse, and even a large-eared jack rabbit that zipped off into the brush. Once we scaled Cathedral Rock with its challenging slopes and awesome vistas, we were inspired to do and feel so much more. It was vitalizing to say the least.


Yet we could have done the whole thing differently. We would have covered a lot more territory if we chose to pay for a jeep – or better yet a helicopter – tour of the entire region. We saw legions of jeeps rolling through Uptown Sedona picking up and dropping off smiling tourists. And thunderous helicopter blades never ceased to get our attention. Not only that, the hotel’s “Sedona Channel” showcased the area’s sweeping vistas and decadent spas on TV. Why even leave the hotel room?

No doubt these packaged experiences would have brought us pleasure and comfort. But would they rouse us out of bed each morning? Not likely. All the options – jeep or helicopter-riding, visual feasts a la TV, would have separated us from the sensuous experience of our hikes.

Vitality is a sensuous thing, a rapturous thing. It’s made possible through our direct contact with that big wide world we hear and read about. You know, that world that awaits you just outside.

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