On Vacations

The snow on these mountains shimmers like forgotten treasure against the rising sun. By the time you finish feeding the local dog and freshen up for the morning, the fog has started to rise to become a cloud. The morning here has a few things to offer: unraked leaves, blackened memory of a bonfire, bare bodies of trees that just a few days ago were pregnant with juicy green apples.

The air is fresh except the smoke from the tandoor that mostly feeds on deodar logs to keep everything around it warm. You step down the tree-house to take your dog for the morning walk. It’s a small trek by the river. Your lives are unwired – no one calling you, no one wanting you. You’re free. You’re healing. You’re away. You might sit by the river for an hour and watch your dog wonder how the water in her bowl got so big. You might draw the curtains and take a nap after breakfast only to wake up for lunch. You might trek to the waterfall hiding in the forest’s cleavage and discover the air that makes your lungs want to breathe. You might walk around, or stand by and wait for the starlight.

Two days ago on a short trek, you watched your trek buddies exchange greetings with the locals and pick some apples. You waited under the tent of a generous local man, for the rain to slow down before you could walk your dog back to your place of stay. “We’re inside an oxygen chamber,” one of you says about the tree-house. You look at the tree holding up your tree-house, its branches raised to the sky like arms in a prayer. Life is so lovely in an oxygen chamber with your favourite human and your favourite dog. Unrushed – that’s how your days pass.

Vacation as a concept understood in the present world is rather a new one, developed only in the mid 19th century. What the Americans call “vacation” and the British call “holiday” hold a common meaning of a time spent away from work or home in travel or recreation. The word comes from Anglo-French, and ultimately from the Latin word “vacare” which means “to be unoccupied or to be free”. Until the mid 19th century, vacation only meant a time when law professionals vacated the law courts and teachers and students vacated school and university premises to take time off from the regular work. However, vacations weren’t always this enchanting intermission between work and play. 

During the early 19th century, the people who went on vacations were either the elite or from religious circles. People from the royal courts traveled to far off locations to enjoy some leisure time in the places they had conquered. In the religious circles, vacations were defined as pilgrimage. These were people worked hard six days a week and used the seventh day to hear sermons and preaches that praised hard work and looked down upon idleness. So, pilgrimages weren’t a time to relax or rejuvenate, but a physically challenging spiritual journey one would take once a year or once a lifetime. By the mid 19th century, things were taking a turn. Infrastructure started blooming. Inns and hotels started coming into the landscape around the pilgrim sites. These developments helped the middle class, rooted in Puritan ideals, to finally take the vacation. In the 20th century, the elite started to have what they called “summer house” where they would go to during their vacation time. Luxury trains, ships and hotels were all the rage. 

Even a brief look at the history of vacation would help one understand the tension between work and leisure. Fortunately, today we do not live in the same kind of tension where we look down upon vacation as something that has the potential to corrupt our soul. In fact, vacations or holidays have come to be seen as something our beaten-up and tired souls truly need to replenish. We hear employers encouraging their employees to take the much needed vacation with enough research backing up the benefits of taking one. A day-long trek, uninterrupted naps in a rented cabin, long strolls along cobble-stoned streets, sea water gushing towards your toes – anything that offers us a feeling of being refreshed, recharged, and even renewed. Considered a suspected activity only two centuries ago, vacations are much needed in current times. 

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