Time Out

By staff December 1, 2005

In this annual Visitors' Issue, you'll find everything you (or your guests) need to make a holiday memorable, from our insider's guide to attractions and diversions to our hand-picked list of 52 things-one for each week of the year-that every Sarasota visitor and resident must do.

But sometimes the best thing to do on a vacation-especially a seaside Florida vacation-is absolutely nothing at all.

I used to be an expert at that, when I was in my 20s. My new husband and I had just moved to Virginia Beach, where for a few years we rented a weather-beaten little cottage nestled in a sand dune. I was teaching high-school English, and with no children of our own yet, I spent most of my summer vacation reading in a hammock on the front porch or wandering the beach. Sometimes I'd doze in a beach chair, just awake enough to hear the gulls crying and feel the soft, fresh breezes blowing in from the Atlantic.

One day I took our dog, Sophie, a pretty blond mix of golden retriever and English setter, down the beach to an old Army fort, where we climbed the dunes to pick wild blackberries that grew next to a rusted World War II cannon. On the way back, carrying the berries in my sunhat, I heard Sophie bark and turned to see her trembling in a perfect setter point, staring at a huge gray porpoise. He followed us all the way home, surfacing and diving in the breakers just a few feet away.

That day is still frozen and golden in my memory, like Sophie in her eager point, and what bothers me is that I remember it more clearly than too many of my days in more recent years.

Somehow I've lost the knack for doing nothing, buried it under the seductive rush of constant busyness-at work, where the e-mails rush in with exhilarating urgency and every deadline sparks more adrenaline, and at home, where if I'm not still absorbed in my computer, I can fast-forward through an entire weekend with errands, projects and must-do chores. Maybe it's modern life, with its technology that means we can always be multi-tasking and its insistence on achieving more, faster and better all the time.

Or maybe it's my mother. She's 85, and after a recent colonoscopy, instead of groggily resting while the anesthesia wore off-like every 50-year-old I know who's had the procedure-she was chopping vegetables for broccoli salad and baking homemade banana muffins to take to a dinner party that night. My brother David and I wonder if she's passed on some kind of busy gene, which becomes more dominant as we age, sending him out into his garden at dawn and me off the treadmill at the gym every few minutes to write down story ideas as they strike me.

This summer, I took two weeks off from work for a vacation in the woods of northern Michigan. Our family has been gathering there for generations, and we had a huge crew, enough to fill three separate places. Somehow, while the kids went cherry picking or sailing and the men played tennis, I found myself ferrying people between cottages in our rental van, racing to the grocery store to pick up one more thing or ducking into the village library, which had just gone wireless, enabling me to get all my e-mail, edit stories and keep up with every breaking crisis at the office.

My vacation was not turning out as I had planned, and I knew I had no one to blame but myself. Then one afternoon the kids commandeered the car for a kayaking expedition and dropped me off alone at my cottage. With no car, no cell phone or Internet service, and not a single pressing task at hand, I sat out in the garden under a bright-blue sky with a paperback book. After a while, the book slipped from my hands while I listened to Lake Michigan splash ashore in the distance and a hummingbird whirring around the roses. I'm not sure what I was thinking about-or if I was thinking about anything-when I heard a faint rustle and saw a wide-eyed deer peeking over the hedge.

Hours later, when the van doors slammed and the kids noisily spilled out, I hadn't accomplished anything-and that was my most important accomplishment of all. That afternoon, I finally started slowing down and savoring my vacation, and I came home happy and refreshed.

Doing nothing, I realized, is doing something-something important. Like cell phones, every now and then we modern humans need to unplug and empty out, so we can recharge and re-engage. In addition to the adventures and experiences in this issue, I hope you'll discover a few glorious ways to do nothing while you're in Sarasota.

Happy holiday, from us to you.

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