In praise of hobbies

Editors have impeccable taste. We shape writing so it lands with its target audience, but before that, we spot talent. It’s the literary equivalent of digging down deep in the record bins. (We also know a little about a lot, so you absolutely want us on your trivia team.)

Each Friday, I share a book, song, video *or whatever*…something that inspires me, with the goal that it will offer you a little #fridayinspiration too. My tastes are eclectic so heaven knows, anything goes.

This week: big-tree tracking. That’s right, I’m shouting out hobbies in general, my own in particular.

I’ve been a big-tree tracker, or big-tree hunter, for about four years. That means I travel around British Columbia, where I live, looking for huge trees.

Big cedars, Douglas-firs, and Sitka spruce are common in the temperate rainforest of the West Coast, but I also look for smaller varieties—the Champion trees, or the largest of their species.

I’ve been looking for trees listed on the BC Big Tree Registry, housed at the University of British Columbia. But big-tree registries are not limited to BC…there are registries for individual states, the US as a whole, even across the UK.

I’m not great with directions, and I often don’t find the tree I’m seeking. But that’s not the point of big-tree tracking. In his wonderful book Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman describes the value of hobbies, and tells us “it’s fine, and perhaps preferable, to be mediocre at them.”

“In an age of instrumentalization,” Burkeman writes, “the hobbyist is a subversive: he insists that some things are worth doing for themselves alone, despite offering no payoffs in terms of productivity or profit.”

I did turn my hobby into something a bit productive: I’m writing a book about being a perfectly adequate big-tree hunter (Tracking Giants comes out in spring ’23). In essence, the book is about what happens when our goals get away from us and become bigger than we planned. Then we scale them back to something manageable, to the size of a hobby—in this case, a lovely excuse to spend a day in the forest with friends. You never know where a hobby will lead you.

This weekend, try looking for a tree registry in your region, or even cast your eyes around for a big tree near you. To coin a phrase: “they might be giants.”

Photos by Mick Bailey in the Nahmint, Alberni Valley, Vancouver Island, May 2022.

One response to “In praise of hobbies”

  1. Totally agreed that hobbies are what improve every other facet of our lives. I’d like to think that my interest in fountain pens have inspired me to write more, or that my passion for martial arts have taught me how to persevere in tough situations, one that writing a novel often presents. Anyway, thanks for this post, Amanda!

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