By Brian Litmans, legal director
Just after I graduated from law school in 2001, I read a story about a federal attorney litigating cases for Health and Human Services in D.C. who, at the age of 30 and after only a couple years practicing law, decided it was time to move on.
I anticipated that the stress and intensity of legal work would be severe, but I didn’t think it would be so much that someone would abandon the practice so soon after starting. What was even more impactful for me was what this attorney did during those years to help manage his stress and ultimately launch himself into an unbelievably successful post-lawyer career.
First, the ingredients
During his years of practice, Warren Brown found one thing that helped him manage the stress of the day. He would come home from work and break out the flour, sugar, eggs, and other ingredients.
He attributes part of his baking education to what he learned in law school. In a TED talk, he talked about taking a class about what debtors have the priority in the battle over collateral when someone goes into bankruptcy. This idea prompted him to pose this question around baking: “What ingredient has priority in the battle that’s going on in the mixing bowl?”
His recipe for baking worked. He is nationally recognized for a bakery he founded and ran in Washington, D.C. for many years, along for his slew of cook books, his time with the Food Network show Sugar Rush, and his online store, Don’t Forget Cake!
His approach to stress management has sat with me for many years. I am no pro in the kitchen. I didn’t have a parent with kitchen skills to teach me. I am simply self-taught.
Bake in the joy
My baking life started with pies in 2007. I had just started with Trustees and the house I moved into had a highly producing apple tree in the backyard. I knew I needed to answer the call of that tree and put those apples to use. I thought of nothing better than the classic apple pie, slightly modified into a cranberry ribbon apple pie.
It was fall, one of my favorite times of year, and there was something nourishing and joyful about a fresh homemade apple pie. My neighbor, and now wife, Amy agreed and those pies helped nourish the love we have for one another. Baking was a delightful zen way to release the tension of the day.
Finish with a splash of social nourishment
Though I’ve baked often since those first pies, things really picked up when COVID arrived. While Amy decided one of her new hobbies would be sourdough bread, I decided to spend my pandemic-induced seclusion exploring baking. It alone wasn’t enough. I knew those baked delights were enjoyed most when coupled with time spent outdoors.
Whether running, hiking, Nordic skiing, or biking, there was something special about celebrating whatever we did outdoors with a homemade delectable. I found that the combination of these two things, recreating and baking, had a synergistic impact on stress reduction and happiness when brought together.
As I shared recreation pursuits on Instagram, I started including photos of my baked goods. I tried to think about what treats went well with a certain type of activity. Soon, I found when I didn’t post a picture of my latest concoction, folks missed seeing that cookie, cake, or muffin accompanying the image of what we saw on our latest hike or ski.
Now when I post pics of time spent outside paired with shots of a homemade baked treat, I feel the joy of those things coming together and even greater joy to know these images are shared with all who see those pics and get inspired to get outside or get creative in the kitchen.
Three questions about spending time in/with nature
What do you think is the ideal amount of time for you to spend in/with nature?
I try to get out as much as I can. I may not crush it like Amy, who often is looking to be out for longer and to go farther than I am prepared for – an hour run can easily turn into much more with her – but find that time outside is always welcome.
What does a meaningful experience in nature look like for you?
Being out on the trail can be a great way for me to process the goings on of work and life. It is also a place where I become much more present in the moment, focusing on the sights, sounds and experiences. Those moments of mindfulness are grounding for me. Just about any moment outside, from a short walk on the neighborhood trails to grand adventures are meaningful when I feel like I can connect with the surroundings and those I am sharing an outing with.
Describe one moment in nature/outdoors that left you with a sense of awe and connection?
I am often left in awe by nature. As someone that loves to take photos, I like to search for macro shots that would be easy to miss if one didn’t look closely. I find the little beauties true treasures, from hoar frost glistening in the sun to the vibrant color of a single leaf as it turns in fall. When it comes to landscapes and awe-inducing moments, Alaska has no shortage of opportunities. Yet, some of my most memorable moments have been in Utah, navigating through canyon country where route finding is an art and requires constant focus and attention. One of the things I find truly immersive about places like Escalante are that when you are off route you become intimate with the different geologic layers: chinle, windgate, Navajo sandstone and Kayenta. The different layers dictate how you move through the country. Some of the wildest and most adventurous experiences have been travelling in this rugged country with Amy and a very close friend. Year after year, we have found new remote places to explore, where we can move for days without seeing another soul. Those are times of deep connection with the land and close friends that I cherish.
Brian is the legal director with Trustees. His story is the sixth in a monthly series about how nature, getting outside, and being with land and water influences human health, resilience, connection, and purpose. Look for these stories in our monthly newsletters.
Previous stories in the series:
- Tracy’s story: My summers with dirt
- Ashley’s story: Just a country girl
- Rachel’s story: Nature teaches me I’m the protagonist in my own life
- Katie’s story: Howling pierced the morning quiet
- Joanna’s story: This seasick soul is lovesick for the sea