As I sat there on the rock I realized that, in spite of the closeness of civilisation and the changes that hemmed it in, this remnant of the old wilderness would speak to me of silence and solitude, of belonging and wonder and beauty.” —Sigurd Olson
There are 12 of us (leader and young adults) hidden in the deep mossy woods, sitting 2,000 feet apart from each other. We are woven together by a gentle rivulet, flowing through each site. The summer’s day clouds are thickening, like whipped up cream. Just before settling into our solo slots, a yearling ciannamon bear skedaddled across the gravel road, convincing some of the campers not to take excess food with them. A buzz of flies, bees, grasshoppers and other insect symphony members dare to compete with the lilt of flowing water.
I am blissfully by myself with pen and paper and..what’s this? I spy a hand-size rock next to the stream. An insect is perched on the stone as immobile as a statue. This exoskeleton has a slit across the top where the aquatic insect molted, left the watery realm and became a winged keeper of the sky.
“In solitude,” theologian Paul Tilich writes, “we experience love, which reconfirms our true selves and gives us the basis for communion.” Tillich explains, through solitude “one becomes a completely individualized being, participating through perception, imagination and action.”
Some insist that people yearn for solitude, but I think it is more a wish for peace and quiet. Ah, to escape the clatter and chatter of daily existence! We remain a highly gregarious species. More and more people take to their wilderness in groups. Though many folks live singularly, there are few true hermits. Yet the need for individual solace has never been greater. Nature is an expansive source of healing balm, if only people find time to immerse themselves into the outdoors.
As the facilitator of the solitude experience, I “patrol” the road every two hours to check for notes under the individual red flags hung every two-tenths of a mile, denoting the entrance to each individual’s location. Usually, there is a request to refill a water bottle, though a couple folks ask for some food.
Last year, we piloted solitude time along an immense river, a too popular waterway for fishers in boats, so the solo participants found little chance to be alone ont he stream bank. This year I chose unnavigable waters, and we found the solitary realms.
The great achievements of humans seem to be consummated by single indivudals working and creating alone. Einstein and his Theory of Relativity, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden are three examples. Not to mention the world’s religious tomes, inspired by one on one encounters with the mysterious universe.
Most every creature I spied on my solitary sojourn crawled, flew or sprinted alone—the bear, later the spotted owl, even the colossal ant hill—a million insects working colelctively yet acting alone. One ant hauled an inchworm, another tugged a twig ten times its size.
Magically, it started to rain, though I could scarcely feel a drop under the protective canopy of the tall-needled trees.
Solitude need not be framed by absolute silence; little sounds served in the form of an audible breeze, singing birds and a dancing brook provide plenty of inspirational backdrops for being alone. Experiencing solitude requires a quiet place to spend time in. Solitude is one of the rare outdoor activities not requiring movement. One’s senses perform all the exploration, while the body can stay in one place. The mind and heart do the wandering. Instead of going out into the wild, nature comes to the unobtrusive soloist and showers its affections, revealing its treasures.
Solitude time should eventually include an overnight stay. Two of the college folks on this Lusk Creek solo told me their greatest thrill was overcoming their fear of sleeping alone in the woods. Though one of the persons was tempted to sleep in the van, she held at her spot, and was justifably pleased.
As the rain intensified, I thought it might be time to call off the activity two hours prematurely, but when I visited one of the participants, barefooted and smiling, I knew it was time to see the experience throught to the end. as I walked back to the creek, the rain let up and my own alone experience was back on track. ~