For my mother
It's been two weeks already. I keep track of the days in my journal, crossing things off as I do them on the calendar I've drawn in the back, keeping track of food consumption, excursions outside, the work I've done. Sitting now at the computer, with the fire at my back, I feel that the days can too easily blend one into the other.
Every day is completely different, and yet there are chores that I do that ground me into a routine. This is comforting, this is nice. There is also comfort and nicety knowing that each day brings its own adventure. But time is on a runaway course. I'll blink and six months will have gone by.
When I told people what I'd be doing--caretaking a summer guest ranch for the winter all alone for six months--the most common response was, "I don't think I could do that." Having done this for two months last winter, there was a security in returning. I’d done it before and I'd enjoyed it. Knowing what to expect and what was expected of me made the decision easy to make. Of course, it'll be interesting to see how I feel in four months’ time, or five.
As I was skiing up the hill a couple days ago, following coyote tracks, moose tracks, and deer tracks, I conducted an interview with myself. The results are as follows:
Q: What is it like being all alone?
A: In some ways being here all alone isn't much different than living alone in a city. When I was in Peru I could sequester myself in the apartment and only go out to get food. Of course, I also had a roommate, so I did have human interaction, but the idea that being alone means you're lonely doesn't ring true for me. I also have, I think, a deeper need for alone time than many people.
Q: Yeah. But six months? Okay. I’ll ask it this way, have you felt alone or lonely there in the wilderness?
A: I've only been here two weeks and there's been a lot to do. However, I’ve felt alone twice in that time. Once when I was going up that hill following all those tracks and I heard a sound. I came to a standstill, stabilizing the skis in the snow so I wouldn't move. I tilted my head and listened and there was nothing and no one. In that moment, all I heard was the creaking of the trees. It was a lonely sound. It was an isolating sound. I was there alone. To be honest, it was a little frightening, but it was also amazing. To be this one living creature in that space surrounded by other living creatures that I couldn't see, to be there to hear the trees, to be lucky enough to be skiing up the hill just because I wanted to. That was incredible.
The second time was two days ago. I was out skiing again with the mind to go up some other hill (I seem to have a thing for hills). Out of the silence there was a bellowing noise and as I looked to place it, I saw a moose. He was trumpeting and bellowing and snorting. And in that moment, I felt small and human. He was probably several hundred feet away and yet I felt too near. It was frightening, again, but I wasn't really afraid. I think these chances to feel like such a small part of this big world is healthy and refreshing. For me, I'm reminded that I'm not the center of the world, I'm just a piece of it. This is freeing in so many ways.
As far as feeling lonely, I have a running dialogue most of the time in my head, whether it's real life conversations I'm rerunning, new conversations I'd like to have, completely fictional conversations characters are having on their own, or interviews I'm giving myself there's hardly any time to feel lonely. And with the Internet and a telephone it’s a simple matter to do the proverbial “reach out and touch someone.” I’m not truly isolated. I’m not really alone. Not in the negative sense of the word. Again, however, there's a lot of time still to go. I'll have to ask this question again nearer to the end.
Q: What about food?
A: I got lucky. Because I knew since July that I was coming back I had the chance to request specific foods be brought out before the roads were closed by snow. I have cabinets filled with things that I enjoy and that make an isolated stay a lot of fun. However, I did eat my last fresh banana yesterday and I have only two fresh apples left. I have enough greens for one more salad or a smoothie and then I'll be into canned, frozen, jarred, and other packaged foods. I imagine I'll be eating a lot of quinoa.
Q: So it's like The Shining there, right?
A: No, it's not. I've never even seen The Shining. And I'm not Jack Nicholson. But, I do intend to write a book, whatever awful first draft I can get out, while I'm here. What that means is every day when I sit down to work I have to drown out the doubts, this will be awful, this sucks, why don't you just go out and ski? and work. I've been listening to John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley and he mentioned that with each book he started it was the same thing, a hard grinding out of words, tears, fears, insecurities, and time. It's been my experience that the more I work the more work I have to show. Hello, Captain Obvious. I know, that sounds simple, it's like a math equation or something, but I guess the momentum comes with consistency and the desire to finish things that I start. I'm gathering that momentum. I'm working every day.
A: So? That’s it? That’s your interview?
Q: For now.
Q: What else am I supposed to ask?
A: I don’t know. That’s your job.
A: Okaaaay. You do your thing and I'll add a couple more logs to the fire and settle in for the evening. Tomorrow, who knows what it will hold, but I imagine it will be fresh and new and wonderful.