Imalone Road

“No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.” ~ Kerouac, Lonesome Traveler

On the subject of hermits, some people say that it is not talking to yourself that marks you as crazy, it’s answering your own questions. I don’t think that’s a very good standard. What I think is the true line of demarcation is when you start telling yourself jokes. And laughing at them.

Call me crazy.

It was a very quiet four days alone at our family’s hunting cabin in the Blue Hills of northern Wisconsin. Although I went seeking quiet, I found that to so abruptly drop myself into such stillness was a shock to the system that left me paralyzed and nervous. It got a little intense. The days were short and night came quickly and then there was little to do but sit in front of the stove and read.

There was a strange sensation I would get after reading for a while. I would feel like I’d been reading for too long so I’d stand up and do something: take a leak, put a log on the fire, have a snack, pace around the cabin. I’d get done doing whatever I was doing and think, “Okay, now what should I do?” And then I’d realize that the only thing to do was what I had been doing. I would sit down, pick up the book, and dive back in. It was realizing that whatever I had interrupted myself with was incredibly brief, that the number of such diversions and tasks was extremely limited, and that if I didn’t start reading, I’d probably start talking to myself. Again.

Not only that, when you have no communication with the outside world, and no one is expecting to see or hear from you for a few days, it’s hard not to worry about hurting yourself or getting lost and bleeding to death or a rainstorm coming up and getting hypothermia or starving in the woods with a broken leg for days until your absence is noticed and your relatives are forced to scour the woods with dogs and helicopters to find your frozen, lifeless body under some fir tree with a note you scrawled on a matchbook cover saying final goodbyes and musing on the brevity and fragility of life and how some dreams must always remain dreams even if you live into old age and that you had a good run and life is truly beautiful — even moreso because of the immediacy of death every moment — and you wish for your family to not mourn too long or too hard but to live their lives fully and you only wish you could be there to see all the good things that are sure to come.

Since I obviously can’t quite figure out how to otherwise express this feeling in words, perhaps an example will help.

7 thoughts on “Imalone Road

  1. Terry

    I love the photo of the interior of the cabin, how the sunbeams are suspended in mid air. I have the evil twin set to that stainless steel table and the aquamarine vinyl chairs. I’ve held on to that set for years with the purpose of someday having a cabin of my own to put it in. I’ll bet that your family has played a lot of card games around that table and told many tales while sitting there after the plates have been cleared.

    As always thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    PS – I’m probably crazy, based on the standards you listed. I answer my own questions and laugh at the jokes that I tell myself. The key to happiness is to never go to bed angry with yourself.

  2. Lene

    Hey dharma bum,
    I really enjoyed the way you weaved pictures in with your story. I was curious about how that time away went. I’m also relieved to know that I’m not the only one who worries about pulling myself back with two broken legs and sometimes leaves information back home about where they can find my remains. :) I appreciate your ability to clearly contrast the emotional experience of being in the city vs. the woods. Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

  3. Deb

    Your account of hiking, wanting to go further but knowing inevitably you’d have to turn back, reminded me of a similar experience I had once. I was on my way home from a meeting and I had some time to kill, so I stopped at Wild River State Park for a hike. It was about the same time of year. I thought the trail I was on made a loop and came back, but I went on and on and the trail didn’t seem to be changing direction. The moment I made a decision and committed myself to turning back was somehow a huge emotional release; it surprised me and I couldn’t really explain it.

    Your descriptions of solitude, and its unexpected effects, are so vivid. I wonder how long it would take before one got over the tension, the restlessness, or if one could get over it.

    The photos show a landscape that is very similar to what I see every day around here! Thanks for sharing your experience so honestly. Oh by the way, I tell myself jokes, and laugh loudly at them, all the time when I’m driving alone. :)

  4. thingfish23

    You know what I think. You got mail, son.

    Feel free to cut and paste some of it here, if you want to fatten up the comments section! Not like I said anything that hasn’t been touched on in one way or another by previous commenters…

    Anyways, well said. And cheers.

  5. Dave

    Yr comments about reading too long. Remind me of the times in the santa cruz mountains. Nothing to do. Having to learn to be with only yourself. looking at the same pond for hours. Not needing to find it interesting.

    Just as it is.


  6. the dharma bum Post author

    It’s pretty cool to get such long and thoughtful responses, thanks everyone. Glad you guys liked it.

    I like that I can post things that I don’t think are 100% complete… That are not my usual “style,” (and in fact, that I don’t have to have a usual style), that I can be embarrassingly honest sometimes, and still get such nice things said about what I post.


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