“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.