Solitude, not Isolation
Phil wrote a note the other day saying, “….there is a difference between isolation and solitude.” This set me to thinking because there were things about this shutdown adventure that were getting on my nerves. Maybe as a way of dealing with it, I needed to address some self-introspection, look around and see just how this is supposed to work, this being alone for most of the time.
Isolation has a sinister connotation, as if to say I am unclean, maybe evil, possibly diseased, or just plain undesirable. This social distancing leaves me cold, as if it is imposed by an outside force, which in the case of the Covid, I suspect it is, and that makes it very un-fun. We are being told to isolate. Without compliance, my reputation would be marred almost from a historical standpoint. A higher authority has told me what to do—but my own logic and training is also confirming this is a necessity.
Not wanting to be outcast, Phil’s mention of seeking solitude rather than isolation took on a higher meaning. For it seems solitude is almost revered as being religious, or at least spiritual as in the case of say a Gregorian Monk who chooses a life of introspection and solitude. My pursuit of being a monk disappeared years ago, actually it never occurred to me, but maybe by addressing this most recent, and present dilemma with a different mindset would be the way to get rid of all the connotations of isolation—I am not diseased, or unwashed. I do very much enjoy Gregorian chants.
With a drifting mind, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and Thoreau’s Walden Pond came to mind. I wondered if this slowed-down time could not be used in a positive way to enrich my disrupted life in the what was the fast lane of central Wisconsin. So, rather than calling it isolation, I would now, in grand style, embrace this biological disruption seeking insight and enrichment through solitude. This would be a self-imposed choice, not a mandatory obligation brought on by some government.
First off, there is nothing wrong with being alone, and when I say that I mean with my partner of over fifty years, but generally not with others typically found in my daily life of flitting around, but as a backyard solitaire. Leisurely, I can step outside with no particular intent, whatever goes down, goes down. I can choose to do a list of things, none of which I took time to do before. Oddly, in just standing there I’ve noticed at least four different tree frogs bleeping high up in a couple of maples, patiently hoping to attract another of their kind. The cardinals are running their pumping calls louder now because in part, other folks are not making the usual noises, but mostly because I am now taking time to really listen as if this might be the high point of the day.
In the late morning, I half-buried a half dozen fungi impregnated oak logs with great anticipation of having a summer supply of shitake mushrooms. There was no need to run off to the hair-stylist to deal with the mess on top of my head and while a Troy burger called, I simply addressed a peanut butter sandwich while sitting in the afternoon sunlight.
Because I cannot drift among friends, I am forced to take note of what is around me. I have wood to split but what’s the rush. Then, a cardinal landed on the feeder, looked me over and aggressively grabbed sunflower seeds. Minutes later, a robin, the one who eats suet, took to the feeder. The damn monstrous crow then tried to take the entire block of seed infused fat. I yelled nevermore! This now is a feature of my life of solitude, but still I am not a mystic.
The chives are now up and looking for success. I’ve shuffled perennial flowers around and planted many annuals to accompany the birds and that family of rabbits, the ones betting on my vegetables during their days of solitude.
Little of this intimate observation, and appreciation, would I have done in the past, some, but it seems more available now, like there is new time. Maybe I am good at being a monk. There is a solitude about it. I am able to relax, and reflect on the moment. There is no rush in my solitude, and there is a limit to what I can do. I can’t just drive off to Madison for the symphony—there is no symphony. What there is right here, is now most important. I can canoe because the day is warm. I can read. Listen to bird music as if I was a backyard solitaire. Maybe I can become a mystic.
I will admit it is still good that I know, as I am sure Thoreau and Abbey knew, that out there in the community are still friends and activities that will come back, or will be available once this time of solitude is over. But, if I should find that real solitude is needed, maybe I can visit my son, who in his arctic travels just sent down this photo claiming he was self-isolating—while hunting caribou.