Kurt Bell

A life of courage, joy and independence.

Going Alone


GoingAlone01

The Great Indifference

The Great Indifference is a perspective which yields a better understanding of the true nature of the universe. It’s a place of clear thought, and relentless truth. The way there is never easy, never marked and can only be reached in solitude, and when the only chance of return is under the power of one’s own volition. What you find there may be worth the journey, even if you alone can understand or appreciate the prize.

There is no path to The Great Indifference, for followers must always lose the way. Strike out at once along the direction of your first inclination, and your own route will soon be discovered. Note what you find, or do not, as discovery alone is its own satisfaction. And whatever you later relate to others will fall like alien words upon ears plugged and deafened by fraternity, solidarity, and the warm comfort of common society. Only your fellow travelers in wildness might understand, though their own solitary venture may insulate their ears to whatever vain utterances you elect to voice.

I recommend this way to those who are ready to lose, prepared to be wrong, and desirous of truth ahead of comfort, peace or immortality. Come this way for the sake of virtue, for a sound mind, an even temper, a restful heart, and at last, an honest death; an end without hope of reward, reawakening, or revelation; a fixed point of terminus punctuated upon the tail end of eternity which is everything after the end of one’s living.

The vista of The Great Indifference will direct your gaze to your bruised, sore and bleeding feet. The instruments of your arrival in that august place. The pain will grow intense with your notice. A gratifying reality. How sweet the moment of awakening, when the uncaring, corpse-like gaze of reality makes precious the breath of this moment, and the next, without thought for any breath beyond, which is only a wishful, potential vapor; nor the breathes already consumed, which have dispersed to mingle with the universal atoms, to never again return orbit ’round our fleeting mortal constitution.

I’d tell you the way to The Great Indifference if I truly thought I could. Though if you go where I told you it was found then the telling would guarantee its absence. Go instead on your own, by your own motive force, along a way only you can see, alone and accepting of your solitude, aware you may never come back, and if you do, that you may never find words to adequately convey what you truly saw.

Sharing the way

Despite my admonition above, I’m going to tell you the way to some of the places where I’ve encountered The Great Indifference, though I suspect the very telling will spoil the way. If you follow my path you’ll likely find nothing but sand, and waste, and heat; all the composite bits of what you’re after without the substance of what’s not beyond. My guidance is the problem. The fact that you’ve followed me through my words and maps to the place I found alone, and in a sense, lost. You’ll need that bit yourself before you’ll find the Indifference. Not to be lost in fact, but instead to be indeterminate and off course. When you’ve reached the point you’ve satisfied your curiosity about the way I once took, then ask yourself if you’re ready to step off the unseen marks of my past trespass, to embark in some way along new lines towards your own solitary waste and desolation. Once you’re ready then put aside my maps and guidance. Stuff them deep into your pack. Tear them up perhaps if you’ve a mind to crush the empty promise of discovering anything of real value by retracing my footsteps exactly. Step now into the soft sand or across the hard and slippery granite. Do you have your life beacon? Is it charged, armed, and ready to save your life? If not, are you willing to gamble deep and hard with your own soulless mortality for the chance to meet what isn’t there? If so, then you don’t need my words any longer. Go, and die today in the face of what is not, to live on and better as part of what really is.

09-24-16 kb The anxiety hike - softypapas adventures THUMBNAIL 02The Anxiety Hike
09-24-2016
Discovering The Great Indifference just beyond the place where comfort and security give way to doubt and fearful suspicion.

 

Further thoughts

When I talk about Going Alone some may think I’m referring to hiking and camping all by one’s self. That’s partially right. But mostly I’m referring to a mental endeavor to seek after and develop life principals without the reinforcing comfort of consensus. This doesn’t require thinking up the ideas oneself, but instead using reason to discern if a proposition is true and fits with the reality of the world around us. That’s Going Alone. It’s only coincidence that being alone in very wild places is an excellent forum for rendering truth from the abundance of comforting propositions and stories we tell one another to keep back the dark. When you’re alone in the dark there’s nowhere the truth can hide.

~

Emily and I lingered at the beach tonight until it was nearly dark. Just before we left a middle-aged man arrived limping badly and wearing nothing more than a swimsuit and a beach towel around his neck. He deposited the towel on a rock and limped with difficulty straight into the sea. Once in the cold water and free of his bad leg he began swimming powerfully out to sea, diving under a few large waves before making it clear of the surf. We watched him swim straight and direct, further and further, as the night got darker and darker. We saw him swim past a family of dolphin passing far beyond the last rocks, in water more than fifty feet deep. The man never veered his course or turned either up or down the coast, but kept straight for open ocean, swimming hard and fast. He must have been more than a quarter mile out when darkness overtook our efforts to follow. My last sight of the man was a single swing of his arm rising above the now black sea. I noticed the street lights were on as Emily and I made our way back to the motorcycle. And I wondered if these would guide the man back to shore when he’d had enough of his solo nighttime winter ocean swim.

~

I’m haunted by the desert now. The pull is powerful and relentless. Like a vacuum drawing something to nothing.

~

At the bookstore just now I discovered a book titled “Route 66 Ghost Towns”. I eagerly read through the sections on Essex, Amboy, Bagdad, Ludlow, Newberry Springs and Daggett. The chapter ended with no mention of Siberia. It would seem I’ve made a very good choice in selecting Siberia as my adopted hometown.

~

By this time tomorrow I’ll be in Siberia. I’ll arrive about an hour before sundown, as temps begin to descend from midday highs around 110 degrees. There are no ghosts in Siberia, though there is much that is dead. The void left by humanity passing away here has made room for possession by the wind, the heat and cold, and the steady progress of time. These things ignore my presence, though they’d appear different if I was not alone. I’d see only ruin and desolation with another. I’d see ghosts which were never there

~

I leave a thinning trail of connection with every mile I put between my life and the desert. This thread grows so slender that 100 miles out I dangle like a spider on a silk strand. The melodramatic abyss looms. A humorous caricature of nature, if only it weren’t so real. I hang there for a day, in the wind and the sun, knowing the threat of exposure is nothing compared to the frailty of that one, long, slender thread.

~

The steep and rugged mountains of Japan never scared me. Even that time I ran from the mother boar, and again (several times) when giant hornets swarmed to check me out. The mountains were far too civilized with life to offer any real threat. Not human life, but life itself, the mere fact that the landscape had a pulse, and a vibrant one at that, dissuaded my fear and alieved my apprehension. Even to die in those remote, unpeopled mountains, would be to pass in the embrace of what is both familiar and alive.

The desert offers no such comfort. What lives there is sparse, mute and still. There’s little hum or buzz or grunt. Just some howl from time to time, which carries lonesome sentiment and a desperate pleading. Even birdsong sings of solitude. The wind speaks loudest here. And the sun burns its case without respite, from sun up, to sun down.

I fear the desert. Even before I go.

~

I’m half way to Siberia and thinking of that long 100 mile thread I mentioned earlier today. Could it be that the thread actually originates out here? How alike the unthinking wastes of nature and the timeless non existence before birth and after death.

~

During the night at Siberia I left camp to wander alone over the desert in search of night things. Nocturnal spiders and snakes, and the things which stare from the dark with glimmering eyes. And the stars which come out, and the moon in its time. The wind too enjoys the night, moving in warm gusts over the land, always inward, towards the deep center of the desert. While thus employed during my nighttime hike, I came upon that stone-lined footpath I’ve mentioned before. With nowhere better to go I followed for a pace, minding the path’s straight course from darkness into darkness. Thinking over the mind, process and hands which produced this way. What motive brought it about? What purpose did it serve? With every footstep here long removed by the wind, only my own senseless allegiance to precedent justifies a cause I can never know.

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~

The desert is as sorry a companion for thought as it is for fraternity. I sometimes claim that my muse lives here, though this is a lie. Whatever sentience moves across the dark sands comes no further than the outskirts of my camp. I mistake its eyes reflected in my light for those of the fox who lived here first. Neither will come nearer than reflection, nor suggest more than aloof disinterest. The desert and the fox leave me to my own devices, to find thought and words on my own, caring for neither credit nor attribution.

~

This nondescript slice of concrete in the desert marks the spot where a small island of gas pumps once stood. I discovered the remains of this old Route 66 service station by studying satellite imagery of the desert around the ghost town of Siberia. While exploring the site, my mind contrived the story of human ambition and loss here which I suspect may bear more than fleeting resemblance to fact. And the ghosts I’ve borne in my mind for this place are now condemned to haunt these ruins for the rest of my days.

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~

This is all that remains of the gas station and cafe at the California ghost town of Siberia. Sal and Ruth built this place in the 20s out of mortar and desert sand. The combination home and business had two gas pumps and a service garage with a maintenance pit (visible in photo). There was a separate door into the cafe which had wooden floors, and where Ruth served her customers on fine decorated china. When traffic on the old highway at last gave out, Ruth and Sal made the tough decision to leave their life’s work behind to fall to ruin and fade into the desert, while the couple sought better fortune elsewhere. Today nothing remains of the gas station and cafe but stone foundations and the outlines of lives now smothered in Indifference.

Siberia gas station

~

These are the stairs which led into the abandoned roadside diner at Siberia, California. How many road weary American pilgrims stepped up and through the door here for a half hour of relief from the trials of crossing the harsh desert in an unreliable jalopy, or miners coming in from the surrounding claims for a welcome taste of civilization and a home-cooked meal. How many would-be Californians, like my own great grandfather, came here dreaming of a better life if they could only get across this cursed desert! Is it possible my great grandad may have actually been here? Did he perhaps at one time step up these two steps to receive his first formal welcome into California after his long journey from Illinois? The places of rest were few at that time along this inhospitable stretch of America’s Mother Road, making the odds he’d been here not unreasonable, nor very far fetched.

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~

High desert temperatures today kept me near Siberia, and far from the frontier where The Great Indifference doesn’t loom. Why does it remain so far? Why can’t it reclaim the ghost town in the same way as the nocturnal fox who haunts my camp, or the ruin which spoils every human artifact here? It seems human absence is not enough. All reminder must be gone; save the living pulse of a solitary individual, far off trail, far from any comfort or aid, which is the only companionship The Great Indifference may ever abide. I wonder if I’ll sense this strange absence just before the light of my life winks out? When my body is far off trail, beyond any comfort or aid; when the dark frontier grows near, and reality swells with dead promise. I suspect I will. I suspect that’s how we all die, and the reason we cling so desperately to this wondrous thing of life, We sense that our living is something of a revolt, a strange and orderly uphill climb against the pull of universal disorder and chaos. The Great Indifference is that uncaring gravity well we hope to avoid, by averting our eyes with fellowship, love and laughter. And by telling ourselves and one another comforting stories of reunion, reconciliation, and forgiveness. But the night doesn’t care about our fear, nor the wind our chill, nor solitude our lonesome desperation. Better than stories is to face the night, stand in the wind, and embrace today the ones we love. Then, when we discover Indifference looming with the intake of our final breath, we can close our eyes and smile peacefully at an inevitable reunion arrived at after a well lived life.

~

An early lunch in a Route 66 cemetery at the ghost town of Ludow. Nearly all of the graves here are unnamed and assembled of scrape lumber and nails. Remembrance would be left to the imagination.

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~

Today’s desert adventure yielded a very pleasant surprise! In my youth my body could tolerate much heat and outdoor exertion with little impact besides a little weight loss and a propensity to go further than I should, resulting in many blind stumbles alone through darkened desert terrain after failing to find camp before sundown. Back then, I could go all day, and into the night, with little fatigue and rarely dissuaded from any wilderness goal.

After returning to California after my life Japan, I found my new desert adventures were commonly cut short due to sudden exhaustion, and a quite unfamiliar accompanying sense of fear over my physical well being. I chocked this new limit up to my advancing age, and resigned myself to a fate of steadily diminishing horizons with each successive year.

And then came today. Wow! My old self has seemingly returned! At dawn I hiked a few miles out from the ghost town of Siberia, cautious of the summertime desert inferno I knew would soon arrive, and concerned my body might quickly give out with the heat, extreme exposure and exertion. By the time I returned from this first hike the heat was indeed on, and I’d greedily consumed all my water before I arrived back at camp. I should have been redlined, but I was ready to go out again. And I did!

After refilling my canteens I stuck out for round two, and an even longer and harder hike. By the time I was back again, the day was hotter, and the water was again no more, yet my body seemed ready to do it all over again. I held back though, not wanting to press too far into this surprising, rediscovered capability.

It’s 4:30 PM now and the desert will soon begin to cool. I feel as lively and ready as I did at dawn, though the eight liters of water which I’ve today drank and sweat away have left my exterior a sun-scorched, salty, dusty and stinky mess. Just like when I was young!

How nice to meet my youthful self again out here in the summertime desert wastes. But don’t worry. I won’t be fooled. I’m 53, not 25. And no matter how good I may feel today I must always respect my true age and my body’s true condition.

~

The desert around Siberia goes on tonight without me. Another dark passage of night like billions before, and billions to come. My presence so brief and fleeting and irrelevant as to escape notice of something with no capacity to notice. Such futile ends those delicious thoughts under the railway bridge. So meaningless to eternity my vain attempts at virtue. Still I think. Still I pursue virtue. For eternity was never mine. And relevance is found in each moment of common human connection. Let the universe live on, and pursue whatever ends it holds with the patience of an immortal. Time was never mine. Just these moments. Just these words.

~

I’d bring others with me to the desert if I didn’t already know that solitude would retreat before our advance.

~

The hot desert months protest my every ambition. Those far mountains…impossible. Those near hills…don’t even think about it. A few days camping exposed upon the alluvium…maybe a day. Such dreams are reserved for winter. Though even then I sense mute protest to my every solitary excursion.

~

I previously believed that winter was the best season for desert hiking. Cold nights, snug in my good sleeping bag. Warm, temperate days, when I can walk for miles while sweating and drinking little. But now I’m suspect summer has become my preferred time to hike in the desert. I’m not there for the walk after all, or the sights, or–heaven forbid!–any companionship. My aim is the limits. Which are much nearer and more distinct when the temperature is above 100 degrees. A simple August walk a half mile from camp, while the inferno burns, and the landscape twists and shimmers with threat, goes as deep as a five mile December excursion over black barren peaks, and through long twisting valleys of stone. Though I can turn and see camp, or the road, or my car, seemingly nearby under the summer sun, my mind presses such comforting thoughts aside with much concerned attention to my red, swelling hands, my nearly empty canteen, the total lack of any sheltering shade, and the onset of a woozy haze and dizziness, and faltering ability to see or think straight. Indifference looms then, surrounds, envelopes and ignores me as only its nature and capability demand. My skin then threatens to dry and crisp, and my bones to bleach and break, as my folly and insignificance are held like twin gifts in hands held upright in the direction of safely. This is what I sought with such difficulty in the winter wilds. This is what I found so easily in the summer desert, within footsteps of my car, when only I had the foresight to go alone, knew better, and went anyway.

~

Is it possible to will a place to become haunted? If so, then I suspect I succeeded this weekend during my visit to the desert ghost town of Siberia. The ghosts I made there are only as real than the emotions I used to create them. And they followed me away from that place when I returned home, and will haunt my memory for as long as I live or care to recall. The ghosts will die with me, just like the prior passing of the real persons whose hidden history is their secret inspiration. But such is the way of hauntings, to derive from hinted facts, to then grow and live by imagination, until the imaginer themselves becomes nothing more than a faint and shadowy impression, an indistinct suggestion of facts, a muse and inspiration to the imagination of generations yet to come.

Click here to watch the video “Haunting Siberia”

~

Go with a friend, to discover something you can share. Go alone, to find something you may be unable to share.

~

I took this photo just after sunrise last Friday after I’d finished packing camp and eating breakfast in Siberia. This stone wall (and another just to the right of the image) are all that remain of the old railroad station here. The stones which make up the wall were pulled by the builders from surrounding desert alluvium and represent well the long and diverse geologic history of the region. The stones include layered sedimentary rocks formed when this region was the bottom of a shallow sea. There’s pink rhyolite which oozed slowly from a nearby volcano. One stone includes course breccia from an ancient landslide or waterfall. While still another is a lovely conglomerate formed at the bottom of deep pool at the end of a long series of rapids, perhaps in the age of dinosaurs. Though the wall itself represents very recent events in human history, the stones and sand of which it are made tell a much older and more interesting story. This same story is told by the desert itself. If only we have eyes to see.

Railroad Station Ruins at Siberia California

~

Warming my hands by this small fire. The dark and vacant desert night crowds close with its silent depth. There’s little fuel left. Just a few small sticks from someone else who’d been here. Where are they now? There are no lights in the night. It seems I’m truly alone. But that’s always been the case. Even in a crowd, my flame–like the flame of all others–burns at the discretion of just my attendance. The fuel is not the matter. There’s plenty of that. It’s the attendance, and the effort I make, to pile on more fuel, and stir the coals. But now my arms grow weak, as they’ve been doing for years, since about age forty. And my thoughts a little slow, and stray, forgetful even…to tend the fire. That’s why it’s become so small. Just a dimming light in the infinite night. I’m tired now. It’s time for a rest. I’ll just lay down here in the soft sand. It’s warm from the day which has already passed. A comforting reminder of the life that was. I’ll just close my eyes for a bit. The fire seems fine. I’m sure the coals will still be glowing at dawn. The night always ends well. That’s always what I’ve said.

~

Walking in the mountains of Japan consumed my mind in direct proportion to the distance moved. If I walked five miles then my mind was never further than that same distance. No place then was really very wild, even though I sometimes went where I suspect nobody’d ever been.

Desert miles stretch all out of proportion to distance. Five miles or fifty are to the same effect. Even fifty yards can do the job when conditions are right.

Lately it seems I don’t even need to go. Just remembering the desert is becoming enough. That never happened with the mountains, or the sea, or with solitude alone.

I’m tempted to think the desert is coming for me. Has me trapped in some way. But that’s nonsense. Indifference doesn’t care. Is incapable of giving a damn. It’s all in my mind. My vain attempt to hold on to what I’ve found. To gain some purchase in reality that might survive my passing. But the desert doesn’t care. Nor the mountains. Nor solitude. Though the desert voices this silence the loudest.

~

That look on the old man’s face. Even though we were both at a crowded mall, surrounded by effervescent living. A warm summer evening. Crowds of young people living. Did he see the Indifference? Was that why his gaze went past everyone into nothing? I think he did. He doesn’t need the desert. He’s almost there.

~

I wrote recently of tending a campfire. However, it’s been years since I’ve actually built one. I prefer now to let darkness come on its own when I’m alone in the wild. I’ll use a light to set up camp, or a flame to cook my meal. But when the camp is set, and my stomach is full, I’ll switch off the light, and sit alone in the vast darkness. Almost like before.

~

I asked myself today why my thoughts so often turn to death, and the related subjects of emptiness, indifference, and oblivion. It’s because I enjoy life, and I believe there’s nothing to follow after we die. I believe that what waits after death is the same utter void we didn’t know before we were born. I believe all this love and laughter, challenge and struggle, and the many opportunities to be, and to do good, will pass away completely the instant our minds shut off, and our being begins to dissolve away. I believe there will be no chance for reunion, reconciliation, or justice after our functions cease. And I believe that we will never again awake into anything like what we are now, though our matter and energy may in fact be used by others. So, if this is what I believe, then I guess it’s no wonder I spend a lot of time thinking about, and gazing into, the void. No wonder I go to wild places. That’s why I choose the desert. And the reason I always go alone. For whenever I return from such places, or such thoughts, I always come back a better man. More sober and composed. Less troubled by petty things. More engaged with my family. More at ease with who I am. Better resolved towards being a good man. And more prepared for the absolute end I must very soon face…alone.

~

Just one more week until the start of flash flood season in the California desert. I look forward to this event with more excitement than Shark Week! Soon my dark and silent nights in Siberia will come alive with thunder, lightning and rain in the nearby Bristol Mountains. These summer storms create powerful and short-lived rivers, which appear suddenly from nowhere, to spill from canyons and dissipate across the broad alluvial plain where I sleep. The floods carry heavy sediment loads of course rock and sand, which are deposited atop the desert, adding new layers to a geologic story which began 34 million years ago; in a period when grasslands first appeared on Earth, and rainforests retreated to the equator. The story goes on, year upon year, century after century, for countless millennia, with few observers, and nobody to know the full tale.

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