My thoughts are no comfort
My opinion, little council
My beliefs, without foundation
And my life
A near horizon
Society is both an aid and impediment to solitary progress. An aid for the distance gained through collective endeavor. A restraint by way of the bonds of fraternity and common thought.
I go alone to reach the wildness within.
Only alone can we reach the most rarefied atmosphere of mind.
With every footfall
The mind empties
I wish nothing
To fill the quiet void
After being alone in the wild
A common end
After the wild
Now that it’s night I feel a slight flush of fear imagining the darkness in that remote place I hiked to today. Nothing terrible, just the utter isolation and stark desolation of the black mountains where I’m sure few have ever ventured and where the footprint of man is an alien sight. It’s a good memory and the type which will keep a smile on my face when I’m no longer able to explore.
It’s good to go to nature
Better if you go alone
And best if the distance is far and remote
The harvest of solitude
Long solitude brings thoughts
Both silent and audible
The quiet ones are wordless
Persuasive and earnest
Hinting at Principal
The one’s I can hear though
And answer business
Companionship hushes the first
And encourages the last
‘till all that’s left is Society
Where the silence can no longer be heard
The best thing about solo adventure is going alone.
There are so many places where an untethered mind might float.
Only the individual has courage, for the group can never resolve to be truly brave.
Some things can only be approached in solitude.
I’d take you there if I could
Though the way would surely be lost
You’ll have to go alone as well
Even if we follow the same path
I won’t see you there
Even if you stand beside me
And we can never talk truly
Of what we see
Or come to know
It’s good to work alongside your humility, and share the excess weight of pride, with our only true and honest companion.
Peace is found in proportion to virtue, which is an abiding of the governing agency, in accord with our moral framework. Nothing else stills the troubled mind like an honest reckoning of the day’s wages against the values we hold most dear.
I know of loneliness
Though I don’t know of it well
Though I’m often alone
The company of solitude
Appears a worthy companion
The volume of silence
Is a deafening peace
Contemplation is company
More dear than flesh
How can I ever truly be alone
When questions abound
Clamoring for answer
When lively sensation persists
And while warm breath remains
And exhale again
There’s no embrace like the cold indifference of being alone in wild places. Especially at night. Especially when there’s no easy way out. When there’s no fire. And best of all when no one knows where you are. World views crumble to dust. Philosophies become irrelevant. A better self may be found.
There’s a class or species of thought which lives only in wild places. Feral ideas encountered alone and far off the trail. These musings were the likely companions of our ancestors. Fully formed humans newly delivered from the froth of speciation. We lost those ideas when we departed the wild, adopting tamer, more domesticated considerations. Maybe it’s good we’ve left these behind. Vestigial musings out of place and a possible hindrance to civilization. But they exist still. Lean, hungry and maybe even a little dangerous to our fine polished ways. You can meet them if you like. Simply venture off the map a little further than common sense prescribes. Bring few things. And of course, go only alone.
There’s company everywhere in the wild. Though you’ll have to go alone to find it.
I’m thinking of a very old man tonight. He lives alone in the high mountains of central Japan. In a village so far removed it took me five years to find it, though I visited the area at least twice a month. The man is the sole occupant of an enormous old farm estate near the end of a treacherous mountain road. He lives in a little valley bowl with a fast-moving mountain stream. The narrow road runs through the bowl, splitting his estate down the middle. Though the home could easily house a dozen, the man lives in the tool shed by the road. Conserving heat, and perhaps hiding from ghosts, real or perceived.
The first time I met him I greeted him in Japanese and he only stared at me, like I was some alien from another planet trespassing his reality, which I was. After I found the valley I came back often, and usually discovered him out-of-doors. Often simply standing. He always stared. And never returned my greeting. He’d also watch me go. Standing stooped in the middle of the little road. And once I think he followed me for a bit. As I saw his shape in the far distance beside a patch of blooming wild chrysanthemums. He had his hands clasped behind his back. The river roaring with summer. The high mountain cicadas whirring in the approaching night.
The last time I came I thought he was gone. Like so many others I’d seen disappear in a decade of mountain exploring. One month there’s a house, softly breathing with the life of an old man or woman. The next month it’s a ruin, with no pulse, and no promise of human continuity. Belonging again to the forest and mountain. I thought he was gone. But he was there, as I could detect the faintest light within the shed.
I never said goodbye to the man. Only hello. So many times hello. It’s winter now in Japan. And I wonder if he’s still there. Up there in the snow. Alone. Perhaps outside. Hearing the river roar with winter. And the utter silence of human solitude.
I was contacted tonight by another young person asking about going alone. The father in me always wins and I wind up warning them away. Citing risk and danger. Though secretly I hope they go. To discover in nothing that elusive something they so desperately seek.
Nothing warms us to one another, and makes us long to be with family and friends, than the discovery that we’re all we’ve got.
A friend sent me an article listing and explaining the benefits of being alone. I’d add to the list the opportunity, as Henry David Thoreau said: “…to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
But the trick isn’t just being alone, you need to be disconnected, off the grid, without help and without any chance of help. Almost like being alone on the moon. Even a hiking trail is too much connection. Even the sight of a jet contrail muddies the water of such solitude. Knowing you are out-of-reach, and in danger, and truly alone is the key element.
It’s hard to get very upset with the business and busyness of life after returning from such experiences. And the perspective gained helps the mind to defend itself from the comforting tales of life purpose and happy endings our species is want to tell in an effort to push away the fearful aspect of death and the story being really over and done.
I strongly recommend Going Alone. Though only if you’re willing to bleed a little, or maybe a lot, or get lost, and confused, and scared, and to have your grown up fantasies swept aside by indifference. And of course are ready to die and never enjoy another thought or moment of being, from now until forever.
It’s past midnight now and I’m well beyond the city. I had the engine off before and I could hear coyotes nearby yipping and squealing. It was a good night. A good ride. I met lots of thoughts. Though I’m so cold now I’m shaking. I think I’ll need to put the rain gear on for the long ride home, if only to cut down the wind which bites like needles. My battery’s almost gone. So this is my last post. Good night.
From 1987 to 1990 I lived alone on one of the beaches on this list. My home then was a broken down old 1963 Frito Lay Potato Chip van. I was arguably the closest permanent resident in California to the sea, as I often had to start my van to move to high ground during extreme high tides, or when big storms came through. More than once I came home to discover my beach furniture (all made of driftwood) was vanished and stolen away by sneaky waves which reached up and swirled around my van’s tires. Leaving wet ropes of seaweed in its place.
My front yard then consisted of 20 miles of the most beautiful coastline in the world. I spent so many night wandering the sands alone. My only neighbors and company on my walks were the “moondogs” as I called them, which were the reflection of the pale moon in the wet sands. My moondogs walked with me everywhere on clear nights. While on stormy winter nights I had the battering and incessant roar of winds, and the deafening crash of waves which sometimes topped 80 feet and collided with sea stacks with enough force to wake me with fear deep at night. Causing me to peek out my window in fear of the rogue wave I was sure would one day sweep my van and I out to sea.
I lived three years alone on that beach. From age 21 to 24. I learned them more than I think I can relate now. Those years made me in fact. They showed me the way to solitude. And helped me to discover the powerful countering force of family. I met Yumiko then. And perhaps it was the solitude of my life on the beach which made me realize I could not and would not ever let her go.
For the record Luffenholtz Beach (on the list) was just around the corner from my own beach which is called Moonstone.
Click here to see the full blog post for this story
One of the best things about the outdoor lifestyle is coming in from the cold. The experience of deep exhaustion coupled with the happy satisfaction which arrives after the excitement and danger are past, and we’re safe and warm again in our home.
Emily and I were numb and shivering after riding the motorcycle home from the beach last night; covered in sand and wearing only wet swimsuits and riding gear. I told her to take a long, hot shower while I prepared cheeseburgers for the family. She emerged from her steamy bath with that supercharged glow of life which comes only of deep living, and she quickly asked for another cheeseburger after wolfing down the first. An hour later she was fast asleep with her dog on the sofa, enjoying the dark dreamless depths of sleep which the body always demands when we’ve pushed ourselves just a little too far.
I hope she’ll like going too far. And perhaps grow into a woman who’s willing to take risks. To look to nature as a teaching muse, a place to play, a forum for the composition of character and thought.
I haven’t yet introduced her to solitude. But I expect that’s something she’ll have to find on her own. But I’ve noticed how she often wanders away from me in wild places; on the beach, in the sea, in her mind. I think she’s found the path and has begun taking steps. Eager steps from what I’ve so far seen. I’ll need to let her go. Stay behind while she walks further than my aging legs can follow or swims deeper than my fears will allow. And maybe after she’s returned, has been showered, fed and rested, maybe then she can tell me a little of what she’s found there in the solitary dark.
Solitude in any setting has the potential to open doors to new perspective as well as ideas beyond the pale of assumed social norms and standards. We may return to our peers on stronger footing, and with greater resolve than if we’d gone in the company of others. Going Alone into the wild is an especially potent form of solitude; especially when the wild returns with us, to walk like death through Egypt, removing the first born of our dearest assumptions, unmarked by the hand of reason.
I passed a young SCUBA diver just now as he entered the sea alone. You’re not supposed to do that. It’s against all better sense and standards of safety. I’m sure he knows better. Yet he chooses to go alone anyway. The smile on his face was knowing. I wanted to tell him I understand.
It’s not about defying the risk. It’s about realistically assessing and then accepting it. It’s about factoring in our responsibilities and commitments; making sure we don’t leave loved ones in dire straights should we not return. And then when we’ve made our careful calculations, and have factored in the unfactorable, to embark with nobody at our side, no one at our back, and nothing to rely on but our wits and whatever little we bring along.
He’s underwater now, that young man. Somewhere alone under the sea. Out of reach. Out of touch. As distant as the Volcano Wilderness or the Deep Mountains of Japan. I wonder if he’ll return? I know that if he does he’ll bring back something potent and very true. Impossible to share or even explain. I saw it in his smile.
This adventure is reminiscent of the videos I once made for the Abandoned Japan channel. The difference though is the lack of desolation in America. In Japan, such places were yawning caverns of loss. The feeling of exploring an abandoned Japanese home, farm, shrine or village was like going to an alien planet where the inhabitants had gone extinct, and all that remains are the artifacts of a lost culture. In fact, this example isn’t far off the mark. In America though, places like this feel more like finding someone’s wallet on the ground. Is the person around? Are they watching me now? Should I even be looking through their stuff? Again, the example isn’t off the mark, and caution and restraint are strongly advised when exploring modern American ruins. But as always, such places are best discovered when going alone.
During yesterday’s open water swim I happened upon a deep water reef rising to ten feet below the surface. The top of the reef had a surprising sandy bit, covered in luxurious green sea grass which was waving and flowing in the waves. Taking a break from my swim, I filled my lungs with air and descended down and into the grass, where I held fast to the a clump to gently rock back and forth amidst the green. Time passed slowly then, as I gazed out over the edge of the reef into the hazy deep. I was as far from humanity there as the Volcano Wilderness. As seemingly distant and alone as within a lonesome canyon on Mars.
Hiking in the desert with my daughter is like sailing a boat upon the sea with a long tether tied to the dock. *
There’s a similar sensation of precious anxiety which results of descending forty feet beneath the sea on a single breath, or hiking four miles off trail into a stark and barren wild. But only if you go alone. *
It’s interesting how my daughter did not share my fear in the wild yesterday. She seemed at ease in a place I’ve practically run from in the past, that slippery granite mountaintop where I first caught sight of the hidden heart of the Volcano Wilderness. I felt an echo of that old fear yesterday as we ate our lunch together upon that windswept peak, gazing over and down into the place where my dead muse lives. I’m confident her comfort was in part a result of our company, and I do wonder what she might have thought or felt there alone, in a place so silent my daughter at one time commented she could hear her own heartbeat. Would the muse speak to her? Would my daughter feign have never come? Does her young mind perhaps require more years to better apprehend what wasn’t there in the desert wastes? Is it possible such absence simply goes unseen to those unfamiliar with its hollow circumstance and empty aspect? *
* Included in “My Muse is a Corpse”