Isolated was my place up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont; fifteen miles from Canada and as far from New Hampshire, up the mountain, one half mile through the woods past the dead end of a dirt road. After a week or even just a few days of seclusion things could get pretty lonely up there. Then there was nothing so interesting as the occasional hiker passing through my meadow on his way to the fire-tower on the summit of nearby Bald Mountain. I stopped whatever it was I was doing and watched them pass up the trail, with more interest than I afforded to a deer or moose in the same position, with a different quality of interest. Only a bear was more fascinating, probably because of the rarity of sighting them and that sometimes they appear remarkably human.
It didn't matter that my buddy had dropped by for an hour the day before. Or that I might have gone into town a couple of days before that. Those brief encounters with humanity, as with the hikers passing up through the meadow, were like rocks thrown into a pond; they made their splash, they caused their ripples, but soon enough everything was quiet and still again, all traces gone.
My closest neighbor was at the end of that dead end country road, one half mile down the old road that we opened up through the woods, widening the path, to get to my land. Further down that road, down that big, big hill (not quite a mountain even by Vermont standards) there were a few more neighbors, all residents of Mad Brook Farm, a hippie commune founded in 1969. In any other direction from my place it was miles, two or three or more, through the woods, before you came to any other dwelling, and those other dwellings were few, and most were just camps, only used in the summertime.
Occasionally that occasional hiker displayed a moment's doubt as to how the trail up Bald Mountain continued through and exited from the wide expanse of meadow. When they paused to reconoiter, there at the lowest point of the meadow, close to my house, especially if I was alone, I didn't give them second moment to reflect. Quick as a rabbit I was out the door, pointing out the skinny birch trees up top as the spot that they were looking for. Sometimes I'd invite them to stop in on their way down. No one ever did.
Human beings crave society. We live longer, healthier lives in relationship with others. It is comforting on a very primal level to be in company. We invent many reasons to be with others. We suffer boredom rather than be alone. We suppress our personalities to be accepted in polite company. We are social animals. The group, the tribe, our people has kept the species going since before we came out of the trees.
Solitary confinement is considered by some cruel and unusual punishment, because it's hard to be isolated. Sailing alone around the world is impressive not just because of the skill and physical endurance required, but also because or the psychological endurance needed; to face the sea is one thing, to face the sea alone day after day is quite another. Occasionally putting into port or receiving supplies afloat are like those rocks I threw into my pond, the quiet is even quieter as soon as the splash is gone and the ripples subside.
I thought about that desperation for human contact today when I went for my bicycle ride. That was in the tarde noche, around 7:30 after the heat was gone and I could ride in the shade. I laughed at myself when I realized that I had tried to strike up conversations with two persons in the first half block of my ride. Both of them were anglos. The first was a masked man. I said to him, as I was stopping my bicycle alongside of him, "You look like you've had a long, hot day." He stopped long enough to confirmed and admired my intuition, but obviously wanted to get home after his long, hot day. The second, not ten seconds later, was a masked woman who was looking around, somewhat befuddled, as she came to a corner. Without stopping I asked, "Do you know where you are?" She said that she did, but she was obviously disoriented.
I'm a bit disoriented myself these days of sheltering-in-place. Aren't we all? I tended to spend a lot of time alone before the virus and now I am spending more. Aren't we all? We've all got a bit of cabin fever, no?
The man was complaining that it is harder for him to be sheltering-in-place alone than it is for his friends who are couples, who are sheltering together. I imagine that all depends on with whom you are sheltering in place. Comparing my suffering to yours is like comparing apples to oranges.
With that nod to relativity, I assert that when you are isolated alone, in a boat on the ocean or in a house in the woods of Vermont, miles from anyone else, it is a different, more absolute alone. I had guests up in Vermont who were fine in a park in suburbia, but got positively agoraphobic when surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of wilderness, never venturing off the little bit of lawn around the lodge.
My eighty year-old landlady upstairs was alone more than 95% of the time before Corona. She leaves the television on most all the day. The human voice is a precious sound. Sometimes up in Vermont I would talk to myself. I remember reprimanding myself, out loud, for doing so: "David, you are talking to yourself." To which I shamelessly replied, "Yes, I am."
People wonder about life after the virus, or after the virus loses its bite. They wonder if life will return to normal. Some speculate whether or not we will in any way be better for having gone through this suffering. Certainly some of us will and some of us won't. My guess, my hope is that, as a whole, in some way, this temporary loss of what makes us human, life lived in common, will make us more human and humane. But maybe I am just talking to myself.
The man coming out of that big forest in Vermont said, "I won't say I was lost, but I certainly was turned around a bit." The light of home never looks so good as when you are exiting the woods as night is falling.
Approaching town on the road from Guanajuato, that first view of San Miguel, in the distance, up on the hill always impresses me. I imagine those early travelers, crossing this desert, seeing it, knowing that they were almost there, almost here.
We've almost made it. Hang in there.
Dr David a victim of the Hippie movement, is still trying to change the world. He and his merry band believe that with the new expanded Lokkal (on your computer screens soon) it just might happen.