As I mentioned in passing, a couple of days ago, I have tendency to be solitary.
Not that I don’t like people; I do, very much; but I also like time alone. Though I wouldn’t choose it, I could probably cope with solitude as a permanent state if I had to; I certainly have never minded a couple of months at a stretch, when they came along. Mostly, though, as an ideal, I take it little and often: short spells, a few minutes or a few days, amid the hurleyburley.
You don’t have to head for the wilderness to get solitude. You can get solitude in the heart of a city, if you want to. A couple of weeks ago, I was shown a place of bosky solitude which I had never suspected, just behind a thriving arts centre which I have visited frequently. As someone who (from active choice) spends much of his life travelling, I get my most frequent doses of solitude in that suspension which occurs between one place and another, even on a crowded train. Nevertheless, wilderness does have its appeal and I particularly love that special kind of solitude which arises from knowing that no other human being likely to appear. I have an especial weakness for islands; and this little group of three islands, wilderness surrounded by sea which in turn is enfolded by wilderness mainland, is one of my treasured favourite spots. No, I have no intention of telling you where they are.
Neither solitude nor wilderness need, these days, necessarily require an absence of communications links. Much wilderness is now suffused with one or another sort of radio signal into which you can tap in if you wish; dealing with that is simply a matter of using the “off” switch, or even leaving the equipment at home. Sometimes I sit in my wilderness solitude and use email; sometimes I don’t; it depends. This particular island wilderness, though, has only the last gasp level of comms access, the satellite phone of which I shall not make use unless there is an emergency. Trying to use a system like WordPress over a satphone is, in any case, a silly idea: slow, clunky, error prone, apt to go off somewhere else just as you finish so that you have to start again … nothing could be more calculated to destroy the very state of mind which a wilderness island promotes. So, this post (I do, you see, have a small Android device with me on which to write) will have to wait until tomorrow’s return to the madding crowd before it can be uploaded.
I also have an MP3 player, and will sometimes use that too (with ear buds, to avoid any sound pollution of the place itself). But not today. As the sun set, somewhere just out of sight from my rocky shoreline spot, I privately listened only inside my head to Judith Durham singing, from the biomemory bank, Catch the wind.
- Judith Durham, “Catch the wind” [originally Donovan, 1965] on Mona Lisas and mad hatters. 1996, London: EMI Premier. 724383712922
- Post title stolen from: Suzanne Vega, Solitude standing. 1987, A&M. 395136-2