Expansive Solitude

I always love washing my hands with running water that first time after returning to a world with modern plumbing. It could be anywhere. I could have stopped at a gas station on the way home. One of those real dives of a place with unisex bathrooms and their oddly diligent yet completely ineffectual cleaning schedules tacked up on the wall or on the back of the door. I could be at home, too, wherever it is that I’m hanging my hat at the time, and, with those eyes that see the spots on the mirror that I never seem to remember to clean off when the rest of place gets a good scrub, be taking in familiar sights. The latest hand towel hung on the rack. The as-yet empty toothbrush stand awaiting the flurry of unpacking. Familiar things.

Regardless of where it is that I find it, I’ll make my way to turning on a tap and water will pour forth. It’s a little bit of a miracle, isn’t it? Ok, it’s not a miracle. It’s plumbing. Yet it sure seems wondrous after a unit of time with buckets, ponds and plastic jugs. Not only running water but hot water that comes right out when called upon like some loyal servant, who is pleased most of all when the master of the house it pleased. Hot water that doesn’t demand being slugged from the lake by the bucket and sloshed into a pot to heat on the convenient propane stove (because, my goodness, imagine if we had to do it over a fire, too? Yes, there are gradients of ease in life.)

With the turn of a stainless steel mechanism I’ll have warm water gushing over my hands. Lathering up with soap I’ll squish it between every crevasse and fold, forming my knuckles into hooks and drowning my nails in the sudsy caves I’ve created I’ll allow the warmth of the water to increase until it’s almost too hot for my now gleaming, pink skin. Clean hands. What a nice treat.

A weekend camping in the mountains provided some pretty spectacular moments of peace and tranquility. At one point we’d all clambered into canoes and headed towards the swamp across the lake. The dock being about 20 feet from the cabin on the 1/8 acre parcel of land, it was easy for friends to bring theirs down as well from atop their truck, doubling the amount of vessels we then had for exploring and enabling the six of us to comfortably cross the water on a voyage.

With my canoe reaching the other side of lake I left my fellow shipmates on the shore with their makeshift bowline-knot tying lesson and made my way up the tree-lined path. I felt as though I had walked into another world. The relatively steep incline made my friend’s voices quickly fade as the wilderness around me took over. Stepping forward was as if each tree beckoned me forth. I felt this wave of something wash over me. What was it? Solitude? An uninhabited swath of land bigger than I’ve seen in months covering me in its own kind of consciousness – that which is devoid of human interference? It was at once heavy and light. The way a nestling cat might feel settling on my lap for a nap. Voices floated through the leaveless air, unable to be interpreted but used as only faint markings of any other sort of humans near.

Mentally I did a quick inventory of all the places I’ve lived and those that I’ve loved living in the most. It was with illogical surprise I realized that not only have I been happiest in relatively unoccupied land, but my times of greatest distress have been upon moving to more densely populated areas. How have I not put these facts together before? The mass of psychological comings and goings in the minds of others around me has already proven to be somewhat of a hindrance at times, yet I’d never before understood the complete and necessary experience of expansive solitude. Solitude that exists beyond the realm of a cozy chair and four walls or even of a single cup of tea enjoyed at a table for one. This kind of solitude must exist for miles around encompassing a view of pure and simple nature.

Shortly upon the discovery of this necessity I was over taken by the rest of the crew, the other boat having docked beside the first and its mates also coming up the path I’d followed. Ok, so I guess it doesn’t require absolute solitude for miles around. There can be a few other people around to still experience this feeling. This is good news since how often is it I get to stare at a tract of land knowing full well there aren’t a smattering of humans laced between the maples and pines?

This knowledge is good to learn about myself. That I need, not only time in solitude, but time in expansive solitude. For the times in between though, when a trip away isn’t possible or a building with a wall and peg for my hat is embossed within a concrete jungle, those times are when I’ll seek even the minutest space of escape that can be mine by letting my thoughts rest of the feeling of warm water rushing over my hands.

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