Yesterday I had a rare blogging lapse and spent the day considering whether I was going to keep forging ahead with daily writing. It took a lot of reflection, by which I mean lying in bed, to realize that of course I’m going to continue.
All that bed-lying came on the heels of two happy rides. The first was two days ago. I started out at the bottom of the mountain, which I’ve still yet to ascend completely, and made it about an hour and twenty minutes up until the snow got too deep. Much had fallen since my last time I’d ridden up that high, but much was also melting, which meant boggy, sloggy, not-very-rideable conditions.
On the descent I practically had my ankles jarred up into my shoulders. The downhill is rough. Giant cracks cross the road and the only shock absorbers I had besides my 35mm Panaracer touring tires were my elbows, knees, neck, and spine. It took a solid twenty minutes to get to the bottom, and my hands were so cramped up from the constant clenching that I had to stop at one point to relax them.
About an hour up there is a big green house. It’s four whole miles up this dirt mountain road, and five+ miles in total from the highway. There is no other house once you hit the dirt. Those folks are isolated. The house is powered by a massive diesel generator. They have a gas tank on stilts that holds hundreds of gallons of fuel. I supposed they like being alone; we all do after a fashion.
But this kind of solitude seems fake. The generator is incredibly loud and smelly, belching as it does diesel exhaust. The idea of being alone in a mountain home far from humanity doesn’t work so well when you sound like four or five humanities with your smoking, choking generator.
Half a mile further up is a small house on stilts. It runs on propane, I guess. The curtains, which are big cloth tarps, have always been drawn the two times I’ve been up, and like the other house there has been no human activity ever visible. I figure that these people do what everyone else does. They watch TV or sit in front of their phone.
Is that the whole point of solitude? To watch TV? Can’t you do that in, say, Los Angeles?
There’s another problem with solitude, as I’ve learned and re-learned countless times in my life. And it’s this: If things aren’t quiet in your head, it doesn’t matter where you live. You’re never going to have peace of mind simply by changing location. Now it’s true that environment helps to quell the mental racket, and in a lot of cases it’s the environment that is the source of the racket. So you can make a lot of progress towards reaching solitude by leaving that type of racket behind.
But true solitude, where you are able to listen to nothing and hear only what is on the wind or in the trees or within the bounds of the streams, that kind of quiet requires a mental aloneness that only comes with a lot of practice and with the careful jettisoning of society’s cowbells, work whistles, ringtones, and the barking dogs who populate the infinity of the Internet.
Though I’ve never yogaed or meditated, I doubt that either of those things can bring you long-term solitude if you’re still surrounded by the normal racket of things once the session ends. Those folks stuck up high on the mountainside may have achieved a kind of silence–they sure can’t hear the sound of the trash truck–but I doubt they’ve achieved solitude, since both houses have pretty sizeable satellite dishes stuck to the siding.
For a while at least I’m holed up at the paved end of this mountain road. It’s pretty quiet up here even though I have neighbors who I’ve yet to actually see. The sun rose a few minutes ago, noiselessly. The morning wind blew. There was a little racket in my head but now it’s all here, on the screen, and the important space is quiet once again.
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