I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. -Thoreau-
I am a firm believer in taking time out of life to be alone. This can manifest itself in many different ways, a book and a cup of coffee, a fire, a good hike, or a long drive, among others. It should be noted that I do not think that too much solitude is a good thing, or that try as I might, anti-social behavior is healthy. With that being said, I love my wife and family and I love my friends but sometimes there is nothing more refreshing than an afternoon spent in solitude.
So my early Spring Saturday started off by shopping with my wife. I will pause here to reiterate the fact that you cannot expect to have quality time to yourself if you are neglecting important relationships in your life. Do not refuse to participate in events with friends and family and then get angry when your schedule has no room for time to yourself. Time management is for another post, and one not written by me as I struggle with balancing work, relationships, study, and play. Anyways, I spent the morning with my wife and got back to the house around noon. I ate a quick lunch and packed my fishing and kayaking gear for an afternoon trip on a creek near where we live.
I left my Jeep near where my trip would come to an end and my wife dropped me off at the put-in location seen below:
I set off down a few small rapids and began to float, paddling only when it was necessary to navigate a turn or drop. I got out of my kayak only to explore or stop at a fishing hole where I caught multiple fish or one, large fish.
To say I was in solitude for the entire trip is a bit misleading as two dogs followed me for at least half of my float. They swam the creek multiple times to keep up with me, chasing geese, sniffing the fish I caught and trying to get on my kayak only to leave me to fend for myself when we came upon another dog.
I ended up catching quite a few smallmouth, several of which were a decent size. In my opinion there are few pastimes like fishing, something that I have done since I was a kid. If you do not fish or enjoy being outdoors (Drew and Josh) start now and if you have kids then you must take them fishing (Drew and Josh); I think it is actually required by law. Tangent Alert: Also, if you do decide to fish don’t be “that guy” that does so without a license. I bought my license the morning that I went on this trip, just buy the license, the money goes to further fishing in your area, and you do not want to get caught fishing without a license.
The fishing provided periods of activity in an otherwise lazy float down the creek. When there is not a lot of noise around you it is amazing what you will notice. One of my favorite sounds on a body of water is the plopping noise of turtles as they dive off of branches on the bank into the water. Every time I came around the bend in the creek or drew near to the bank I would hear this noise, often as many as four or five at a time. Turtles have been one of my favorite animals since I was a kid (every time I see a flattened turtle on the side of the road I die a little inside). I actually spent some time trying to catch a few, debating whether or not I should reach my hand under a log to grab one, which I wisely decided against. I watched a little snapping turtle for a while and tried my hardest to take pictures of some others, but I could never get my camera out of the dry bag quickly enough. I could probably make some connection between turtles and solitude at this point, but I refuse to do that; it would be way too poetic and corny.
I also heard the sound of a waterfall not too far away so I pulled my kayak to the shore to investigate. A short walk from the creek I found this little gem where I stayed for a little while and took quite a few pictures.
At one point I came across this car that had fallen from the cliff above. It had obviously been there for a while and I spent a significant amount of time thinking about possible situations that could have led to the car being there. The top two I came up with were #1 A dramatic game of chicken between two guys wearing jeans, white t-shirts with cigarettes rolled in their sleeves, and leather jackets over the heart of a young, poodle skirt wearing lady and #2 Two rednecks pushed a car over a cliff because they wanted to get it out of their front yard. I choose to believe situation number one.
After a few hours I reached the terminus of my voyage, a bridge over the creek near which my car was parked. I paddled past it, hoping to catch one last fish, and then lugged my kayak up the hill, loaded it into my Jeep and went home to clean up before a St. Patrick’s Day meal prepared by my mother-in-law.
So what was the takeaway from the trip? You can learn things by being outside, Walt Whitman wrote, A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books. Now don’t get me wrong I love books but there are things to be learned from nature and not only that there are also things that need to be learned on your own, with nobody else around you. I spent several hours without hearing another human being speak, only the plopping of turtles, the splashing of fish and my own voice as I talked to myself. Other styles of learning, meditation and study are certainly helpful and not to be discounted but what I learn from a book and what I learn from a trip like this are two, equal parts of a larger idea that we call knowledge.
Nature is to me what books are to Josh, and like Josh said in his post earlier this week about literature, I feel that God reveals things to me through nature (could I sound any more like a hippy?). This is not by any means a claim that nature takes precedence over the Biblical text but it is a claim that I often learn things about myself and God in nature that I would not any place else. When I look back on my life so far I can clearly point to physical places in nature as the major mile markers in my development. I remember learning about beauty on a trash-filled beach in Haiti where a massive coral reef laid not fifty yards away in stark contrast to the ocean surface above it. My foundational experience in meditation was as a middle school student on a river in the Big South Fork National Park. I “studied” evil, justice, and the power of creation during and after hurricanes, an earthquake and hikes through the ironically named Garden of The Gods. I begin to comprehend God’s greatness and control when I walk through the Red River Gorge, enter Mammoth Cave, and kayak Hickman Creek.
Back to my trip. At this particular point in time there were a lot of things going on in my life. I found it extremely helpful to clear my mind for a few hours and be refreshed. Which brings me to another thought. I was a lot happier for the rest of that weekend. I had spent time fishing in the sun and outdoors and was visibly refreshed by the experience. I was in a good mood for a better part of the weekend all because of the time I spent on the creek. And finally, it was just plain fun, I caught a lot of fish, saw some cool stuff and got to spend time in nature.
The bottom line is to get outside whenever you can, and when possible go out by yourself for a refreshing bit of solitude, I think that you and the people around you will notice the difference.