solitude

All posts tagged solitude

Summer Challenge: Point Breeze

Published August 31, 2014 by Susan Woodward

Being AloneSometimes I just like to get into my Hyundai, pick a direction, and see where I end up. Since I had already gone east when I went to the cabin, explored portions of the south in Canandaigua, and due west with all the time I have had the opportunity to spend with my family in the Buffalo area, my car decided to go to the northwest along the Ontario shoreline. I thought I might end up in Lewiston, but instead my car found its way to Point Breeze.

I do like lighthouses, so I was glad to find that Point Breeze had a lighthouse museum, and it was open to the public. Not only that, but I had the opportunity to climb up to the top to look out!

Point Breeze 1

Point Breeze 2

Point Breeze 3

Point Breeze 4

Point Breeze 7

Point Breeze 5

Point Breeze 6Because there were plexiglass windows at the top of the lighthouse, you can actually see me reflected in the picture! I am glad I was smiling because I was having a terrific time.

 

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Summer Challenge: Selkirk Shores State Park

Published August 8, 2014 by Susan Woodward

When I began to tell people about how much I was looking forward to getting away in a little cabin in the woods all by myself, a lot of people kept asking about whether or not I would be lonely all alone. Or they expressed concerns for my safety.

I really am okay with being on my own. It’s how I recharge my batteries.

Selkirk Shores State Park 3And so today I plugged into Selkirk Shores.

“Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object, even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and has his senses still” (Thoreau, “Solitude”, Walden).

In spite of the weather reports claiming that we were going to be in for thunderstorms, the sky was filled with puffy clouds, and the sun beamed down on the waters of Lake Ontario. I hiked along the ridge high above the lake and listened to the waves rolling up against the shore.

While Thoreau’s energy seems to come to him from the Earth…as in the woods and the stillness of the pond…mine comes from moving water. His close relationship with the land allowed him to recognize where he was even in pitch dark.

“It is darker in the woods, even in common nights, than most suppose. I frequently had to look up at the opening between the trees above the path in order to learn my route, and, where there was no cart-path, to feel with my feet the faint track which I had worn, or steer my the known relation of particular trees which I felt with my hands, passing between two pines for instance, not more than eighteen inches apart, in the midst of the woods, invariably, in the darkest night” (Thoreau, “The Village”, Walden).

That is how in tune he was with the Earth, and he found that he was most revived there. Even his rejuvenation in Walden Pond is from much stiller water than what rejuvenates me. I like to seek out creeks,waterfalls, and large lake shores that give the illusion of being at the ocean. Having been brought up among the vast Great Lakes, it is easy to imagine that one is at the ocean, albeit without the salt. The sound of moving water sings to my soul a song more pleasant than any created by a musical instrument. Thoreau’s most treasured songs came to him from the winds in the trees and from the birds and animals in his woods.

I love those songs, too, but it is water that not only soothes, but energizes me.

Selkirk Shores State Park 4

Water Wars

I sat down to watch what seemed to me to be the front lines of an epic battle between the Water Warriors of the Creek and those of the Lake. Where the creek emptied into the lake, the rolling waves seemed to come in to push the creek water back from its invasion. The effect created quite a swirling of forces, battling to claim their place. The clashing of the two stirred up the sand and mud from the bottom, giving the waters an almost reddish hue like the blood spilled on a battlefield. The lake, of course, had the upper hand with its sheer size of reinforcements, and the winds blowing in off it brought in the stronger militia; however, the creek held its own against the mighty lake in the ongoing struggle.

I must admit, it was fun to watch.

I tore myself away from the water and turned toward the inland trails. Once I finally found the beginning of the trails, I was pleased to find that they were adequately marked so that I would not get lost. Then again, I had a Great Lake on one side, smaller Salmon Lake on another, a creek on the third, and then a road on the fourth. I really wasn’t in any danger of getting lost, but I liked the certainty of a marked trail. Sorry, Thoreau!

Selkirk Shores State Park 6 Selkirk Shores State Park 1 Kissing Trees A slice of love

Once again, I was grateful for Deep Woods Off! I do not know how Thoreau managed with the bugs…he’s a stronger person than I am!

All bugs aside, it was a gorgeous walk. And despite the campground seeming to be almost full to capacity, very few ventured onto the trails. I only ran into one couple (several times) as they jogged the trails. Other than that, it was as if I was the only person for miles and miles. Squirrels skittered along the branches overhead, causing a slight shower of acorns at one point. Smiling, I brought home one of those raindrops to remind me of how happy I felt to simply be present at that moment.

A new trail was being cut by the parks department, and a logger must have come across a heart-shaped tree trunk because he left a slice of that trunk propped up against another tree. Seeing it made my own heart swell, as if it was a message from the Woodland Gods that I am loved.   🙂  I even came across two trees that appeared to be kissing!

This is the link that outlines my hike. I did a lot of stopping and starting the app as I paused to take pictures, rest, or simply sit and admire the scenery. However, it is useful to me to record which trails I have hiked.

I hiked with MapMyWalk! Distance: 3.95mi, time: 01:31:30, pace: 23:09min/mi, speed: 2.59mi/h.
http://mapmywalk.com/workout/674403985

The rains did come that day, but not until I was pulling my car alongside my cabin once again. Not the thunder and lightning that had been expected, but a gentle steady rain that also sang to my soul. I spent the evening with a quiet meal and a lovely Harry Dresden novel (I did bring something other than Walden with me…). I’d refreshed myself with the scents of peppermint and lavender in my shower, and luxuriated in the tingle it left on my skin as I read.

It was lovely.

 

Summer Challenge: My Walden Experiment

Published August 3, 2014 by Susan Woodward

How perfect is it that I am able to combine my Summer Challenge with preparation for the upcoming school year?

When I return to work after this summer respite, I will be teaching juniors for the first time in my district. After looking at the curriculum possibilities, I have decided that I will begin the year with the Transcendentalists. What better time to read Emerson’s “Self Reliance” and Thoreau’s Walden? Thoreau, in particular, was fond of writing his essays as personal narrative. It is ironic that both Emerson and Thoreau fall into the list of Common Core works when the ELA author of the Common Core State Standards, David Coleman gave a presentation at the New York State Education Department in 2011 titled, “Bringing the Common Core to Life” in which he said:

Do people know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today? Texting someone said; I don’t think that’s for credit though yet. But I would say that as someone said it is personal writing. It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.

I beg to differ.

The single most important piece that students will write is the college essay. It’s not a persuasive argument, and it’s not a literary analysis. It is a personal narrative about why the student wishes to pursue his/her higher education at a particular institute and what life experiences have brought him/her to the decision to apply. No matter how many arguments or analysis essays students produce, with no real practice in writing about themselves and what they really think/feel, the college essay will be an incredible source of stress for them. So in order to prepare them to write about themselves, we will look at essayists who did write about their thoughts and feelings. And what better place to start than with Emerson and Thoreau?

Because I will be asking students to write about their own experiences, I made an effort to model that behavior with my own Walden Experiment. To begin, I went so far as to rent a small cabin in the woods (yes, all by myself) and hiked about the area as much as possible. I recorded my excursions on MapMyWalk, a phone app that records your progress, and I took plenty of pictures, both of which I shared with my friends on FaceBook to whet their appetites for when I would write my blog entries.

You know…Thoreau would have LOVED modern technology. Oh, he may complain about man’s infringement upon Nature with his trains and fences, but as one who desired to share his Walden Pond experiences, I am certain that he would have blogged, tweeted, MappedHisWalk, and shared with the social networking cyberworld. As he said about his decision to live in a small cabin in the woods, “I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as Chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake the neighbors up” (Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”, Walden).

This is Thoreau’s cabin:

Thoreau CabinAnd here is the cabin I rented for five days:Feeder Creek Cabin Framed

It may not have been as rustic a Thoreau’s little place that he built (yeah…it had air conditioning and DishTV, which I avoided using…well the TV anyway), but it WAS in the woods and on a pond. It was also extremely economical, of which Thoreau would approve. Personally, I highly approved of the modern conveniences rolled into my experiences in Nature. I was especially grateful for the WiFi that was available! No hating about electronic devices! Thoreau would have approved of the ability to get the word to the masses.

Speaking of Chanticleer, I have been lied to my whole life about a rooster crowing at sunrise. Feeder Creek’s Chanticleer crowed ALL day and even into the evening! He, too, wanted to make his voice heard at every opportunity. So, like the rooster, I crowed on FaceBook and MapMyWalk every day.

And I kid you not, there were even bean plants growing in the garden right behind the cabin. As a place to partake in a bit of what Thoreau wrote about, I could not have found a better place without going to Massachusetts. And what was even better was that it was only about a two and a half hour drive from home. Because of it being in Upstate New York, I also was able to double dip the experience to include it as part of my Summer Challenge. I love how things work out perfectly.

Feeder Creek Cabin Interior

Feeder Creek Cabin Sitting Area

cabin kitchenette

Bean Fields

Even with all the lovely modern conveniences that made me feel comfortable, I still partook of the outdoors in Throeauvian fashion. The first place I explored immediately after unpacking was Grindstone Mill Pond. The owners of Feeder Creek Lodge and Cabin, Bill and Barbara VanWormer, offered me use of a canoe to aid in my explorations.

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows” (Thoreau, “The Ponds”, Walden).

And so I hopped into the canoe…after first tipping it and myself with my first attempt to get going. Truth be told, I was afraid that there might be spiders in the canoe, and so I was tipping it into the pond to wash them out. Yes, that is the story I am going with! Thank goodness I had the foresight to put my cell phone in a plastic bag in my pouch…it serves as my camera. Once I finally got going, a huge spider DID make its way across the rim of the canoe, and I swear he was begging to join his friends for a swim. I was only too happy to oblige him. Thank goodness the remainder of the ride was arachnid-free! And was was glad to have sprayed myself with 85 SPF sun screed and Deep Woods Off. It really did make for a much more enjoyable afternoon on the pond.

Pond 3

Pond 5

 

View From a CanoeRather Monet-esque if I do say so myself…

pond 2

Canoe Ride on the Pond

And so, as the afternoon wore on and I returned to my cabin, I spent the remainder of the evening outdoors in my lounge chair enjoying the words of Henry David Thoreau and contemplating how I might experience the joy of Nature that he felt for myself.

And I am grateful the Deep Woods Off helped to make that experience more joyful! I do not know how Thoreau managed the bugs!

 

Connections

Published December 10, 2011 by Susan Woodward

Yeah… that’s me on the far right.

Staying connected… not something I have always been very good at, except for my immediate family.    I think the reason I see myself in a desert is because it’s someplace without connections… and it is sometimes easier to travel alone than to risk being hurt again.  In a technological world that lends itself toward maintaining connections between people, I seem to be more inclined to keep to myself.

When I divorced and moved a hundred miles away, all the friends I thought I had just drifted away from me.  I remember making calls and trying to keep connected, but most of them just seemed to distance themselves from me.  And so I felt cut off… “unplugged”.    I was in a city where I knew absolutely no one, and I tried very hard to hang on to the connections I thought I had.  Between the physical distance and the distance I heard in their voices when I called to talk to them, everything I ever knew just seemed to float away from me.  It hurt, and I guess that hurt has helped me to build a wall around myself.  Cliched, yes… but true.  Abandonment issues stem way back to my childhood, and I probably carry some of that into my middle years by holding back and being more reserved.  I think that I probably have better cyber connections than I do in real life.  Funny how the internet has allowed for the creation of a whole other world… an alternate reality.   But that alternate reality does allow a sense of safety and personal distance for someone like me. .. and I am certain that there are more like me in that virtual world.  However, that’s not a world I really want to “live” in… because it isn’t “living”.   It’s more like Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised; staring into a screen and not another’s eyes.

I was in a relationship for more than nine years after my divorce… well, on again/off again anyway.  I thought I’d finally been able to connect… I tried so hard.  Unfortunately, he also got swept up in the alternate reality that is the internet, and that escape from what he viewed as a miserable existence in the real world became more important to him than trying to build something real with me.  Like me, real connections scared him because of past experiences.  That became the latest “unplugging”.

I do connect with friends, albeit periodically.  I actually do not think that I have anyone that I could call at 4 AM to take me to the airport… another cliche, but another that I think is true.  And it’s not that people haven’t reached out to me… they have in very wonderful ways.  But I cannot seem to break this wall.  I let people in only so far.  I do love and care about them, but this intrinsic part of me always holds back.  And so I find myself wandering in this desert because solitude has become safe for me.   I have become so afraid of being abandoned that I am hesitant about my connections.  I worry about shortages, power surges, lines being cut, and plugs getting ripped out, and so I pull back from plugging in.

But that’s Snape’s world.  Although I am not clinging on to old memories to prevent me from moving forward, I am clinging on to the belief that being by myself is safer than taking a risk to connect with others.   But I really do not wish to stay this way.  The only thing is, I don’t know how to break out.   I do go out, and I do socialize… but only up to a point.

Connecting is risky.  While “plugging in” can bring light, there is always the fear of an outage in the back of my mind, I guess.  I’ve had my share of power surges that end up with me being in the dark again.   After having the plug pulled so many times, I have a fear of putting the plug back in again.

Well, recognizing the problem is the first step toward a solution.  In this complex world where there are so many people, like me, who have disconnect problems of their own, how does one make a lasting circuit?  In this season of light, I don’t want to be unplugged.   Like the return of the longer days of light, I want to have more light in my life.  I want to plug in to what life has to offer and actually unplug myself from the virtual world more.  But again, that’s risky.  I have to find a way to break that fear, knowing that not all connections will stay lit.  There have to be some that will, though.  I have it with my children, and so I know that I have the ability to connect; I just have to be willing to take the risk.

Gratitude

Published November 25, 2011 by Susan Woodward

I’d mentioned before that two cards kept appearing in my readings.  I’ve already talked about The Hermit, and today I want to examine the Nine of Pentacles.  Both have to do with solitude… but the Nine adds the element of gratitude.

This card is gorgeous.  I love the colors and the flowing lines.  I especially love how, although the woman is alone, she seems not to be concerned about that.  Life springs out of her creative expression, and the warm colors suggest that she is comfortable in her solitude.  Purple is a color of creativity, while green is life… my two favorite colors in the world.  With the water-based conch shells, it suggests that her world and music are filled with emotion, and the fact that she is seated on a conch suggests that she is comfortable in her emotional state.  She holds her head high while admiring the fruit of her talent.  The roots of the tree spread out wide on the earth, as do the roots that seem to spring from the shell.  She is grounded.   The branches of the tree reach high into the Universe, suggesting that her music is not meant to be kept to herself, even though she is alone in composing it.  Her hands seem relaxed as they are poised above the keyboard, and I imagine that if I could see her face, it too would be in a peaceful state.

I want that.  If I must be alone for now, I want it to be a peaceful solitude.  I want life to spring from my creative endeavors, whether it comes from my novel, my guided visualizations, my poetry, my music, or my theatrical performances… I want to bring life to my art.

I also want to find that sense of solace from being alone.  What I wish is to be comfortable in my solitude instead of feeling lonely.  Going from a house full of people to an apartment by myself is still an adjustment, even after a year and a half.   Sometimes it’s just too quiet.  What I am attempting to do is fill that quiet with the words of the my characters and the sounds of the world I am creating in my novel.

Snape could never be in this picture… and that makes me feel sad for people like him in this world.  My heart goes out to those who have loved and lost because I have been there.  However, the most important thing I can do for myself is not to get stuck in old memories.  I am ready to make new ones, even if I have to do it alone.  Would I be willing to accept someone into my world?  Of course… but not simply to alleviate any loneliness I feel.  When and if I were to be with someone, it would have to be a coming together of two like souls.  Convenience is not an option; that’s too easy.   I want something that has time to blossom and grow, like the tree springing forth in the picture.   Someone who also has a creative spirit who will help feed that tree, and not allow it to wither and die away.

I did that.  I allowed my creative writing to wither away because someone else didn’t appreciate what I wanted to do.  I gave in to doing what he wanted and stepped back from the things that were really a part of my soul.   Meditation and a soul retrieval ritual helped me to reclaim that part of me, and I will not let it go again.   A life of creativity is what I am called to.

And so I will write.  I will continue to write here, even if no one ever reads these words.   Like the tree, I give these words to the Universe.  I am perfectly okay with simply sending them out there.  Who knows where they will land, if they even do?

Today, as the sun streams in through the windows this gorgeous day-after-Thanksgiving, I will write.  I will be filled with gratitude that I have been given the gift of time to do so as well as a creative spirit.  I shall fill the silence with soft music and allow my imagination to fly me to the world I am creating through my fingertips.   Perhaps one day the world will share this imaginative journey with me when I finally publish the fruits of my solitary labor.

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