Doug Bruns

“…away from Heald Pond.”

In Life, Nature, Philosophy, The Examined Life, Thinkers on August 26, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I walked out of Maine’s North woods last week after hiking into Heald Pond. A few days later I realized that I had, at that point, likely been more alone than I had ever previously been alone. Alone in the physical sense. That is, I was physically removed from another human being by a distance of significance. It was a few miles at least, this measure of significance, probably more than a few, whatever a few is by definition. Regardless, it was apparent that I had been in a place, literally and figuratively, that I had never appreciated previously.

I’ve been to some remote places, mountains in South America and Asia, afloat in the Indian Ocean, places where if I got into a pinch, it would take some effort to get out of trouble. But I was always with others. There were people around, fishermen, climbers, photographers, adventurers. But at little Heald Pond there was no one. Just my dog Lucy and countless moose.

Being alone and removed from civilization isn’t so much about how to get help if you get into a pickle. If you let that concern get into your head you might as well stay home on the couch. For me rather, it is not about the risk, but the benefit of the experience. Snowbound in the mountains, the American thinker Eric Hoffer read the essays of Montaigne, leading him to conclude, “With some people solitariness is an escape not from others but from themselves.” I appreciate the effect Montaigne would have on a man stuck in the mountains for a winter. But the notion gives me pause and I am unsure about Hoffers’ conclusion –aloneness as a vehicle to escaping oneself(?)

I experience a magnetic pull to the wilderness. I always have. Despite years of domestication–perhaps due to years of domestication!–I seem more susceptible to true north than ever. I don’t believe it to be a consequence of trying to escape myself, to acknowledge Hoffer’s observation. Rather, I think it more Thoreauvian, more an effort to confront life intensely. On the surface of things, those seem two competing notions. Upon reflection, though, for some of us it is perhaps necessary to escape one’s self in order to drive life into a corner and measure its true account.

Regardless of the motivation, I sense a singular truth to being alone in the woods. My mission at this stage of life, is not so much to understand such a thing; rather, to be simply aware of it. It should not take two or three days after the fact to sink in. To be present is the great motivation.

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