Doug Bruns

Let us consider…

In Adventure, Books, Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on July 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

Mt. Keneo, Moosehead Lake, Maine

There is much to share with you. It’s been a two week vacation and a universe can collapse in less time.

Yet, I worry that perhaps I’ve exposed too much already. I came to think on this during my time away.

I took a few days, after family visits and guests, to go into the woods alone. Upon hearing this a friend mentioned to Carole that “he just wants to get away from everybody, doesn’t he?” The week before, in jest, I mentioned a long-term project I was considering whereby I would go into the north woods and live in a cabin–or camp, as they’re called here in Maine–for a year. I envision a coming-of-middle age sort of experience. Carole’s response was supportive: “There’s no reason you can’t. I’ll come visit you.” (It is not lost on me that my absence might be just the ticket for her.) I mentioned it to a friend as a possible book subject. His response was, “Why write a book? Just go do it.”

I am not a misanthrope. I like people. One of my few skills is my ability to get along with them well. But most of the time I’d rather not. I don’t avoid people–but much of the time I’d rather be without. In reality, I don’t think I’m too different from many people. I suspect being an only child made my stamp a little deeper. I’ll take a comfortable chair and a book over a party, a fire in the woods rather than a reunion any time.

Part of this conundrum, for that is what it is, a conundrum, involves my blog. I enjoy this form of communication a great deal. And from the bits and pieces I can put together, I am under the impression that many of you, my reader-friends, enjoy reading my missives. Yet there is toil involved, and eventually our natural inclination to avoid toil must be considered. Too, there is the pressing business of how much one reveals and invests in a forum such as this, particularly if disappearing into the woods is on your mind.

One of the activities I enjoyed during my absence from “…the house…” was hiking up Mt. Keneo in Moosehead Lake. Keneo tops out at almost eighteen hundred feet. The trail starts at the elevation of the lake, about a thousand feet above sea level. It is a mile and short change to the top. An eight-hundred foot vertical climb in a mile or so, is a good workout. It gets the blood going. I like that. The physical appeals to me. It was also appealing that one hundred and fifty-five years–and two days–previously, Henry David Thoreau made the same climb. That night when I returned to camp, after I’d filled my belly, after Lucy had turned in (on the trail, when she’s ready for bed, she stands in front of the tent), I opened Thoreau’s essay, Life Without Principle. My eyes fell to an underscored sentence, a note I’d made in a previous reading: “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives.”

That, friends, is the mission at hand.

  1. Doug – It’s great to have you back! I struggle with balancing time interacting with others and time alone. I really need both. I use to wish I could work from home when I was a programmer at IBM. I just wanted to be able to think and concentrate on my work without so many interruptions. I got my wish with a new business venture. I really thrived working alone in my basement for several years. I had plenty of alone time to work without any interruptions. I loved my new work, but by year three I started dreading walking down to my basement to go to work. I needed more personal interaction than I realized. Interaction on the phone and email was not enough. I needed to be physically around peers to bounce ideas off of and even argue with. Eye to eye discussions provided much more input and mental stimulation. Now at the end of year four of working in my basement, our business venture can afford an office and a couple more workers to fill it. Its great having the interaction again and I like my quiet basement again too!

    • J ~ Good morning and good to hear from you. Your basement story is familiar to me. I spent several years working alone in the house as a sales rep. Previous to that, I’d been employed in an office and it took about year going solo to begin missing the interaction of others, the banter and companionship. Many years later, having started a business in the house, it was a relief to eventually get into office space and hire a few folks. It sounds like you’re on the same track. I’m glad the business is going well, by the way. Good for you!

      We are obviously social creatures–but even a mountain gorilla wants some down time.

      As I’ve grown older, I find the need for quite and alone time increasing. I can’t explain why that is, but I am aware of it. Fortunately, I’m in a stage in life where I can indulge myself as need be.

      We live in a little two-bedroom condo, about sixteen hundred square feet. It is just right, but every afternoon my dog Lucy and I stroll into town and ascend four flights of stairs to my little studio-office. Even the house, with just the two of us, seems in need of daily escaping.

      Stay in touch. Perhaps someday your travels will bring you to the northeast. It would be terrific to sit down and catch up sometime. Keep a vacation to Maine in mind.

  2. Marx to Ruge: “if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.”
    Religion is a failure. Religion has taken advantage of many people and it might be the more derisive influence in the world today. The Dalai Lama’s book recent book Beyond Religion (2010?) suggests secularity which is an incredible statement from the highest authority of one of the world’s main religions.
    Politics is also a failure much in the same way religion is. The current division of political parties needs reevaluation.
    The world is predominantly immoral so anyone with an IQ above 100 should have misanthropic tendencies.
    Religion, politics and corporations through misinformation, television and organized sports each own a different portion of our souls whether we like or not and many of us do not even know it and are incapable of disliking it.
    The public has allowed corporations many more rights than they themselves have.
    I lean towards misanthropy and that affects my personal life. I am not a writer or an artist I am a physician. I have always thought of writers as exhibitionists in their own way and I don’t know that you have told anyone any more than you should have. My life has benefited from your writings and some would argue that may be the strongest reason for you to break from this blog. It is amazing how little power we have. If your fans, as brilliant minds as we all must be; if we all got together one day for Doug Bruns Day it would accomplish absolutely nothing. Also, many people do too much gathering and conglomerating every day of their lives. More of us should go off into the woods alone for a year, at least.

    • Dear fellow Hemingway fan – I have read and re-read your comment. Thank you for taking the time and thought-energy to compose it. There is much here that warrants reflection and consideration–and nothing about which I disagree. Religion, politics, society and business have at some level failed us. Being human constructs, we should anticipate that. But we do not, it seems. Rather, we have fooled ourselves into a state of systematic false belief. We continue to invest in these institutions and notions–I enter into evidence this election year, this Olympic year, and so on (David Foster Wallace had corporate sponsorships of each year in Infinite Jest)–we invest in these ideas as if tomorrow we will wake up and they will be serve us better. But they don’t. There is a high degree of despair associated with thinking this way. For me, the only way around it is to seriously consider not considering anything seriously. It is high irony, that–and not without a tincture of nihilism. Your Marx quote is dead-on. It is a pity that in this country a thinker of his caliber is dismissed out of hand. But there is much about this country that is a pity…
      Such a slope you’ve put me on!
      I get a handhold and pull myself off before getting too far toward the abyss. Thank you for your note–for reading. And thank you for the kind words regarding my work here.

  3. In the same essay, your traveling companion, Thoreau, also said, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” The responses to your entry today illustrate the attention being paid to your thoughts.

    I first read about your retreat to Moosehead on Facebook on Saturday and immediately changed my weekend plans to focus on some home-retreat time for myself. Life reflecting time. Thus, I thank you for the toil involved in writing about your experience, but also understand– who wants to toil any more than they have to?

    Maybe Tom Robbins had some insight into your conundrum when he said, “Don’t confuse symmetry with balance.” You seem to have hit on a dilemma shared by your readers. The balance point is neither symmetrical nor static. Just when you think you’ve got it right, it changes.

    (I have had this conversation with two other friends within the last two days before I even read your entry. Where is our astrologist when we need one? Are the stars misaligned?)

    I like the idea of the Doug Bruns Day. To celebrate we will each go off to the mountains…alone, but it would be good to know you would lead us on another mental expedition once we returned.

    • S ~ Thanks for the comments–and the kind words. I like the Tom Robbins quote very much. I gave up the idea of balance a few years ago. I think it was during my “buddhist period,” when I came to better appreciate the ever changing reality of life. There is never balance, only a state of being off balance. I tried to explain it to one of my kids this way: It’s like you are squeezing a balloon. You squeeze it here, and it sticks out there. Squeeze it there and…you get the idea. Ultimately I have to settle on holding the balloon without deforming it, kind of a tight-wire act. Symmetry, on the other hand, is a state one can achieve, I think. It is the place where yin meets yang. I’ve been there a couple of times. It’s a nice view.

      For my high school graduation present my parents enrolled me in a fledging “out-door leadership school.” I spent a month in the mountains learning how to live off the land and other skills. It is cliché now, and everyone does it, but part of the program was taking me into the woods and leaving me alone for two or three days. It was the first time I was ever truly by myself and it suited me just fine. That type of “alone” can be powerful and I still go to that fountain occasionally to drink deep.

      I’m glad you re-visited the Thoreau essay. There is much about it that appeals to me, not least of which is the title.

      Thanks for reading and writing–and mostly for listening.

  4. Sometimes I think we think too much! Here’s to having fun!!

    • S ~ Hey there. There is absolutely no doubt that thinking gets in the way too often, too easily. But try as I might, I can’t/don’t very successfully–nor very often–shut down that process. That is my loss.

      Thanks for stopping in!

  5. All the power to you for your quest. I recently had a mental and spiritual enlightenment during my week alone in the woods off Moosehead Lake. It’s a powerful place to say the least, and I’m glad you got something from it. I hope you take that year, or more even. Life’s mysteries are on their cusp of realization at the banks of that mighty body.

  6. Susan: I thought Doug Brun’s Day wasn’t until July 30?

  7. I think it is a moveable feast, Kevin.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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