Facing Down the Apocalypse VII: Solitude

22

APRIL 2020

On the front porch of the Johnny Gunter place, I ride the incoming swell of nightfall. The last logging rigs rumbled out of the valley two hours ago. A single robin chirrups from the meadow growing April green before me. An erratic wind from the west draws an iron overcast across the evening sky. Conifers sigh, go silent. The breeze swirls in small whirlpools around eye sockets hunched under the hood of a dilapidated down parka. Chili and a piece of last fall’s winter squash cool quickly in a bowl next to my chair. The thermometer on the tattered shake wall behind me reads 46, but the temperature might as well be 20 here at the edge of darkness at the edge of the house at the edge of the meadow at the edge of my known world.

Even in this new age of isolation, in the suburbs I am rarely alone. This is good. Our human need for companionship has been coiled tightly into our chromosomes by 55 million years of primate evolution. But our ancestors also understood the need for isolation. Occasional vision quests are necessary. There is solitude in these crenulated mountains, old beings incised by water into steep canyons that grow all manner of needle and leaf. Here there is space for shutting down the judgment centers of my brain required by civilized existence. Partitions that keep my well-ordered world well-ordered become cloud wisp. I can peek cautiously over the edges of unplumbed depths without getting vertigo.

Yet a cold dusk wind in the Coast Range can be the loneliest damned thing in this raw uncertain world. Once I thought I knew the difference between solitude and loneliness. Then the boundary between them becomes translucent, and lonely shadows bleed into my solitary soul like this chilling nightfall. I should go inside, turn on the lights, fire up the woodstove, read words written by someone else. Instead, I sit in this chair with my cold dinner and spread my arms around gray wind. I gather in the ache, let my demons swirl and scritch from pen to paper. This is fuel in the way that adrenaline feeds a rock climber or fatigue drives an endurance athlete.

I’m grateful for the option of reconnection. Many have now lost this basic requirement for a healthy human existence. Tomorrow I’ll return to town, to my wife, to a warm well-lit house. I’ll turn on the computer. I’ll tell you what you already know. That social distancing can identify our deepest shortcomings. That we need each other if only to keep those barking demons at bay until they can be tamed.

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