When people first come to visit us, they always comment on our isolation. We are one mile from the nearest house, usually unoccupied, and eight miles from town. You cannot see another house from ours.

But this is changing. Over the last year a house has been built on the ridge behind us, maybe a tenth of a mile away in a straight line. We have few windows on that side, but now, if we look, we can sometimes see a light through the trees. In recent weeks a “McMansion” has popped up suddenly half way out our road. It’s set back from the road and screened by trees, but we can see it as we drive out. Whether anyone will live there for significant times we have no way of knowing. But after ten years and more alone on our road, civilization begins to intrude.

Will we have less solitude? I doubt it. There was a day when people dropped in on each other unexpectedly; does that happen today even if you live in town? Thoreau, whose friends also worried about his solitude, had people dropping in unannounced all the time. He walked often to town and stayed at parties until late evening.

I worked my way through “The Portable Thoreau” while in the hospital last week. I think Henry and I share a common view of the usefulness of companionship. “Solitude,” he writes, “ is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows. . . . I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.”

Am I any more alone than the man who sits in front of his television set of an evening joining in the pre-recorded laughter? Alone, while reading Thoreau in a quiet chair and comparing my thoughts to his?

When John Donne wrote, “I am involved in mankind,” he was not informing us of the closenesss of his neighbors. I have spent a whole day making phone calls for a political candidate. I am more aware of events in Iraq than those many who have no idea who our representative is in Congress.

I have solitude, but I am not alone.

Leave a comment

Your comment