Or maybe wild, accompanied, and interrupted?
Last month I spent two weeks on an island, in a beautiful home tucked in the forest, with a view looking south over the water. The evening sunset on the first night, after Heather and Greg – my friends and the home’s owners – left for Mexico, looked like this:
And the woods were lush and green with moss and ferns and trees on top of trees.
Pretty idyllic, right?
I was working on a gnarly question I’d posed to myself and had imagined that a stretch of calm, solitary, uninterrupted time was just what I needed to tackle it.
I was wrong.
First, I was wrong to assume I’d have two calm, serene weeks. The beauty remained, and I wouldn’t want to have missed all the forms it took while I was there. But after that first sunset, the wind and storms picked up and the beauty took a wildly different form. I’d been warned that the island could be windy, but it kicked into the extreme . . . gusts up to 50 miles an hour, I heard later. Big branches landed in the roads, a door in the house blew open, and things outside got tossed around. In early morning, the power went out across the island, only briefly, but the outage may have triggered the string of other little interruptions over the next few days – the geothermal heat pump stopped working, I couldn’t figure out how to turn the stove top back on, and one night the smoke alarm over my bed began chirping.
All this meant I also got to know islanders, like the folks at the island hardware store (where I bought space heaters and then smoke alarm batteries) and the neighbor up the road who helped me install the batteries when the chirping started in the middle of the night.
Even after the weather and surprise home tasks calmed down, I had one of those crazy-making, computer-based meltdowns that consumes a day in a minute.
Then, I was wrong about the benefits of being solitary. After all, Fergie came with the house and was my companion for the two weeks. Sharing my life with a dog was new to me.
She and I took walks twice a day, up Buck Mountain in the morning and somewhere farther away for a longer adventure in the afternoon.
I learned that living with Fergie came with both costs and benefits, with responsibilities and interruptions but also with the joy and comfort of companionship. I’m not ready to find a dog of my own, but I would not have traded those two weeks with Fergie for something closer to complete solitude.
I was also wrong to anticipate that being out of my normal routine would provide a long stretch of internal focus and calm. One afternoon early in my stay as I was still learning my new routine, I began to prepare for venturing out in the rain to do a few errands and take a walk with Fergie. Did I have the leash, the doggie treats in my pocket, the car keys, my umbrella and scarf, the flash drive for printing at the library, the grocery list, my driver’s license, the doggie poop bag? What had I forgotten? And while figuring it out, Fergie, with her extrasensory powers, tried to be patient (sort of), circling me by the door, chomping at me in her friendly way, waiting for this slow human to get her act together. Putting my shoes on (I’d left a couple of pairs right by the door to make it easy) was the final step before going out. Our flurried departure was hardly calm.
After a short drive to the town library, I stepped out of the car and noticed my feet. I paused a moment to consider how ready I was to show off my new fashion statement, and then I went inside to print.
Most of all, I learned I was wrong about needing serenity and no interruptions in order to tackle the work I’d brought along. Sometimes I need extended stretches of quiet time. But for this “time away” that wasn’t what I needed. I needed a wildness and a companion and all those interruptions. I didn’t answer my question. I didn’t “solve” my problem. Instead I learned that, like other puzzles in real life, it doesn’t have an easy or a simple solution. Living with my gnarly question, which itself involves a mix of dark and light, anxiety and hopefulness, was well matched to my time away on the island.
Those two weeks were a gift that will grow in value over time.