Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Friendship with Solitude

Whistle stood on the rim of a deep canyon, a gentle breeze pushing a few loose strands of hair across her sun-spotted face. Reaching into her pocket, she went to press pause on her phone to halt the playback of a book about teenage brains. The woman was expressing some fear about when teenagers take a single sip of alcohol, they permanently screw up their brains for the rest of their lives, due to the neurons not completing their development properly. That's silly, Whistle thought, her finger hovering over the pause button. I dare her to find a single adult who didn't have one sip of alcohol as a teenager. I mean, society's all falling apart or whatever, but it's probably not because of that. She pressed the button, and the woman's voice cut off mid sentence. 

As she pulled her ear buds out, first one and then the other, her mind became awash in a gentle, pressing silence. Clouds curled across the distant horizon, forming and splitting and forming again in their own slow motion dance. Taking a deep breath, she let out a single carrying cry, bending slightly at the hips and hurling her voice into the canyon at her feet. Her voice flew away from her, careening into the far wall and bouncing back up to her in a reverberating echo. The echo faded in diminishing returns, and Whistle was again left in quiet. She tried to sing a round, but the canyon and her echo didn't have a good understanding of harmonizing and 8 counts, so she gave up. Hitching her pack into a better resting space on her shoulders, she turned and headed on. 

There had been many moments on her journey when Whistle was overcome with the pressing need to share the beauty of the trail with someone. Being the only hiker on a vast, seemingly endless trail through wilderness had its perks and its sadness, but it was always hardest when being awash in the experience of something being particularly lovely. The burble of a creek, or a certain smattering of stars blinking in the milky way splashed overhead, and any number of other tiny experiences of joy, were diminished just a little bit, as she looked over her shoulder and wanted there to be someone standing by. Just to be able to point and say,


Whistle was not dogged by this pressing loneliness; it wasn't as though she was hanging her Snoopy head and slowly trudging down the trail, while Peanuts' "No Dogs Allowed" played in tinny melancholy over the speakers of her mind. On the other hand, she wasn't skipping down the trail throwing imaginary sparkles into the air and relishing in the sheer delight of every passing of gas that was unimpeded by the constraints of society. Instead, she was settling into a better understanding of herself. Understanding solitude. 

While humming along to herself on an old ATV track, Whistle was startled to discover that her face was suddenly feet from the face of a horse. The horse blinked slowly at her. Whistle dutifully blinked back. Her attention traveled up the horse's face to the man sitting atop the horse, a man who was clearly doing everything in his power to mask his pure joy and delight in stumbling upon another human being. 

"Howdy!" The man said, brightly, just as two large dogs bounded around and between the legs of the horse to snuffle up to Whistle's knees and lick her hands. Whistle grinned and knelt down to ruffle the fur of the dogs' faces.  The man's name was Ron, and he had been camping with his animals and riding South on several trails in the desert. Whistle and Ron began to small talk exuberantly, as it was clear that neither of them had interacted with another sentient, language-speaking creature in quite some time. This became abundantly clear as both Ron and Whistle quickly ran out of things to talk about, but desperately wanted to keep interacting. 

After a few minutes of introductions and general explanations in regard to why both of them were alone in the woods, Whistle and Ron fell into a quiet, panicked silence, as each of them cast about for something, anything to say.

"This horse is 11 years old," Ron suddenly explained.

"Wow," Whistle enthused, "Is that old for a horse?"

"No," Ron replied. He looked a little pained. Whistle pat one of the dogs absently on the top of the head.

"How... long do horses normally live?"

"I think the oldest ones have lived into their 40's."


"But I think most of them live into their 20's."


Somewhere in the underbrush nearby, crickets literally chirped.

"Weeeeell," Whistle said, nudging a little stone with the toe of her shoe and holding the straps of her pack, "Best be on my way! Good luck to you, Ron!"

"To you as well!" chirruped Ron, and they both marched off down the trail in opposite directions. Whistle felt buoyant at having had human interaction with a friendly man and his animals. Sometimes, when you're alone in the woods, having a conversation on the level of awkwardness akin to trying to small talk with your boss at the water cooler after he has just accidentally interrupted you talking with your close coworker/friend about your most recent bowel movement, isn't so bad, because hey, at least you had a conversation and no one was injured!

Whistle later found herself hiking up a 9,000 foot peak in the rain, overcome with the incredible beauty of it. The trail wound its way up a rocky, dry, desert side, but at its peak changed into a lush pine grove. There were thin veins of cold mountain water burbling down between the trunks of the stoic trees to collect into crystal clear pools. Agave grew in abundance, stretching strong and healthy with the collected water of years. Pillars of rock made miniature, natural totem poles, telling secret stories of a world long gone. Whistle stood at the peak and wondered if her voice still echoed in the canyon she'd left behind, a tiny, quiet sound heard only by the space between stones.

1 comment:

  1. Great capture of the challenges, and joys, of hiking alone. Plus, all the new equine wisdom! Pictures, as always, tell a story all their own. Sending good thoughts your way, Whistle! Love, Liz and John