Decades ago, during a conversation with my brother, Ronnie, I spoke of my passion for getting away from people and things man-made every so often. Surprisingly, he confided in me that he strongly disliked being alone. He said he was most comfortable within a group of people. I found it astonishing and hard to imagine anyone’s need to be with others all the time.
My desire to spend time alone wasn’t a rebellion against any sort of crowded life. I grew up on a farm in a family of five, over a mile from the nearest neighbor, and worked at chores that left me in solitude a good bit of the time. It was a wish to be removed from as much sensory input coming from my usual environment as was practical from time to time.
My history of “walkabouts” began in my preteens. Yes, I would sneak out my bedroom window once my brothers and parents were soundly asleep. My forays varied a mile or more, down country roads, veering off to some spot or the other, out of sight from discovery. I would commonly sit and look up at the sky or sometimes close my eyes and soak in the sounds and feel of the night. Perhaps I would think about various subjects, but I often just took my mind out of gear and mentally drifted. Any turmoil or concerns I may have had during the day would rapidly vanish, and I could enjoy a period of peace and tranquility on my own.
When I became an adult, there were times it was inadvisable to escape and wander nearby, so I would travel to a remote location. In the Navy, I went AWOL once off the ship in Bremerton, Washington. I traveled by bus to a natural area, climbed a small mountain, and stayed the night. The weather grew so cold the night was spent shivering. I failed to find that respite, my night of quiet contemplation.
Later, I was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier with 2500 other sailors. I found a choice spot under the bow, below the flight deck on the end of a catwalk, where I spent many hours while off duty. I sat on an extension over the sea, feet dangling, with the massive ship above and behind me. The location produced an incredible sensation of floating alone, thirty to forty feet over the water, with only the sky ahead and the sea below.
The most intense experience, devoid of any sensory perception, was while working as a Colorado miner. The mine went half a mile into the mountain, then 800 feet up. I operated an engine that pulled cars on a small track, and after an area was blasted, I collected debris, moving it to a remote unlighted portion of the mine and dumping it down an abandoned shaft. After dumping, I would kill the lights and engine, sitting as still as possible for ten minutes or more. It was profoundly dark and quiet. At first, I could hear only my breathing, but soon I could hear my every heartbeat. I would have loved to stay there for hours, but duty called. The thrill I felt in each of those moments was beyond words.
“Being where others are not” does not equal loneliness. For me, it is an intensely spiritual experience and soothing to my soul.