Thoughts on Finding Solitude
Janet Beyer looks at ways to clear one's head in Concord and beyond.
A month ago I wrote in the column Thoughts on the Neighborhood Pub about the need for a third place, a place that is not home or work, a place where we can retreat without the obligations of family, dishes, dinner, phone, or expectations.
The closing of my favorite third place, Walden Grille, prompted that column. Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place articulates these opinions in convincing detail. We need an escape place.
Other countries accommodate this need in their town squares, cafes, parks, coffee shops and pubs. We in the U.S. are spread out and have to look for and establish our Other Place. In that column I stressed my personal Third Place standard: a neighborhood pub. But there is another type of third place. It is the solitary place; a place to clear the mind without the obligation of conversation. This other place could be called wilderness.
In Concord, Henry David Thoreau is the embodiment of this move to solitary reflection. Walden Pond is crowded with people seeking what he wrote he went there to find. But these Thoreauvians won’t find solitude among so many other Thoreau worshipers, they have to find their own solitary place. With its woods, fields, meadows and trails Concord has ample places to seek solitude.
Concord’s Great Meadows is rarely busy and allows the walker to spot herons, ducks, and assorted birds.
A GPS and sense of direction will take you across the open spaces of Lincoln’s trails, including a bridge over quicksand, and through the uncharted woods of Concord.
If you want total solitude, take Peter Stark’s The Last Empty Place to heart and head to northern Maine, central Pennsylvania, the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, or southeast Oregon, where you are not likely to see anyone else. Stark gives some history of these places as he puts himself in them, and in northern Maine he includes the fate of the French settlers in Acadia.
I am not a fan of Thoreau, though I try to restrain from expressing this opinion in Concord. I find Walden dense and self-righteous. In preparation for this column I gave it another try, and once more was underwhelmed. Too much detail, too much of himself in it, too much lecturing.
Maybe because I am an ocean person and not a woods person, my favorite book of the solitary type is The Outermost House by Henry Beston. In 1926, Beston was 38 years old when he went to live in the small cottage he had built on the dunes of Nauset. He did not plan to spend a year in it, but found himself drawn to the beauty of the dunes and ocean. In the introduction to the book Robert Finch wrote: Thoreau’s visits …“three-quarters of a century earlier had been undertaken with a typically Yankee sense of purpose.” Thoreau wrote: “Wishing to get a better view than I had yet had of the ocean, which, we are told, covers more than two-thirds of the globe….”
Beston on the other hand, Finch writes, was drawn there by the force of an attraction he only slowly came to understand.”
Beston was not a loner. He wrote: “It is not good to be too much alone, even as it is unwise to be always with and in a crowd…”. He sometimes walked into town for dinner or to the coast guard station. The coast guard men stopped by for coffee when walking the shore. Those people became his friends and watched over him. But he spent his days observing the shifts in the dunes, the birds, the flora and fauna of the shore, the sights and sounds that surrounded him. And he kept a journal. A poet at heart, an observer by nature, the book reads like a single long poem, and is a tribute to humanity and its relationship to nature.
“The seas,” he writes, “are the heart’s blood of the earth. Plucked up and kneaded by the sun and the moon, the tides are systole and diastole of earth’s veins.”
Beston's home was eventually destroyed by the Blizzard of '78 after being declared a National Literary Landmark in 1964. Check out more about Beston on the website, maintained by fans, www.henrybeston.com. And pick up a copy of Outermost House at the Concord Bookshop. You won’t be sorry.
“Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and the dawn seen over the ocean from the beach.
Enough of the Bambi syndrome.
I like Bambi as much as the next person; I like deer in the wild. I love their grace, their long legs, their agile lope. I do not like them in front of my car. I do not like the damage they do to automobiles as they obliviously lope across Route 2.
After I posted on Facebook my encounter with a now-deceased deer, I heard from many people who had hit a deer and had done serious damage to deer and car. Enough already! I don’t know how many drivers have been killed by deer, but if I had been driving a lower car the outcome of my encounter could have been different. It set my insurance company back $3000, but the deer did not come over the hood.
I think it is time to rethink our protection of this now-overpopulated lovely animal. For the sake of the deer and the population.