by Laura Crum
I spent three months all alone at a Sierra Lake when I was twenty-two years old, with only my young dog for company. (See my first two posts on this topic here and here.) For those who wonder what in the world this has to do with my life with horses, I’m getting to it. Slowly but surely.
So I’ve touched on the magic I experienced at the lake, and I’ve talked about the fear, but there was one other notable thing. And that was the pure experience of being truly alone. Not in the sense of being afraid, which I’ve already written about. But just in the sense of how different it is to be really alone.
We commonly don’t think much about this. We talk of being alone when we are merely without others in our home for awhile. We have neighbors, we go shopping, we drive down the street. We see other people every day. Almost all of us. We are never really alone.
At Burgson Lake, I was, for long periods, truly alone. Alone as in I never saw another human. I often went to town on Saturday to buy fresh food, but sometimes I did not. I sometimes saw others when I went hiking, but quite often I saw no one. It wasn’t a heavily traveled area in any sense. And I kept track. So this is how I know that I once went for ten days without seeing another person.
Ten days doesn’t sound very long. But stop and think if you have ever gone even three days without seeing another human. How about 24 hours? Most people have not. It’s an interesting experience. There can be fear, which I experienced. There were, for me, many moments of thrilling beauty, when I stared at the light sparkles on the lake and truly lost myself in the connectedness of the moment, just as I had envisioned. There was lots of time to read, and to write in journals. I didn’t bring a timepiece, but I became very good at reckoning where I was in the day by the sun. And the days stretched long in a way that could be both delightful and difficult.
Cause here is the part I didn’t imagine before I went to the lake. You get bored. You miss other people and regular things like cars and movies and bars and such. This was before the days of the internet, but now, I suppose, you would miss the internet. I missed my boyfriend. In short, there were moments where I was lonely. I would have given anything, at times, for a loved companion.
I had my dog and I had books. All in all, I did pretty well. I wrote in my journal when I wished I had someone to talk to, and I read. I stared endlessly at the lake and the mountains and the birds and lizards and deer and pine trees and tried to understand whatever message they had for me, just as I had hoped to do. I watched the light die out of the sky, and the flames of my campfire flicker in the darkness. I watched the full moon rise over my lake. Everything around the lake became deeply familiar to me, from the small, swampy forest at the other end (lots of mosquitoes), to the “granite beach” (a gradual sloping shelf of rock that led into the lake, where I sunbathed), to the “jumping off rocks” (where I dove into deep water) to the “dock” (a huge old floating log that I tied up near my camp, which functioned quite nicely as a pier). I became very good at building fires and prided myself on not needing even a scrap of paper or such. One match, dry needles and ferns and twigs, voila!
And sometimes I went to town on Saturday. You have no idea how much patience you can have with things like traffic and lines and crowds and such when you spend the rest of your time completely alone. It was fun just to be in the bustling tourist town. But I was always ready to go back to my camp after a day of town life. In many ways, which I barely understood at the time, I truly was soaking in the experience of solitude like a sponge. My Walden experiment was a success in a way I never could have predicted. It gave me a pattern for my life.
And now I return to what I said in the first postscript. I view my future as being shaped by this solitary summer which changed my life. Its interesting, that summer was the only period of my life since I was fifteen and first allowed to buy a horse of my own, when I did not own a horse. I had sold Hobby in May, and I bought Burt in September (see part one and two of “My Life With Horses). In the intervening three months I lived at Burgson Lake and learned some things.
Back to the present. I said in part twelve that I envision my future as being more contemplative, and my life as becoming perhaps a somewhat solitary and hermitish life. I wrote about these themes in my twelfth novel, Barnstorming.
The truth is that I see that I have created a life that is somewhat modeled on my time at the lake. I have a small cabin on the edge of a round riding ring. The centerpiece is a round vegetable garden with a round birdbath of clear water in the middle. Symbols for sure.
I can see no other houses from my front porch. If I keep my gate shut and don’t go out, I can spend days without seeing a human other than my husband and son. This is it. It’s the perfect form of the life I sought. I have loved companions, I have solitude, I have that cabin by the symbolic lake. I have my Walden. My task now is to deepen in my understanding and connection—the goal I sought that summer. I believe that vision can come to fruition now.
And so my life with horses is no longer about anything I especially want to “do” with them. It is more about sharing my life with them. Because one of the things I was acutely aware of missing at the lake was horses. I didn’t so much miss riding (though I would have been happy to ride)—I just missed having horses around. And if I am to be a hermit in my old age, I want to be a hermit with horses. A happy hermit with horses.
I have written about my feelings about wanting to be a hermit recently (see On Being a Hermit), but that post covers only one half of the equation (the cranky part). Just as I did when I was twenty-two, I still have a vision of escaping the endless busy-ness of civilized life and the pressure to do and be something that other people exert. I want to sit on my porch and watch the light die out of the sky without feeling that I must go somewhere and/or do something. Just as I did then, I want to deepen in my connection to the natural world. To be with what is. I want to live as Thoreau did at Walden Pond.
And I can do that right here. In my own cozy cabin by the shore of my solitary symbolic lake, which is, actually, about as remote as Thoreau’s cabin was in real life (he could walk to town for lunch, and could see the railroad tracks from his front door). I have the loved companions that I missed at the lake and I have my horses. I feel that my life’s journey has brought me full circle to the goal that I sought in my youth. And I am happy with this result.
We don’t know what the future holds, but if I envision anything, I envision this.
And yes, I hope to keep riding as long as my horse and I enjoy looking at the world together. Here we are yesterday on a lovely ride through the redwood forest. As Aarene says (Haiku Farm, listed on the sidebar), “Life is good.”