Solitude

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The open savannah parkland of earlier this morning had changed, to stands of  marula, knobthorn and acacia with groves of raisin bush, sickle bush, shrub acacia and bush willow. Progress with the vehicle had become a twisting torture through the thickets. It was hot and dry and dusty. I got enclosed in a cocoon of scraping and cracking and thumping, battling the unwilling steering wheel, or getting out to chop or clear or fill obstacles, or unclogging radiator screens… My senses were being saturated and numbed.

The deep pool of shade beneath this time-ravished tamboti was just too inviting to pass by. It was time for some respite from the struggle of breaking through the bush. I slid down from the seat and for a moment, I let the silence envelop me. Even the cicadas seemed to give me a break. I was tempted to just sit down and soak up the stillness and the coolness, but I had to check the vehicle first, and get stuff ready for my brunch.

Afterwards, when I had settled down with a cup of tea, I indulged in the quiet. Over the soft rustle of the tamboti leaves above me, there were only the far away doodle of a wood dove and the drawn-out whistle of a black-crowned tchagra. They sounded lonely and melancholic. It brought the silence closer. It felt as if it actually touched me; wanted to remind me of how immense it was, how exposed I was to a world I knew relatively little of.

For a moment I felt uncertainty, but there was also exhilaration. Any combination of forces that I would be hard put to survive could, in a split second, burst forth from the quiet. Or, there could be nothing; just this immense silence and the slow turn of day and night, heat and coolness, and me working myself deeper into the wilderness, and then out again, with not much happening apart from the many thoughts that would have passed through my mind.

The uncertainty of this boundless universe of possibilities and the arcane dynamics that might (or might not) make them unfold, the danger that it almost always faintly reeks of, are what fascinates and addicts me.  And being alone in it makes it intensely personal. What I think on it, how I relate to it, how I bring it into context with the wider world I am aware of, not even my mutterings to myself go beyond my immediate aura – or perhaps I should say, beyond my own awareness, for there may be awareness of me, here, that I am unaware of…

Be that is it may, I am answerable for it only to my own conscience and sensibilities, and I alone must bear the consequences of how I deal with the situation. It immensely intensifies sentience, even of small routine actions like cleaning and putting away equipment, or checking the vehicle, or rehearsing my emergency actions in my head before allowing myself to doze off. Indeed, awareness of my body itself, in an almost clinical, but very personal sense – the feel of the air movement over me, the numbness of fatigue in my muscles, their capacity for more exertion, or immediate action, the very sharpness of my mind…

The experience, however fast or slow moving, dangerous or mundane, becomes the thing in itself – the experience becomes the experience. Could I tolerate someone with me? I could, and have, and mercifully it had been mostly pleasant. But it is different. There is no real substitute for solitude.

I am reminded of a poem by Mary Oliver:

HOW I GO TO THE WOODS

Mary Oliver

 

“Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single

friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore

unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds

or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of

praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit

on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,

until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost

unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love

you very much.”

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