New England winters can really get severe, especially with a nor’easter bearing down on you. The Trailways bus did its share of sliding on the snow-packed road as we crossed the bridge to the island. We soon reached the end of the line, and I’m certain the driver was quite relieved. Opening the bus door, he shouted, “Good luck!” as I stepped out into a blast of icy air.
Hoisting my pack onto my shoulders, I set out walking. Call me crazy, but I’d never been there before and didn’t know what my adventure held in store. I soon found shelter from the storm at a YMCA. In a few days, the storm passed and the sun shone on the new white landscape. When I stepped outside, a slight breeze stung my cheeks and I deeply inhaled the ocean’s saltiness. I couldn’t wait to get settled and begin painting the cliffs and crashing surf. But first I had to locate a place to rent.
I luckily found the perfect spot, an old Victorian structure. A three-room apartment was available on the gabled top floor, overlooking the rooftops and harbor below. The rent was $25 a month. It came unfurnished and unheated except for a small portable kerosene heater and a kitchen table with two chairs. I acquired a mattress, which I set on the floor with my sleeping bag. I then put away a couple of dishes, two cups, a spoon, some forks, and a knife. I was set!
I can still recall the enchanting lights of the fishing boats below in the early morning darkness.
How easy they were to see from my attic apartment! The kitchen wall was mostly composed of 6” x 12” glass panes that rattled in the wind. I often wondered what kept them in place. Yet how I savored sitting there like a bird on a perch overlooking the ebb and flow of common life! It provided me a euphoric detachment from the world of which I was part and yet not part.
In that simplicity and solitude, my spirit was nourished. I owed not a single soul a penny. I had no promises to keep or obligations. With no car and few belongings, I felt free. It was a strange place to be for a young man with the whole world before him to explore. I could walk to some high cliffs and sit scanning the ocean’s horizon for hours. The spray of the surf, the squawking of seagulls, the salty air, and my aloneness were quickly adjusting my consciousness.
Funny, I’d never thought of myself as being reclusive—well, at least, at that age. This sublime state seemed to evaporate my need for companionship. The Tao Te Ching asks, “Who will prefer the jingle of jade pendants if he has once heard stone growing in a cliff?” My free and easy wandering filled me with pleasantness and touched a part of me I would relish even many decades later.
How easily we find ourselves caught in webs that we exclaim are not of our own making. “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.” This truism by Deepak Chopra illustrates our dilemma and how easily we can fall. So often the things we own end up owning us. We become slaves to the things that serve us. I confess, I’ve been there, and I choose not to visit that state of affairs again. It is in simplicity and solitude that my spirit is nourished.
It’s not exactly that I don’t associate with others, but I seek their companionship for the joy of it, not for the utility of it. So often associations are formed because of a hope of gaining some advantage. Genuine encounters are where we are truly interested in the other person—not what they can do for us, but who they really are. Even in marriage, it is the flowing and union of two spirits which dance as one. My long silent walks with my wife around our remote farmstead are punctuated with the rustle of leaves and grasses, the song of birds, and the water dancing and jumping over the rocks in the creek, which further bring us back to stillness. It is simplicity that gives us ears to listen, eyes to see, and hearts to fill. It allows our world to be exactly as it is with no need of exploitation.
If in some little way I have encouraged you to seek out quiet moments, to put away the busyness and embrace simplicity, then perhaps my song has been pleasant to your ears and your spirit also has been nourished. For now, may I leave you with this haiku?
Cows bawl on distant hilltop
I smile at the sky
Reflections from Turtle Lake,