Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Solitude of the Country and other thoughts

When I (Amanda) was making my plans to depart Los Angeles for Northern Michigan, my dear friend B.P.K. had me read the essay, “The Solitude of the Country” by Samuel Johnson, in which Johnson chews on the reasons why people retreat to the country. In it, he says that, “some of the most pleasing compositions produced in every age, contain descriptions of the peace and happiness of a country life.” This is certainly a part of why Brad and I have created a retreat for creative thinkers, and why we’ve chosen Northern Michigan to house the retreat.

Johnson, however, goes on to warn the reader of the reasoning behind the seeking of solitude:
I know not whether those who thus ambitiously repeat the praises of solitude, have always considered, how much they depreciate mankind by declaring, that whatever is excellent or desirable is to be obtained by departing from them; that the assistance which we may derive from one another, is not equivalent to the evils by which we have to fear; that the kindness of a few is overbalanced by the malice of many; and that the protection of society is too dearly purchased, by encountering its dangers and enduring its oppressions.

I’ve been thinking about this essay ever since. I have wanted to be careful not to depart from the world, but to enjoy it more fully and simply. (I have strong tendencies for the former, and have been known to hole up for weeks, although this certainly brings me pleasure at times.)

The most popular romantic notion seems to be that of Thoreau’s adventure into the woods, where he fended for himself for two and a half years, meticulously accounting for all that was spent in money and labor. I’ve been warned against such romanticism, and I have no dreams of doing what he did. Besides—I’ll be in the woods for more than two and a half years.

Of course, I do have romantic notions, and don’t deny that’s what drew me here. I wasn’t sure that I’d handle well the transition from one of the largest cities on earth to a village smaller than the population of my high school. But I made the transition and have never been happier. Now, we are about to make a transition from living in a spacious two-bedroom house to, perhaps, a yurt, and it is another transition that I’ll need to make.

It is this transition that has brought me back to Samuel Johnson’s essay (as well as Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Good Life and other texts that I’ll discuss in future entries), and has forced my thinking into defining what this life will look like. This definition needs to happen both for myself, and because my life will be closely shared with ISLAND. If I don’t define what I want things to look like, I could end up living like the Amish, which is not one of my goals. I also don’t want to have a commune or intentional community, although I strongly feel that communal values are part of ISLAND’s core. I want privacy and sometimes I want solitude. But I don’t want to block out the world. Instead, I want to draw the world to me, and I want to do it in a way that is intense in ideas and not harmful to the people or the place.

I’ll explore this definition more as we go along. I have no doubt that my ideas will shift, and I welcome the transition.


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