Tales from The Last Minstrel ———————————————————————– Ideas of solitude

‘Of the success of the poem on its first appearance, the Monthly Review for May, 1808 remarks: Mr Scott’s ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’ kindled a sort of enthusiasm among all classes of reader…… it carries us back in imagination to the time of action; and we wander with the poet along Tweedside, or among the wild glades of the Ettricke Forest’.

This week I have imposed upon myself the task of saying something to you concerning the idea of solitude; and particularly the joy of solitude in wild places.

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I am prompted to this exposé following a recent encounter with a gentleman adventurer just returned from an experience of great solitude living in a remote cabin deep within the boreal forest region of Canada. This vast area, dominated by coniferous forests, particularly spruce, and interspersed with immense wetlands, mostly bogs and fens.

During our conversations and chatter he recounted the experience of his self-imposed exile. I was prompted afterwards to seek out my own jotted ideas and thoughts and indeed the expression of others that I have collected on the matter of solitude over the years. I now repeat them verbatim, I leave it to you make sense of the sentiments however you will.

From ‘Consolation of the Forest’ by Sylvain Tesson:

‘I came to this place without knowing whether I’d find the strength to stay. I left knowing that I would return. I’ve discovered that living with the silence is rejuvenation’.

‘I knew of weeks of silent snow. I loved to be warm in my tiny cabin whilst the tempest raged’.

‘Its good to know that out there, in a forest in the world, there is a cabin where something is possible; something fairly close to the sheer happiness of being alive’.

From ‘Notes from Walnut Tree Farm’ by Roger Deakin:

‘Obscurity is what the writer needs to get on with work well away from the public gaze. Under the glare of lights is the last place you want to be, so, moth-like, you burrow away into some basement. Or corner of the country where you can talk to yourself, pace about and think’.

From ‘Waterlog’ by Roger Deakin

‘Another of the fenmen, Don Dewsbury, described to me standing alone upon the banks of the big Hundred Foot Drain in stormy weather, and the thrill of feeling the bank shaking with the sheer weight of the water’.

From William Hazlitt (1778 – 830), English writer:

‘The idea of walking to find solitude has also a dimension of therapy, that a temporary removal from society might act as a form of psychic balm’.

‘ One of the pleasantest things in the world is going on a journey, but I like to go by myself’.

From ‘Ramble On’ by Sinclair McKay:

‘Many walkers exploring woodland are looking for the feeling of mystery. That sense of entering a realm conjured by Rudyard Kipling in “The Way Through the Woods” ……….

Yet if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night air cools on the trout ringed pools.
Where the otter whistles his mate.

I once listened to an old sailor recounting his voyages across the Southern Pacific Ocean on a supply ship restocking remote islands. He said that during the night-time, as the officer of the watch, he would stand on the bridge engulfed in the complete darkness of that vast of the ocean. Often, he became overwhelmed by almost the unbearable silence and solitude. Sometimes he would look up toward the magnificence of the universe and feel that just by reaching out he could pick the stars from the sky with his hands.

‘I find my perfect solitude spending the ‘over-night’ camped deep within an English woodland. It is early summertime. As the balmy evening closes, I listen to the myriad sounds of the Weald, and watch the dying sun fall through the trees to reach its setting , at last, allowing dusk to settle upon the land.

I build a small campfire, tending it as the kindling flames grow. I sit quietly as the darkness wraps itself around me, staring beyond the brightness of the fire and its warming comfort into the pitch black chill of the night.

A final peace descends upon the forest, the solitude and silence is broken now only by the crackle and spit of my fire and occasional unexpected noise from action by the woodland creatures, around to whom my night-time is their day-time.

Eventually I will fall into sleep, only to be nudged awake in the darkness by the sounds of the natural world that surrounds me. Gentle rain falling on my shelter’s roof. Courtship songs, sung by lovelorn foxes away in a distant spinney. An owl calling to its mate as it makes the homeward journey with a meal for their brood.

At the end of night, I am awoken by the beginnings of new light from the approaching dawn. I hear the first bird notes from a fledgling chorus, and thrill when, from the warmth of a sleeping bag, I hear more and more singers join the choir a dawn chorus. The sound builds into a full and vibrant crescendo of life. This song of summer, is accompanied by the glory of the morning sunshine. Brilliant light floods through the leafy canopy to reach me and warm the forest floor.

Finally I experience simple pleasure from reviving my fire from its last embers. I boil a kettle over my blaze and brew hot tea. I drink it sip by sip, allowing its warmth to revive me both physically and introspectively. By degree I am led back into the world that has continued in my absence’.

This is my solitude.

Perhaps you ought to write down your own expression of solitude and dwell upon it. You will derive benefit, I’m sure.

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Godwin Bream
Ockle Head Mountain Inn
Advent MMXV

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