Posted February 23, 2000 at 5:29 pm No Comments

Solitude is like criticism: good for the psyche when experienced in small doses.

Solitude is also like Corn Nuts: not a regular habit, but a craving that I occasionally indulge.

Every so often I drift into one of those melancholy, contemplative moods, the sort of disposition that Melville described as a “damp, drizzly November of the soul.”   Suddenly the best place to be is on the bridge above Panther Hollow at twilight, or on the railroad tracks by the steam factory just before the sun comes up.  You know the mood I mean: it’s a type of listlessness that you don’t want to escape because you’d rather wallow in it for a while, let it wash over you, see where it takes your thoughts.   It’s a fragile sort of mood, however; it can be broken by the friendly honk of a passing motorist or the smile on the face of an early-morning jogger.

I most often experience this emotion in the evening when I’m alone with my thoughts and wading through old memories.  Since I can’t sleep, I head outside for a lackadaisical late-night stroll into solitude.

It happened last summer when I was visiting Cancale, a tiny seaside fishing village in Brittany.  I ended up following a dirt road around the bay and up a hill until it became a small trail meandering along the seaside cliffs.  Cancale was dark at night, and since the moon wasn’t out, the only light came from a string of lamps hung along the length of the dock in the bay behind me.

cancale.jpg (13077 bytes)

As I ventured farther along the narrow trail, the buildings and houses of Cancale shrunk into the distance, and all that I saw was the string of six flickering lights and their six matching reflections glimmering in the tide below them. By the time I had walked another half mile, the lights had converged into one glowing dot. I paused to sit on a boulder and admire the view, and all that I could hear was the rhythmic sound of waves crashing on the rocks. Closing my eyes, I felt the gentle sea breeze on my face.

cancalenight.jpg (6069 bytes)

That’s the sort of solitude that I can cherish. It’s a cathartic experience, because after the feeling of isolation has saturated me thoroughly I return to my family and friends somehow rejuvenated, with hearty smiles and boisterous laughs that reflect the degree to which I treasure their company.  I may not be able to express my thoughts as elegantly as Thoreau, but I agree with one of his metaphors: every man should have three chairs in his house, “the first for society, the second for friendship, and a third for solitude.”

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