Essay (about time and silence that turned into one about caregiving that turned into something about capitalism that turned into time and silence again . . . apologies for the inconvenience)
Woof, three days alone in a USFS cabin sounds divine. And also scary! I’ve yet to travel 100% alone, but on overnight work trips, sleeping in my own agency bunkhouse room, or having my own tent set up next to my coworkers, or even my own hotel room, is still pretty bizarre. On one hand, I relish the personal space - reminds me of the almost two years in college when I lived alone in a studio apartment, and wasn’t there for much more than eating and sleeping, and that was what I needed it to be, that reprieve from socializing and structured time. On the other hand, it took me awhile to get used to falling asleep as the only person in my studio, and I think I’m more wary of doing so out in the wilderness where there’s no cell service. What if a wildfire starts? What if a bear breaks in? What if another human decides to be less than kind? I hate that I worry about those things, that I was taught as a small, femme-ish person, to feel guarded and unsafe when not under others’ protection. Blech.
And yet. I want that dense refresh of solitude, now more than ever. Even just one night away would feel incredible, I think, if I could settle in and relax. So my question is: how do you do it? Or rather, how do you train yourself to enjoy it?
Such a lovely and poignant essay. I recently read Jenny Odell’s Saving Time and so much of what you wrote here reminded me of it! Loved this line: “Felt like I was wallowing in time. Like it and the quietness were alive. Like they were animate and present with me in a way I couldn’t describe.”
As I get older I’m realizing that one of my personal, most precious privileges is time—time for leisure, flexibility of time, and peaceful time. Now thinking more about how we redistribute time and ensure more quality time for all.
Finally got to this and it was just lovely. Motivation to rent a USFS cabin just went up, too. Thank you…!
Wow. Loved this. How many of us must be able to relate? The idea, and the need for solitude and quiet.
Thank you for taking us with you <3
You wrote a great number of delightful words about freedom and oppression and responsibility and love and they were all well received. Thanks!
A well-written share as we pivot to spring in North America. I have pivoted to commit time in a class I'm taking -- it is about a broader view of what civilization is, how we got here, the economic system and how we navigate to an understanding of how we can be part of a change and why -- it is natural when people take the time to ponder something as broad as the economic system they become curative and prescriptive (and likely wrong). I am rounding my opinions on that tendency also. For me, and only me, (I am not evangelizing yet) my sense is it simply begins in our heads and it is all about individual consciousness. My narrow take is we have a primitive and sensory brain built to keep us alive. It is fast and jumps to conclusions and is the source of our emotional responses like fear, frustration, and anger. We also get a 2-for-1 with a neocortex in front. Despite this luxury, the slow one in the front doesn’t get used nearly enough. This one is quite different, it is slow and in most cases comes to the same conclusions as the lizard brain in the back. It is too slow to keep us alive and thriving in this world. We, therefore, accept what the lizard tells us by default and rarely wait to let it weigh in on stuff that doesn't have to be decided in a split-second. Anything we consider settled that makes us angry and frustrated – perhaps like climate, perhaps resource allocation (including time) makes us angry and likely blocks the path to contemplation in the front.
A couple of opinions to consider. In the 60s Marvin Gaye and Rachel Carson felt strongly about what THEIR CONSCIOUSNESS was telling them. They, like all of us, are prisoners of their own minds. They were talented and creative -- their music and their writing became lightning rods. Their "conclusions" turned out to be largely off-base -- that is the nature of thought (I think :)). Whether climate, health, economics, or resources -- change will not come from one who leads with the false illusion of what the future will bring, it will come when individuals change one by one. One of the gifts of your writing is it gives the reader a CHANCE to shift and ponder what THEY believe. The temptation will always exist to “check the box” for reading On the Commons. The possibility to truly gain from the words is to prioritize the “precious time” to think about what you have read and assess what part of it to ignore and what part of it to build upon.
Well, this is beautiful and visceral. Thanks so much for your honesty here, Nia. As a writer who treasures retreats, I so enjoyed how much you value that time alone with your ideas and opportunities to read and write. And I was sad when you expressed how often you can’t do that. And even though it’s something that so many of us have known for decades, capitalism is such a powerful barrier to what’s most important in life: love, art, music, literature, nature, community — you know … the stuff we write about. I’ve avoided that nexus long enough in my nature writing. The ascendancy and versatility of capitalism came first for land and labor (including slavery); its newest commodity frontier is our mind. Forest service cabins, even backyard nature, and the force of the written word are shelters from all that, refugia and antidotes.
So much food for thought here; many thanks as always!
Timing is everything! I'm just settling into my week long break and still deciding how I will use this time to myself. Home alone is not the same as being away alone which is not the same as being away from all kinds of modern comforts and distractions and finally, truly alone. Thanks for this meditation on all of these aspects. I still wonder a lot about what it means to create without a specific mandate. Similar to your question about walking, I wonder: who is able to make use of their right to create and what are the barriers for those who wish to but cannot?
As usual, you have given me lots to think about. Also, Cannibal Capitalism might be right up my alley. Take care, S.
I enjoyed that. You've inspired me to search for a similar cabin in the United Kingdom (I believe the Scottish have something like this). And capitalism, all too true.
Brent and I have no children or parents who need our help, work unconventional jobs where we set our own schedules, and yet I still feel constantly overwhelmed by all that needs to be done -- including carving out just me time.
Even the long walks I do in the mornings on my own whenever possible are partly about our Substack because I'm always looking for interesting things to photograph and write about.
And when I'm feeling overwhelmed, I often say to Brent, "How do people with kids write their newsletters and have kids?"
And reading this newsletter, I see how you do it. And am in awe of just how much you do.
So much of this essay resonates with me that I hardly know where to begin. Or shall I simply take a nap?
I was reminded of the last full solar eclipse visible in North America, It was in August of 2017. I had pitched a small tent in the yard of some friends who live in a very small mountain community within driving distance of my predetermined destination. I arose well before dawn and drove in darkness to an isolated area in the backcountry where there wasn't another soul for miles. The spot was in an area called "Cougar Flats," right next to "Bear Creek." So there was that.
After napping in the truck for a short while to make up for a poor nights sleep, I set up my camera on a tripod so that I could take pictures of exactly the same scene at regular intervals throughout the event. At those same intervals I recorded in a small notebook any changes in light, temperature, direction and speed of wind (approximate), and occasionally what I was feeling at that moment.
When totality finally came it was probably (except for watching the home birth of my youngest daughter) the most profound moment of my life--all alone, in the backcountry, with no phone or internet, and an uncanny feeling of oneness with the infinite. Having planned ahead, as the sky began to dawn for a second time that morning, I set the timer on my camera, stood in the frame next to the creek, and toasted the universe with a glass of Jameson Irish Whiskey. It was, after all, the least I could do to demonstrate my gratitude for the celestial show.
My solar eclipse experience was only for a day, and not two or three, and I got absolutely no work done, but it was nonetheless transformative. I crave times of quiet and solitude.
I'm going to read your essay again. Once was not enough.
Beautiful sites, pleasant to read ☺️
Never an incovenience!!
Those pictures are just gorgeous (and I agree that the creek does look like Ithilien 💜). Those cabin visits are also beautiful and seem like small anchorholds--places where the limitations are actually what is freeing. I've become poorer monetarily but chose instead to be deliberate with time, and realize how much ideas of wealth are rarely discussed in areas of life that are unrelated to capital. I think acts of refusal, however small we can manage, of empire, the institutions that keep all of us distracted and oppressed in so many myriad ways, are so important--and each time we do find times of anchorholds, of refusing the noise and demands, we chip away at what we can. At least I hope so. I loved reading this today.