Labyrinth 6: Lone

Labyrinth 6: Lone

I walked most of the John Muir Trail alone. The plan had been to hike with Brad, but I ended up with only myself for company. Maybe Life built me for solitude; it provided a lot of it.
When Della became a stepmother, she insisted “the kids” must be sent away as much as possible. So each summer my dad paid for airfare to the midwest and six weeks of camp. He sent me to my grandparent’s farm for a month and arranged visits with other relatives to fill out the time. Della dropped me off at the airport the afternoon classes ended for the year. My dad retrieved me from LAX the day before they began in the fall.
Della also wanted breaks from me when I was living in her home. In her opinion, school let out too early, so she forbade me to enter her house until shortly before my father came home at 6:00 pm.
During my first year with her, we lived in Minneapolis. Most afternoons, I leaned on classmates to take me into their homes. That usually worked but sometimes failed. During the brief autumn, wondering alone outdoors posed no problem. But then snow fell. The first time I couldn’t find a home to enter after winter was in full swing, I returned to Della’s house and told her there was nowhere for me to go. She kept the door locked until just before my dad’s car pulled up. It didn’t trouble here if I sat on that icy stoop for hours; what mattered was that she had the indoors to herself. I must have found other solutions after that, but I don’t remember them.
Once we moved to California, staying outdoors got easier. We spent our first year south of San Francisco. For some reason, for the first few months we lived there, Della told me to stay out of the house but within the front yard. She assigned me the chore of pulling weeds from a patch of junipers. At first there were many to pull. But after a week or so, I was reduced to searching for seedlings that had sprouted overnight. Eventually, I gave up the hunt and spent long hours alone, sitting in the dirt.
The next year we moved to Los Angeles, and the policy reverted. I was to spend my afternoons out of sight. A more outgoing kid would have made friends in some playground or park, but I was too shy. I leaned inward instead. I’d spent part of the time walking in town or on the fire roads that laced the coastal mountains around the neighborhood. For the rest, I’d find a secluded spot to sit until I was allowed to return.
I’ve not practiced Zen Buddhism, but I’ve heard that in some centers, the only instruction is: “sit”. If simply sitting counts as meditation, I did a lot of it during those afternoons. Books provided some company, but my daydreams took less effort and carried me to landscapes I could control. Sometimes I hid very near Della’s house, but in my mind I was far away and in charge of my fate. This wasn’t meditation, but it was inner work of some sort.
I was primed for solitude by the time of my JMT trek. The first part of it I hiked with Rick, but we weren’t friends. And over time we tired of each other, until I felt increasingly alone on the trail. Then we got in a jam that ended our time together.
After that, I trekked in solitude. But backpacking in the mountains wasn’t like my afternoons in LA. There was no need for daydreams, because the scenery was more magical than my fantasies. My inner world grew obsessed with nature. Then it became part of it, so my mind was just another feature of the environment, like the marmots, trees, and flowers.