being alone

You see, you are not educated to be alone. Do you ever go out for a walk by yourself? It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed.

Krishnamurti, This Matter of Culture, p 89

“It simply became too much for me.”

Swiss nun quits hermit post

As reported in 2014, the Verena Hermitage in Switzerland had announced a job search for a resident hermit. The position called for a solitary who nevertheless could entertain visitors to the historic church and grounds and maintain popular interest in the centuries-old site. The administrators of the church and hermitage selected Sister Benedikta, but the arrangement did not work out as the publicity about the hermitage and the new hermit resident brought an unexpectedly large number of visitors. Sister Benedikta quit after 18 months.

“I never had a problem with the number of people who came for spiritual advice or pastoral care,” she told the 20 Minuten newspaper. But other visitors were just nosy, and wanted to see what a hermit was like or to have a chat. “It simply became too much for me,” she said.

(via the hermitary)

field report: woodpecker redux

Recent intelligence gathering indicated the presence of a group of likely overwintering red-headed woodpeckers, including two adults, at another park in the area so I went to investigate. Again I found them immediately, as they were actively foraging and calling frequently. Their ‘rattle’ call is quite distinctive and often precedes a visual ID. Lighting was more favorable today, so here are a few photos accompanying a report on my findings.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker strikes the classic woodpecker pose at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Adult Red-headed Woodpecker at Black Marsh, North Point State Park.

Red-headed Woodpecker at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

An immature Red-headed Woodpecker glares at the photographer, North Point State Park.

After spending way too much time attempting to photograph the woodpeckers I continued on from the Black Marsh Wildlands into the rest of the park. First I took the Powerhouse Trail.

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse Trail at North Point State Park.

Rising up out of the woods before me came the trail’s namesake…

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Powerhouse at North Point State Park.

The property that is now North Point State Park was formerly a local attraction known as the Bay Shore Amusement Park during the first half of the 20th Century, and there was streetcar service extending to the park from the city (extremely hard to imagine today in this rabidly car-centric region). This concrete monolith provided power to the streetcars. Now it serves as an informal art gallery for graffiti artists:

Powerhouse at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Inside the powerhouse at North Point State Park: ‘Find the roots of everything.’

After leaving the powerhouse I took a spur trail to gaze upon the Chesapeake Bay.

Chesapeake Bay from North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Chesapeake Bay from overlook at North Point State Park.

Friendly people had left sand art on the beach.

Sand art at North Point State Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Friendly people were here…

After scanning the Bay for waterfowl and only finding a few bufflehead and a single double-crested cormorant, I left the park and drove farther down the peninsula to where it dead ends at Fort Howard, the former coastal artillery headquarters for Baltimore. Fort Howard has a rich military history, which I will not go into here but you can certainly read about it to your heart’s content elsewhere on the internet. The park is rather bedraggled and largely unused, likely due to its remote location. But there are some nice spots. Of course I only photographed the horrible ones because that’s just how I am.

Brandon Shores Generating Station, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

The Brandon Shores Generating Station, viewed from Fort Howard. A 2011 NRDC report based on EPA data described it as releasing the second highest amount of toxic air pollutants annually in the U.S.

Despite the glaring lack of visitors, there are more picnic tables and trash cans at Fort Howard than I’ve seen at any other park. I was curious about the trailer in the photo below but simultaneously afraid so I chose not to get any closer. I thought if I called the number someone might be willing to divulge the contents but then this person would have my phone number. So I didn’t call. I find that life is an ongoing process of weighing the pros and cons of situations like this.

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Scenic picnic area where I chose not to consume my lunch. (Note: if you call the number please leave a comment below.)

After passing the scenic picnic area I came upon this:

Fort Howard Park, © 2015 S. D. Stewart

Menacing…

Again, I wasn’t sure what to do here. Were they keeping women locked inside or barring them from entry. I couldn’t tell, but I didn’t hear any cries for help and without bolt cutters there was not much I could have done. So I left. No doubt this decision will haunt me for quite some time…

the blind owl by sadegh hedayat

It was always my opinion that the best course a man could take in life was to remain silent; that one could not do better than withdraw into solitude like the bittern which spreads its wings beside some lonely lake.

–Sadegh Hedayat, The Blind Owl (translation by D. P. Costello)

moleskine miscellany (annotated)

i.

the sky in the glodes between masses of cloud was irenic blue—j. gardner, ‘the warden’

ii.

in the dream, people called it a giraffe but it wasn’t a giraffe—it was orange, maybe shaped more like a zebra—someone was leading it for a time, and then it was running along the river with the migrating birds. we all saw it.

iii.

when i ceased to be alone, solitude became intense, infinite—m. blanchot, the one who was standing apart from me

iv.

to be alone in public is true freedom. to be alone in a private residence holds a spell of constriction, resulting from the receding of the outward-facing gaze into an inward-facing position. as self-consciousness fades so too does presence of mind, of the rooting of the self in its role, be it outsider or not, within society.

[post-transcriptional annotation]

1. outward-facing: infinite possibilities; heightened awareness from surging external energies

2. inward-facing: finite possibilities; shrinking awareness from negative self-generated energies

(my talk show starts tomorrow. during a series of six silent sessions, i will expound upon the nonsense listed in part iv. tune your magic dial to eleventy-six-oh at quarter past the slowest hour of the day or if you don’t have a cardboard box with day-glo dials painted on it, tune your peepers to the suspicious-looking cloud formations in the western sky, which i have arranged in advance to spell out the answers to all of your questions. that’s all.)

angel giants stomp with long necks stretched

I dream about people I don’t even know, sometimes after I think about them so so much that I feel like I almostbutnotquite know them. I dream about people I know and my dream-mind puts them in places I know well, but then they are different…there’s a stream, for instance. The landlord is a squat petty thug and the place is a dump and I’m wondering why my friends want to rent it, other than that they are cheap and like old rotting buildings and, oh, there’s a girl using a sewing machine in the basement. We see her in the picture window as we walk by. Everyone waves. And I guess that is reason enough. I ask my friend if the landlord will clean up the place first and he says no. There is clothing lying on the floor and junk everywhere. That night we have an “art party” there. I don’t even know what an art party is, but apparently it is pretty crazy. People were walking on the walls. It may have been dark and people may have been glowing. Later I wake up (for real) with a staggering cramp in my left calf. Probably all that wall-walking with necrotic dream limbs. Waking life, hmph. There is a light that never goes out there is a light that never goes out there is a light that never goes out. Glad that’s off my sunken ship of a chest. Anyway, I’m climbing up this rocky incline to get to the stream above. When I get there I yell down to the others. There’s no bank up there. The water almost sloshes over the side. This is on a street I used to ride my bike on all the time. There is no stream. A map of my town imprinted on my brain at some point. My dream self makes good use of it. More interesting now than it used to be. Or maybe everything gets less interesting as we get older. Try to surprise me. It can’t be done. I dare you. Outside dreams, of course. The other night an industrial toaster suddenly fell out of a ceiling panel in the dream room next to me, followed by the man there to install it. That surprised me.

Three years before his death at age 41 Franz Kafka wrote in his diary, “I have seldom, very seldom, crossed this borderland between loneliness and fellowship.” He was speaking of his refusal throughout life to accept offers that would open the door to social, even public life. That is what I do. I refuse offers. I am a refuser. Of offers. I listen to dark wave and brood instead. I am a brooder. A refuserbrooder. I concentrate on shunning contact.

The summer is a slow time. But what happens when autumn comes. What happens then. Everything begins to die, that’s what. It’s delicious. The earth opens its pores and accepts all this decaying matter into itself. Nutrients are restored. Birds collect dried seeds from dead flowerheads. The trees remove their clothing with no trace of shame. Their spindly exposed limbs shake and shiver in the October winds. The days shorten and the light takes on a golden cast. All my dendrites tingle. Sleep comes on deeper and shrugs off slower.

As I spun the pedals closer to my building this morning I caught the scent of roasting coffee on the morning breeze. And I forgot about all the fool drivers I’d not so gladly suffered on my ride. Maybe there is an antidote for every poison shoved down our throats. Maybe it takes a lifetime to find them all.

my thoughts dried up so i wrote this instead

When you isolate yourself, you have no one else to blame when things go awry. There is some small comfort in this. It is possible to go days without talking to anyone. This can be a magical combination of your own self-imposed silence and a general indifference on the part of others. Together we can make it work. The woman in the alley enjoys screaming hateful words at her grandson but she is sweet as pie when I say hello. This dichotomy hurts my brain. The alley is loud in the summer. The ladies across the way gun their motorcycles at all hours. The level of their inconsideration for people living together in a confined space staggers me. Small children yell and sing and talk like adults. I brood at the kitchen table. If it weren’t for the swatch of overgrown vegetation threatening to engulf my porch, I would have to see, as well as hear, the denizens of the alley and that I could not bear. Meanwhile, in the plus column, the city installed four solar-powered compacting trash cans on a main street in the neighborhood. I was overjoyed to throw my dog’s poop in them. Then they took one away. It was the most conveniently located one. Why. On another street near my house the city erected an expensive-looking fence in the median. A few weeks later they removed it. Why. Every day I see the thousands of dollars I pay in property taxes hemorrhage out onto the streets in the form of Kafkaesque activities such as this. It pains me. I could make much better use of those thousands of dollars than by funding the erecting and dismantling of fences. Segueing into the employment realm, it’s summertime at work which results in a curious laissez faire attitude toward attendance. I like it but it confuses me. I am always suspicious of it. Yet there is a natural relaxed cadence I cannot ignore, and so I allow it to carry me in its wake. When I feel agitated, I look at the little pictures in the dictionary and this soothes me. Last night I had a pleasant time in dreamland, but I forgot most of it upon waking. I don’t like that. I need to remember my dreams or waking life seems vacant. Do you ever wonder about the nature of friendships? They are curious things. Coming and going, rarely staying. Sometimes they wane; sometimes they wither. Sometimes they fail over the stupidest things. And you wonder if it could have been avoided, but in reality if it was a strong friendship it should have been able to withstand most of the nonsense we manage to self-generate. Which then begs the question of why the friendship existed in the first place. Convenience, perhaps. Boredom. Desperation for human contact [see: possibility of going for days without speaking to anyone, as outlined above]. I have had many friendships through the years, for all of these listed reasons and more. Not many have lasted, but the tiny few that have are worth more than gold. The question is then, do I now need more friends? What purpose would they serve? It gets harder to make friends as you get older. It’s horrible but I find myself more judgmental than I used to be of people when considering them as potential friends. I am also perhaps even more guarded now. Friendship requires time and effort, both valuable resources that I don’t expend lightly. How can you know if it’s worth it. Most of the time I am content to be by myself. I also have a dog now. The ultimate friend. Always dependable, always happy to see you. Can’t go to the bathroom without your help, which is a little weird. Doesn’t talk, which is both good and bad. Sometimes I wish he’d talk, just a little. See, even though I am content by myself, I have this annoying urge to reach out sometimes. It’s irrepressible. Sometimes everything can’t be found in books. Or nature. Most things, yes. But not all. This is the curse of human nature. We are not 100% autonomous. And I am so restless. This incessant unease shadows my every move. The panic. The urge to drop out. The crushing confinement of your own mind. We’re all so spread out. Held together by weakening links. I trip over my own shallow roots and fall face-down in a mucky bog. Roll around and let the clay harden on your skin. Let it cover all that you see as wrong. It feels so good.

the wind empties your eyes

Peer through the doorway to see the yellow light fall across the bed, cat curled up within the warmth of its rays. Recharging on solitude, or maybe just reverting back to it. Unfamiliar pangs of hunger appear after two days of illness. Mind is a mess of directionless chatter. Soon there will be work again, a sinking back down into the morass.

Daydream of the cloistered life: a seat in front of this window, a view onto this rooftop tableau. The players: a mockingbird and a pair of cardinals. The drama focuses on a small pool of water at the roof’s edge. Herky-jerky movements like puppets as each actor attempts to take a drink. Have you ever watched a mockingbird tip its head back and swallow? It is truly a sight to behold. A couple of juncos show up as stand-ins, filling out the stage with their sprightly steps.

My attention in life ever shrinking to smaller details, my eyes wandering farther the larger the concepts grow, my ability to feign interest sinking like an anchor into cold black water. The rooftops, the treetops, they catch and hold me, leave me breathless. A new shoot poking out from an aloe’s center stuns me. And always the music to sink into at times like this, a warm aural bath that clears the mind and calms the nerves. It doesn’t ask, only gives, already knowing how you need to feel.

furthest

I’ve made it to the end of another of my work weeks.  There’s something that seems not quite right about this drive to “make it through another week.” Shouldn’t we be treating every day as an amazing gift, not something to slog our way to the end of?  People say, oh, if I can just make it to Friday.  Yeah, well, you made it…so what are you going to do now?  Get drunk for the next two days?  Try to forget your crappy job and live your “real” life for a brief moment?  What a sick system we’ve built for ourselves here.  I generally try to spend Fridays in the woods, away from people, but the blizzards and general crappy weather have hampered that often in recent weeks.  I guess you could say I’m ready for Spring. 

Back when we had our work retreat, during one meal I was eating at the same table as our facilitator.  Someone commented on how this one guy had hardly been seen at all outside of the work sessions.  Well, the facilitator said, some people are introverts and it’s hard for them…they need to be by themselves and recharge.  She said that actually she herself was an introvert, and, in fact, that she would probably opt out of the scheduled “social time” after dinner that night (so she could recharge, I suppose).  [I wrote more about this night in an earlier entry].  Anyone who knows me is, I’m sure, well aware of my introverted status.  Sometimes I feel like I never recharge, though.  I often can’t spend enough time by myself.  But other times it feels unhealthy, and I get to the point of craving companionship.  I spend so much time alone that I can drive myself to the breaking point, where I just generally feel crazy and by then it’s too late to be around people because I would just feel and act too weird.  I often find it much easier to connect to sounds, smells, and textures, than to carry on a conversation with a person.  Music is an important interface for me to explore emotions and just generally function in the world.  And clearly nature is integral to my life.  Even though technology surrounds me and I use it every day, I would always choose the natural world over the manufactured world.  Every single time.  So…that’s where I’m at right now, here nearing the end of this week.  We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.  I’m supposed to go look at the stars tomorrow night.  Peering out into the night sky at those celestial bodies so far away.  It sounds pretty perfect, actually, and the forecast looks mostly clear.

escape


Flew out of the city like bandit bears with a swarm of angry bees on our tails. At the top of a mountain, pitched the tent only to return an hour later to find another tent pitched next to it, despite the many other available sites nearby. It gets harder and harder to escape humanity. But, alas, this was not a backpack-into-the-middle-of-nowhere situation and, after all, on the first truly nice warm weekend of the spring after an unpleasantly cold winter, what can one actually expect. Surely not solitude with nature when still so relatively close to representations of civilization. Surely not the absence of every last vestige of human life. Surely not that. What one can expect, however, is depraved college-age youth yelling and carousing until the wee hours of the morning. Yes, one can count on one’s expectations in that regard to indeed be met. Even in the midst of such pure and innocent natural beauty, the horror of humanity awaits us.

I shoved all that to the back of my head, though, and we made the best of it. For example, I saw a Brown Creeper! I was excited about that. Chipping Sparrows engaged in esoteric mating rituals. Northern Flickers abounded. And on an isolated Sunday morning hike at Catoctin we met a couple of spry older men in training for their hike of Mount Kilimanjaro next month! It was a pleasure to engage in dialogue with such good folks, and it wove back together a few tattered shreds of our hope in humanity, which had been subjected to such vicious thrashing of late.

Bike parking at Catoctin:

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