Friday, June 17, 2011

"Exercise" in solitude...the experience of "aloneness" in the Scottish glens.

On a well-travelled path, Joan nears the Airlie Monument.
The truth be known, I enjoy solitude – we both do. Never much of a “joiner”, sea kayaking, hiking, or running with a club is not something that I have done much over the years. (Having said that, I quite envy those who clearly enjoy and engage in the company of a group of like-minded folks!). I always figured that my poor performance in team sports was due to having very little athletic ability. In fact, it was probably more to do with an aversion to doing anything in a large group – not to say I have much athletic ability except for a burning desire to “move” – outside.

The door was locked - good thing as it probably kept us out of trouble.
Odd as it may seem to some, especially given my vocation, I am also not particularly gregarious. Perhaps it is an innate shyness or whatever, but I find that being extroverted, often out of necessity, is the most exhausting "exercise" in the world for me. Thankfully, Joan has more natural talent in that area and often covers for her more introverted partner.

The monument now behind us, and the "path" becoming increasingly less travelled.
Since arriving in Scotland, we have looked forward with great anticipation to hiking in the glens - those marvelous "U" shaped valleys and hills carved by ice and water over a period of ten thousand years. Yesterday, mid-afternoon, we had the opportunity. The Angus Glens feel mystical and remote, and on the ridges above the trees and beyond the well-travelled paths, you can experience the wind-swept solitude of the heather and the other sturdy, ankle-deep flora, which I have still to identify. The gathering storm clouds above, served to heighten the sense of nature’s raw beauty.

The view from the high ridge was timeless...and breathtaking.
We shared this magnificent solitude with only the occasional “red” deer and several sheep who kept a careful eye on us as we shared their grazing places. We searched out in mud holes, some still soft and moist, and others dry, for any evidence of human passage as we traversed the ridge. The only other footprints we could find were those of the deer, and possibly the sheep. At no time, did we see another person in the almost three hours that we hiked.

And then we ran out of "trail". but the little map was astonishingly accurate.
Although as with most folks, I would never invite the gnawing pain of loneliness, “aloneness” is another matter altogether. For me, it is in the solitude of such beautiful places that I feel most alive, and most connected to my being – and perhaps, in some strange way, to others.

Was this simple marker built last year...ten years ago...a thousand years ago...?
There is a fine balance, however, and those who seek places of solitude must be careful, less we fail to nourish ourselves in the company of others. For we humans, that, perhaps, is the most essential of all engagements in life.

From the wind-swept Angus Glens, just outside Forfar, Scotland, peace be with you…wherever you find its deepest expression.


PS: For those interested in minimalist footwear:

In the interests of packing “light” for this time in Scotland, we each brought only one pair of “dress” shoes, one pair of Vibram FiveFingers (for running), and one pair of Merrell Trail Gloves (for everything else). 

We had wondered if we might need to go out and purchase some light, hiking boots but elected to try the outing in the “glens” in the lightweight Merrells.

Like VFFs, they provide no cushioning, no support, no heel rise, and very little protection. They have amazing ground feel and are virtually “weightless”. 

Conventional wisdom (and sure, perhaps, common sense) would suggest that far more sturdy footwear would be the responsible choice. 
That’s probably true if all your current worldly possessions didn’t have to fit into two duffel bags on wheels. The Merrell’s performed just fine.

And, they "roll" into small places when you're packing!


  1. language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone and it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone

    paul johannes tillich

    ciao & enjoy the silence of your soul,

  2. Wow very cool pics! I am glad your solitude personality allows Joan to accompany you in life and on the trails. I too like some alone time but need the companionship of others to really feel nourished.
    p.s. just can't stop talking about your footwear can you!

  3. Thank you, Giovanni. Years ago, I studied (and studied!) the work and wisdom of Tillich. Yes, to "enjoy the silence of your soul" is getting to be a rare treat for many...we really do need to take the time. Take good care. D.

    Thanks L, yep, pretty lucky to have J along on the "journey". NO, I can't stop talking about my footwear - but I guess it can get pretty tiresome for everybody else. ;) D.

  4. I am so happy that you are finding the time to do what you enjoy most in the outdoors with Joan. Hope you don't end up with blisters from those Merrell's. Aloneness! Is there such a word? However, I enjoy those times by myself just walking around the garden. That's when I have my best thoughts.
    Keep the posts coming.

  5. Yes, you know exactly what I'm saying, J. Time in the garden, the kayak cockpit, the trail, the seaside, the deep woods - all contribute to good thoughts. The world needs lots of good thoughts. Thanks J. D.
    PS Nah, no blisters. Our feet are happy feet - 'cause they're free! :)

  6. LOVED IT!!

    So very true. Ithink you've been doing pretty good with the balance. From mate to activity! CVongrats! Some people never figure it out. Some never feel true loneliness to appericiate others.

    excellent post.

  7. Cheers Lee, and thanks for your words. You clearly know all about the exhilaration of "solitude", on the water and on the trails - it comes through. D.