“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – Thoreau
Winter must be coming soon. The temperatures are starting to cool. The sun is setting a little sooner every afternoon, encroaching into my drive home from the office. Before long, I will leave the house and return completely in the darkness of night. But even more evident than that, is the burning I am starting to feel in my deepest thoughts. It comes every year, so reliable you can set your calendar to it. Without fail, and like a familiar shadow, the notion for solitude starts to creep its way into my mind.
I’m not sure I can explain it, the Holiday season is a call for time with family and celebrations with loved ones, but something inside me beckons for a moment away. Days in the office are spent day dreaming about back packing deep into the woods with nothing but a good book and a tent. The thought of foregoing all seasonal obligations and driving across country seems more and more appealing with every passing day. I tell myself that all I need is a moment alone.
I like to think its the same wanderlust that drove Daniel Boone over that first mountain. The same drive that the mountain trapper of the 19th century felt as he set out for unknown western territories to trap his way into a fortune. Of course, I quickly draw myself back in. Even my wildest fantasies can’t equate to the resolve those men had to possess. After all, I am simply talking about going away for a few days, hopeful I last that long. These men were gone for months, sometimes years. Still, I can’t help but wonder what it must have felt like to wake up in some far away place. Far away from the comforts of home, grasping the conceptual depths that your very survival relies on your own ability. A man that lives like that must appreciate every breath of fresh air he draws, every mile travelled is a goal reached, every sunset viewed an accomplishment worthy of mention.
What a life that must have been. For every person who has ever seen the west, take a moment to appreciate what it must have been like to lay under the stars, the land around you unadulterated, so clean and free. Imagine, just for a second, waking up each morning and relishing the fact that your only goal is to survive to the next one. How freeing is it? No more social constraints, no more previous arrangements to divide up your time, just you existing.
According to the NY times in 2013, 1 in 10 Americans takes an anti-depressant, google it. A little speculation here, but maybe some of us weren’t meant for the hustle and bustle. At least, that is what I like to tell myself, as my mind drifts off through the window adjacent to my office desk. I dream about what it must be like on some mountain side at that moment. What am I missing out on? What could I be learning? Why am I here, instead of there?
From where I stand today, the clarity from that mountain side must be like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It has to be. I cling to that mountainside. It is my goal. Someday I will reach it and I will gaze out over the landscape and understand the journey it took to get there. Everything that I went through to get to that place will all have made sense. All of the trials will have had their purpose that I can glean upon and, just maybe, I will get my moment away from the noise.
Deep down I have a need for something more than the remedial problems of this current life. I desire problems that are much more real than the trivial things we let get to us today. Traffic jams and making it to work on time, cooking dinner, fulfilling the social obligations that are placed on you, these are the stresses of my current world. How minuscule that would have been to the mountain man, checking his traps, searching out his next meal, constantly avoiding becoming something else’s. I envy him and his tough world. I feel so sheltered in my own, and for that, I feel so ashamed.
Gordon MacQuarrie wrote a story in Field & Stream in 1944, the title “Nervous Breakdown”. I have never felt so in tune with a piece of writing than this story. I highly recommend you read it.