I’m a lone wolf. The problem is, I actually love people. I guess I bought what was sold to me—West Coast majesty. I moved to San Francisco two years ago. Now habit has me roaming the coast alone and lonely.
I hated hiking in California. The trails were always busy. Full of city dwellers who “work hard play hard” or travelers who come to glimpse the golden glow, the Californication. Even sharing the trail with friends was irritating. I don’t go to the woods for conversation. If you travel one state north, the trails are much more more calm. Even walking into the woods right off highway 101 in Oregon, you might not see a soul.
A rare day off and awake early, I parked at the trail head to Cape Perpetua, I checked my gear. Map, knife, water filter, layers, snacks, fire, light and compass. All the better to stay alive with. Ready to walk.
The deep quiet of old growth hemlock was a jarring change from the buzz and swoosh of passing cars, crashing waves. Dead needles underfoot were an improvement from pavement. My feet slid around a bit in my boots. My knee popped. I’m young, but I’m older than I’ve ever been.
What if I don’t make it out of here? An irrational thought, but possible. My breath grew as I climbed.
Why do I trust my body? Kept in motion by the flow of red salt water, easily freed from its container of skin and solvent bone. It took an hour to forget my mortality. To let go of the need to survive.
I fear silence. When I’m sitting still in quiet and feeling less than, I think of little Bahama, North Carolina.
There I made sad boredom bread and cried and hugged my confused hound dog. I am normally independent to a fault, but in Bahama, I was trying a new thing called a partnership. I was in love. I was hoping he would help me solve my problems. I wanted our love to become telepathic, but I had to name my own landlocked blues. I still had things to do on my own. Our lane was lined with pine and our sky was full of stars. I used to think that beauty could sustain me. That quiet beauty just felt like a curse.
On the trail at Cape Perpetua, that same dark weight distracted me. I walked by sunny flowers nuzzled by bees, dew drops reflecting the upside down green and gray.
I didn’t seem to feel much of anything. This is not enough. This is not my home. This is loneliness.
Waking in my little Oregon town, loneliness floats at the surface of my independence.
A lot of days I have to dive through the first cold layer to get to the good, warm stuff. Self-sufficiency is something I value. Defeating the sadness of being solo is something I’m working on. I write and write about it. (There’s a great On Point podcast about it.) I talk to my friends about it. See, I’m not really alone, but it’s hard not to feel it when some of my darlings are 3,000 miles away. Some days I run away to Portland. Though I’m not sure where it is anymore, some days I just want to go home.
If home was a place, it would be Nashville, Tennessee. Each time I visit, I almost don’t leave. The one lane roads choke with traffic. The sexy new bike lanes remain empty. My favorite music venue, the Ryman, is still standing, even if it’s neighbor at the moment is a big hole in the ground. How does that changing place still feel like home? Home is where I spent days that seemed purposeless. Driving. Feeling embarrassed by all the dumb romance I dreamed up. Home is where I was bored. Home is where I filled my water bottle. Home is where my people are.
Walking in the silence of my adopted coastal home, a new thought landed.
Maybe this is lonely, but this is peace.
What was I expecting? Didn’t I come on this walk for a break from the motion, music, stimulation. That was there if I really wanted it anyway. Nature’s band is bird song and running streams. I took a deep breath and forced myself to face the change. And that’s when I started to smile. Oh, change.
In the past three years, I have fallen in and out of love three times. I have lived in six different states. I felt like I was walking in the desert. Everything was too bright, and there was nowhere to fill my water bottle. But look at me now! I had strong legs that could walk steady hours. I was hopping over rough roots and only tripping sometimes.
Movement had made me strong, and that was something to be proud of. Wasn’t it?
Moving helps, but moving will not save you. I had been smugly listening to this Avett Brothers lyric for years before realizing it applied to me: “When you run make sure you run to something and not away from…” I thought the ocean’s flux was the solution. My great salty healing goddess, the strongest woman I know. I’ll buy a boat, I’ll go out with my bucket and pole. One good meal is enough to make you feel like life is in order. But life is never in order. What would be enough? How had this become the question of my life?
This is enough, because this was my choice. I came to the coast to work on the water. I knew it would be lonely. I knew it wouldn’t be the same feeling of home that I’m used to. I still had to try it. Yesterday I was moping about “missing out” on the lives of friends far away. It was six in the morning, and my friend told me, “I honestly can’t even remember the last time I pooped by myself. I’m serious. Yes, your friends will get married and have babies, and that’s beautiful, but you aren’t going to miss it. You’ve got your own sweet life here in Newport, and you need to have that to figure out where you really want to be when you’re older.”
I hope you don’t have to feel alone. I hope your choices have led you to places where you fast forward to deep friendship.
If you do feel it, I encourage you to go through it. Find the pleasure in doing exactly as you please.
Listen to the whispers of the trees. Buy yourself a beer. Think of why it’s good to be you. Paint your feelings. Sing and dance them. Write them down. When you can’t stand them anymore, put them in your pocket, and find someone you can help. Feed someone hungry, even if it’s just your roommate. Pet cats at the animal shelter. Never, never forget that others feel it, too.
Call a friend and drive to Oregon together and make the trails a little louder with your laughter. Take the loneliness from your pockets, and together hurl them out to sea.