Two years ago today I drove deep into Maine and spent ten days in a cabin with no electricity, no running water, and most importantly, no screens. Just me, lots of firewood, and two dozen books (and Bourbon).
There was a guestbook there. On night one I flipped through the first few pages and saw a beautiful drawing of a couple walking through the woods. I read the note that Edgar, the artist, left. It described the weekend that he and his new girlfriend, Lea, had spent there. It ended with "cheers to new beginnings." Dated 2009.
The fire was roaring when I went to bed that first day but it died down overnight. The temperature inside the cabin dropped to the mid 30s. When I woke up the only thought on my mind was getting the fire going again. There was something raw and comforting and fundamental about having this relationship with my surroundings. I needed to act to survive. It was me against the brute force of the cold winds. I eventually got the fire going. I stood next to the stove for 30 minutes until I stopped shivering.
I spent the days reading with the occasional snow hike and writing session mixed in. I remember clearly what I read but the more important and meaningful memory from this experience is the way that the act of reading transformed as the days went by. Without the distractions of modern life each page and passage demanded of me my time and concentration and patience. I was unable to fully comply, at first. I was lonely... and bored. I've always loved reading but after a few days of being extremely isolated, reading became a more profound experience. I was no longer just taking in thoughts and words that someone else had written.
I began to build personas of the authors in my mind and I started to engage them. To put it simply, I started talking to myself. A lot. But it was beautiful. The typically solitary act of reading, that one way flow of information, became, truly, a conversation. I would anticipate the author's next moves, often being delightfully surprised when they went in the opposite direction. I started to ask questions out loud, responding to myself as I worked through and processed the text. I started to react to humor as if other people were in the room. I remember at one point succumbing to an uncontrollable laughter and saying out loud "Nietzsche, you mother fucker" as if he were in the cabin with me. So yeah. Solitude has always been very important to me. Sometimes I fear that the people I love misunderstand that need and what it entails. If you're reading this, I'm sorry.
In 2012 Edgar & Lea got engaged... in the cabin. He drew a picture of himself down on one knee proposing to a smiling Lea. I could tell by the expression of her's that he was able to capture so vividly that they were both in love. I wrote a short poem on a blank page in between Edgar and Lea's 2012 guestbook entry and the one after. I have forgotten the poem. It's there in the cabin, in the guestbook. I wonder if anyone's read it?
I didn't go outside at night too often. It was pitch black, and to be honest, kinda scary. I spent a lot of time in the cabin thinking about Kash. He was killed in Fallujah. I wrote the outline of a play about a veteran trying to work through his anger, and sadness, and depression, and fear, and pain with regard to losing a fellow warrior that he admired and looked up to. I've finished the play since then and I've shared it with a few people. Some have asked me if it's personal and auto-biographical and I always say no. I want to keep this sadness to myself. I'm sorry.
I remember thinking about Kash one night and getting drunk, and then crying. When I was drunk the darkness and indifference of nature was less threatening. So I left the cabin and walked into the nothingness. I kept walking, until I stopped. And there, in the middle of nowhere, under the stars, in the freezing snow, I finally allowed myself to feel whatever it was that I needed to feel.
By 2015, Lea was pregnant. The drawing of her in the bed wrapped in the blanket expressed at once both the need for and the satisfaction of receiving warmth. Edgar's drawings are beautiful. I remember pausing to fully appreciate what I was looking at. They had left these drawings and notes over the course of five years. I was able to join them in these experiences in some small way. Their love was meaningful to me. Two people that I didn't know and would never meet: their love was meaningful. "I miss you," I thought.
I wanted to write about this trip to Maine because I experienced things that were valuable and I want to share them. But it doesn't work that way. No two persons' moments facing the nothingness are the same.
We just need to go a little crazy sometimes.