by isaac black

I really like being alone. I like it so much that it can be bad for me. When I was younger I learned how to get people to like me, often at the expense of failing to represent unpleasant or difficult aspects of myself. I don’t backslide into that habit when I’m by myself.

I’m leaving Sunday morning for Glacier National Park, and I’ll be coming back Friday for a friend’s wedding. I’m going by myself, and I plan on backpacking in grizzly bear territory. The trip offers the promise of utter solitude, solitude not easily escaped. There’s something calling me to the wild, something that I can’t fully explain yet but which I’m not going to disobey. This embrace of action over circumspection is something I learned (or relearned) from my ex-girlfriend. Being alone offers control, safety. Her retreat was into company to win people over, gain some affection from them, and spin off to a new scene. Safety in never being in control.

I went camping recently, and my friend and I ended up in the middle of a thunderstorm. She was afraid of the two packs of coyotes we heard calling to each other, our tent at their midpoint. I brushed off her fears. But soon after, rain started falling, and a flash of lightning lit up the tent like a photographer’s softbox. A second later thunder pealed from one end of the sky to the other, right above us. Realizing that the next lightning strike could well connect with us and not knowing any way to prevent being seared to death in seconds, my mind started panicking. I wanted to bolt for the car, to save my own skin. I didn’t know any rational way to protect myself, let alone both of us. It was a fully unique experience, like being outside my own mind. Lightning struck again in the clouds, and five seconds or so later, thunder. The storm was moving away from us.

There is a powerful attraction to that feeling of danger. I have rarely feared for my life. Part of what is calling me to the backcountry, I imagine, is getting close to that frontier. It’s not a death wish–I will carry bear spray, hang up my pack far from my campsite, and ask the rangers where the safest, busiest trails are. I still would not recommend that anyone go backpacking alone, especially in grizzly territory. Any number of things can go wrong–injuries, dehydration, moose attacks, etc.

Maybe it’s a way to be alone without being safe. Maybe I’m trying to revisit the trauma of vulnerability from the breakup. Maybe I have some bourgeois hope that I’ll “find myself” in nature, that I’ll discover some interiority that I can’t reach amidst the noise of society. Maybe it’s a microcosm of venturing into the wilds of unemployment. Whatever it is, I’m going through with it. It’s something that I’m looking forward to.

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