For an AP Lang assignment, I was tasked with experiencing pure solitude for a full hour as a part of our unit on transcendentalism. What follows is my attempt at appreciating isolation in nature for an hour (no phone, no friends), journaling my thoughts as they came to me.
I wasn't excited to do this. The thought of isolated wilderness was slightly discomforting, but the thought of being left alone with my thoughts for an extended period of time terrified me even moreso. Before entering the stretch of woods behind my neighborhood, I asked my mom whether she thought I would find snakes out there, to which she replied "Not necessarily." I smiled uncomfortably and began my voyage.
I have a confession to make: this took me two attempts. On the first try, I thought I would meander through the forest taking note of my thoughts. A few minutes after shutting off my phone, however, I stepped on a spot in the ground that I swear wriggled under my foot, at which point I cartoonishly yelled "Oh no!" and turned back to re-enter the comfort of my home.
I re-emerged from civilization for my second attempt, this time equipped with a chair. At 5:25 PM I sat on one end of the forest and began admiring the view. The following notes are what I scribbled down of my thoughts:
- [staring at bugs on a tree] Wow, it's like a tiny ecosystem!
- I'm just really bored; what is there to think about?
I sit in silence for a moment before the branches above me rustle and a thousand subtle noises spontaneously fill the woods around me. I look up and spot flying maple seeds spinning downward (I had to look up their names afterward because I just called them "spinny leaves"). While I'm gazing upward, I realize how ominous the giant trees around me look from their imposing stature. Then my thoughts are broken by a squirrel obnoxiously squeaking atop a nearby tree. I write, "Nature is kind of annoying."
I get up from my chair and approach the squirrel thinking I can ask it to take a chill pill, but by the time I reach the tree he's long gone. Disappointed, I take a second to examine my view. Directly in front of me is a thin tree with branches protruding downward from either side and intersecting each other. I laughed, thinking it resembled a rapper striking his signature pose (pictured left).
Hoping to find more than pure laughs, I moved my chair to another area of the forest patch and realized as I had trouble setting it down that the ground was extremely uneven. Then again, maybe I'm just used to society's idea of even ground when truly uneven ground is where it's at. Am I doing this whole anti-society thing right?
- Wow, I feel like I'm about to tumble backwards.
I lean back to get a nice view of the trees and subsequently tumble backwards. Then the air is silent for a moment, but not for long. There's a mostly constant snapping sound of the earth around me, as if it were full of energy and anxiously fidgeting to manage it.
Ahead of me, I spot a web of tree branches connecting pine straw connecting more pine straw, a pretty display. "How gucci," I think, hiply. I move toward it but get caught by the thorns of two adjacent plants (pictured), which I carefully evade.
At 6:03 I start to get the transcendentalist blues. I know that waiting for me at home is a mountain of pending assignments, an AP Spanish project, a test to study for...
Loud rustling turns my attention upward to a squirrel leaping freely branch to branch. I envy that squirrel, at least until it leaps out of my sight, yet the diminishing sound of the trees rustling means he's continuing onward.
- I don't want to check my watch.
Still, I get the feeling time is slipping away. This feeling starts first in my back and shoulders as extreme discomfort, then onto my face as a wave of red. The sinking feeling of anxiety takes over, the thought of returning to monotony an admittedly ironic terror. The feeling doesn't come as a surprise; for whatever reason, it typically follows a certain degree of stress. In my last few minutes in the outdoors, however, a deep breath of the fresh outdoors provides momentary relief. I didn't read Thoreau's Walden, but if this kind of relief is what Thoreau found in the simple life, I'm interested.
In AP Psych we're currently learning about learned associations, and for whatever reason, I'm pretty sure I've come to associate overwhelming school and social pressure with society's expectation and expectation with failure and disappointment, so much so that it causes that physical reaction of discomfort. It's a transcendentalist's worst nightmare, and it makes living alone in the wilderness sound especially appealing.
It's a facet of my temperament I'm working to improve day by day, and I definitely have. To that end, I've learned through practice to cope with stress so I can find joy and peace amidst a mountain of responsibilities. Still, some time on my own in the wild, unaccompanied by my friends and responsibilities, has provided a much-needed means to pure, unadulterated tranquility.
I check my watch. It's 6:28 PM. Time to unpause.