When you consider the standard stereotype associated with people that declare themselves to be a “Hermit,” it is a bit of a contradiction to suggest that such a person would go on a vacation into the wilderness. After all, don’t Hermits already live in the wilderness? And truth be told, the term “wilderness” is incredibly subjective. Further, if we’re being honest, so is the term “Hermit” once you accept that there are a great many different types.

A Hermit is typically described as a person that lives off the grid, in the wilderness, as far away from other humans as possible, and is completely self-sufficient in terms of food, water, and shelter. Yet, in my case, as a so-called “Urban” Hermit, I live in a densely populated steel and concrete “wilderness” where I have no choice but to interact with other humans as a natural matter of course, in order to obtain food, water, and shelter. As such, my flavor of ‘hermit’ is more like that person who strives to be isolated whenever and wherever possible but, necessarily, is also flexible about mingling with humanity in order to survive.

I grew up in a Washington DC suburb, no stranger to City Life, but I spent much of my childhood in the country, learning much of what I know today about country living from my Appalachian relatives. I consider myself more fortunate than most because of the things I learned about being self-sufficient and living off the land despite not having to do so on a day-to-day basis in the suburbs. When it came time, however, to move out and start living my fledgling adult life, you bet your ass I headed for the woods of New England.

Two failed marriages and four end-of-life years taking care of my mother later, 3 Strokes notwithstanding, I’ve had all I want of dealing with much of the human race and have settled nicely into my gloriously quiet and peaceful “keep to myself” lifestyle. Thank you very much.

A few years back, my brother and his wife bought a piece of property on a small pond in mid-state Maine. Although a small gas station and convenience store were several miles away, you couldn’t ask for much more of a remote location to isolate yourself from humanity, drown in the deafening silence of Waterfront Wilderness, and be able to listen to yourself think. It’s the kind of place where talking to yourself out loud while your dog listens intently as if she’s hanging on your every word and seems to be just about as close as you can get to being in heaven while still living on Earth.

And so it was that, when the opportunity presented itself, I found myself up at the camp with Daisy, dropped off and left to our own devices for a week a few Junes ago. The larger cabin project was still under construction, but the basics – electricity, running water, and a construction site porta potty were in place and fully functional. As remote As We Were, we were by no means having to ‘rough it’ as they say; food and beer in the refrigerator, a couch, a bed, and a mostly finished Loft upstairs made me think back to what my grandmother used to say when I was a kid when we were on vacation: “so THIS is how the other half lives”!

For those of you who’ve never had the opportunity to experience Maine in mid-June, when the mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks are sucking the blood dry out of as many warm-blooded creatures as they can latch themselves onto, take my word for it when I say it is a true test of will and no place for the faint-hearted. By God’s grace and my brother’s engineering foresight, a fully screened-in porch- every bit of 10 ft wide by 20 ft long – was installed and completed well before any serious interior finish work was done. Naturally, after everything was brought in and put away, beer in hand, Daisy and I trundled onto the porch to take it all in and get our bearings.

The entire property is more or less one monstrous Rock; the cabin is 30 or 40 ft Square and was built on a series of posts set on top of the glacial Boulder. It is completely covered in trees, mostly Hemlock and Pine, with a few Beach and Maple trees scattered about. They had to get permission from the town zoning board and the state forestry service for every tree that was cut down, the few of them that they had to, and basically, everything sat under an incredible canopy with nearly constant shade all day and all night. The entire property is roughly 5 Acres, and is roughly a hundred feet above the Lake’s edge, which you can see through the trees from the screened-in porch.

The walk down the hill from the cabin to the Waterfront traverses a zigzag-shaped path first created by the previous owners of the property long before the cabin was built. It is a fairly steep hill and the pathway was designed to make the walk back up the hill a little bit easier on the knees and the lungs. Having been to this spot several years before the cabin was built, I knew that the view was incredible. The lake is relatively small and not terribly deep but the fish population – Yellow Perch, White Perch, Pickerel, Hornpout (catfish, and largemouth bass – are quite healthy and very abundant.

At the water’s edge, my brother set up an aluminum dock, 10 or 15 ft long, which allows you to look left toward the Southwest end of the Lake or right toward the Northeast, where the lake keeps going beyond your ability to see its end on the other side. Unsurprisingly, Daisy loves the dock for its obvious benefit of being able to run to the edge and jump in, and I’m a big fan because it allows me a better chance of casting my bait in the water without getting tangled up in the tree branches hanging over the shoreline.

As you sit at the shore, looking out at the cove, you first notice how deafeningly quiet it is. Although boats are allowed on the lake, much of what you see passing by you are groups of kayaks and canoes and people talking in hushed tones, clearly humbled by all Nature has to offer. Once they pass and the tranquility returns, Nature begins to poke her head out of the water again once it determines it is safe enough to continue with her regular business. The minnows and baby fish start kissing the surface, hoping to snatch a bug or two, and the birds get back to the business of squawking at each other in the trees. Meanwhile, high above my head in a tree to my left, you can hear Eagle Chicks calling out to their mother as she approaches from my right with a fish flailing in her beak. I bet you didn’t know this, but Eagles can screech with their mouths full… It may be a little muffled, but the sound of the American symbol is unmistakable and touches your very soul.

While we are on the subject of soul-altering sound found only in nature, I would be remiss if I did not mention my most-favored member of the natural world; the Loon. Some may disagree, but I personally contend the Loon is the most magnificent and majestic creature ever to grace this planet with its presence. Though nearly impossible to get very close to, certainly not for any length of time, those red eyes, long pointed beaks, and that chilling, almost prehistoric sound they make is nothing short of captivating. Every time I come across one, I am frozen in place and can do nothing more than stare in silence and awe at them.

I remember as if it was yesterday, weighted worm in the water and Daisy standing at the end of the dock looking hard right, a Loon and her chicks paddled their way into the cove as Mom dove for minnows and popped back up every now and again to feed the babies. As is routinely the case, given my eyesight challenges, I keep my eyes on the dog because her body language tells me when something is going on. She saw the Loons before I did, and soon enough, she started wagging her tail as if we were getting visitors at the front door. I was honestly a little surprised that she didn’t dive in and swim toward them, choosing, instead, to just take in the moment. Thinking back on it now, how cool is it for three species of animals, each tending to their own affairs, perfectly content to peacefully share space with each other while doing their own thing? As I was basking in the glow of communing with nature, something happened that I had heard of before, but never witnessed firsthand, a hundred feet in front of me; mom was talking to the babies (telling them not to get too close to us for all I know) them chirping back in apparent acknowledgment while I sat there slack-jawed and Daisy just wagged her tail.

As much as I enjoyed our daytime adventures, I can’t bring this essay to its inevitable close without mentioning the nighttime sounds of the wilderness. In the goddamn awful steel and concrete jungle I am forced to occupy, there is never a moment where complete silence can be enjoyed. Cities give off a mind-numbing hum sound, however soft or nearly imperceptible it might be, that you can hear even at 3:00 in the morning when the roads are silent, and all the houses are still. I have been out with Daisy many times in the middle of the night, and I can hear Highway sounds behind me to the east, to my left in the south (as well as the sounds of the airplanes taking off and landing in north/south directions), and straight in front of me… down on Main Street where the city never sleeps. Hell… I can even hear the sounds of the motors spinning the exhaust fans on the roof of the hospital three blocks to my North. If you live in this city long enough, you grow a custom to the low pitch hum that vibrates into your very bones and eventually seems normal. And don’t even get me started on the siren sounds of fire trucks, ambulances, and police cruisers.

By contrast, the night sounds of the wilderness are devoid of that mind-numbing humming sound. In its place are the sounds of crickets and frogs, the rustling leaves rubbing against each other as the warmer air rises up into them from the lake, creating its own gentle breeze, and the adult Loons call out to each other forming a perfect nature-based three-part Harmony. With the lights off, and the windows raised, lying still in bed waiting for the shroud of sleep to come over me, my mind wanders back and forth between the simple beauty of where I am and the maddening chaos to which I will be forced to ultimately return. And all at once I’m taken back to those fond memories of my grandmother and her respect and admiration for “how the other half lives” comes back to me. She wasn’t wrong.
While my Hermit retreat might have been, on paper, at least, singly about fishing, relaxing, recharging my spiritual batteries, and making new Loon, Fish, and Eagle friends, I’m as sure as I can be that it was about a whole lot more. Looking back on that trip now, it seems to me that it had a lot more to do with being reminded that life has a lot more to offer than the things you artificially busy yourself with just to pass the time. Further, no matter your age, it isn’t enough just to make the most of what you already have when there’s so much you have yet to see. Dreams are not made of the things you’ve already done nearly so much as they are made of the things you have yet to do.

I came home determined (against all odds) to redouble my efforts to find my own slice of that heaven I spent a week enjoying with Daisy. Rest assured that, faced with a similar opportunity to separate yourself from the chaos of daily life, within 48 hours, you would quickly start to imagine yourself, in some capacity, as your own flavor of a wilderness Hermit. Forty-eight more, and you will find yourself thinking of ways to find a remote piece of land in the wilderness so you, too, can start making your own furry, scaly, and feathered friends… And see for yourself “how the other half lives.”


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