S is for Solitude
The mantra is that your daily lockdown walk is good for your mental health, so am I alone in thinking that walking in solitude in the countryside increases one’s sense of isolation? I have read a considerable amount of new nature and mindfulness-inspired writing. Now the covid crisis has prompted newspapers and blogs to pick up on this theme of the redemptive power of the natural world. They are advising us to tune into birdsong, informing us that the mate of the orange-tipped butterfly is white and suggesting we watch bees, busy working for the sake of their community. Now is the time to be “at one with the universe”, as D.H. Lawrence would say.
Yes, of course I get that. I take my sanctioned walks and you might find me painfully squatting behind reeds on a bend in the River Avon, secretly watching a nesting swan, grimacing but enchanted. I scribble notes about the size, markings and beak shape of an unknown bird to look up when I return home. I crouch over the first bluebell hoping to catch its scent and snap a picture of a little white flower, the name of which escapes me. I love to feel the wind as it diverts around me, to listen to the crunch of my feet on last autumn’s leaves, to smell the perfumed mayflower that borders the footpath.
But I feel more alone when out on a walk than I do pottering around my house and garden, where I have a quiet sense of contentment. When walking, chance encounters with acquaintances, couples or families can make the lack of company feel poignant. Fatuous comments about that uncomfortable squat, an unruly dog, past memories, have to stay head-bound.
As a consequence of my husband’s dementia, I have spent last year practicing living by myself but punctuated by visits from my children, coffee (and gin) with friends and travelling to new places. This isolation is different. The two-metre barrier makes me feels like I exist in a bubble with an impenetrable membrane. I feel poisonous. People take a wide berth on paths. Sometimes people manage “hello”, maybe a smile but rarely one that reaches their eyes; I can sense the relief once they have passed. For those of us who live with ourselves, this lack of contact with humanity is tough and I feel it most deeply when walking amidst spring’s fecund abundance. This is no ‘Nature Cure’, rather S is for solitude.