I would probably have been a hermit in another era/locality.
Thanks only to an über tolerant wife who suffers through my idiosyncrasies without complaint, I’ve never been divorced.
I love her dearly and cannot imagine life without her.
But I probably have spent half of my time over these past eleven years of retirement sharing a mobile home with a couple of canines.
Let me be clear — It’s not other people, it’s me …
I’m happiest taking a solitary stroll in the quiet of a wooded glen
or kicked back in a recliner with only a good book for company.
Ironically, much of my working career was spent speaking to groups: of students; of teachers; at Church. Many people assume that if one can speak to large groups, (s)he must be an extroverted.
Not so. You can learn to be at ease speaking to a group. I did.
One can, I suppose, also learn to prefer being in a group.
I never did.
I eschew crowds as if the Black Plague were making a comeback and I suspected those around of being carriers.
If at all possible, I avoid holiday parties. When that is not possible, my wife and I drive separate vehicles to the family dinners because she knows I will be ready to leave hours before is she.
I’m pretty sure it’s a genetic trait. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t usually more content to be alone than with someone.
For upland game bird hunters, I offer this anecdotal evidence:
Anyone who has ever hunted pheasants knows that no one ever does that alone!
Well, I did! …
Drove all the way out to the far northwestern corner of Kansas several years in a row back in the 1960s.
I chose my location not so much because of its pheasant population but because of the remote, ruggedly-beautiful landscape.
If I got lucky, I would shoot and clean a rooster or two by noon (or not) … Then spend the rest of the day exploring the desolate deep canyons that mark the extreme NW corner of Kansas
… And walking through myriad old, abandoned farm homes, empty since the dust bowl days of 30 years earlier.
Many of those struggling farmers just walked away, taking nothing with them. Broken down couches, headless dolls, brooms for sweeping floors long since rotted away are strewn about where they were simple pushed out of the way …
I’ve heard people say “If only this building could talk”
Well, those old houses DID talk to me.
A man with a lined, weather beaten face, slightly stooped in faded bib overalls calling “Come Boss, come Boss. Milkin’ time! Come, Bossy”
Then there was the laughter of the boy and girl sitting side by side on the swing made from an old Farm All tire.
And in the kitchen, Mom was humming a hymn as she took the bread out of the oven.
In the southwest, an ominous dark cloud is growing. The man peers at it intently for several minutes, then runs to the house, calling to the children as he goes.
“Jim, be sure all the windows are shut tight! Nellie, help your mother place the rags around the window and door edges. I’m gonna make sure the livestock put up. I’ll be back as quick as I can. Hurry now! It’s comin’ fast!”
This cloud isn’t holding the moisture the crops will need if they are to live to be harvested.
This cloud is bearing the topsoil stripped from their Oklahoma neighbors to the southwest. Soon this dry, smothering dust will choke the last bit life from the wheat and corn … and wrench the last bit of hope from this farm family struggling to survive the dust bowl years.
The house, missing part of the porch roof and most of its window glass and tilting precariously shudders in a sudden breeze.
And seems to sigh.
Or maybe it was the wind …
Slowly, the prairie sun is swallowed by the far west horizon.
In the quickly-descending darkness, a coyote wails, very close, shaking me out of my reverie.
Completely dark now.
A strange, sharp chill has come over the land.
The coyote chorus is in full throat and delicious harmony.
I repress an involuntary shiver. It’s time to get back to my truck and fire up the catalytic heater.
The old house looms large against the rising full moon. Through cracks in the siding and ragged-edged window, the soughing wind provides counterpoint to the song of the prairie wolf.
Now farther away, the pack sings one last, mournful song that merges with the wind.
I lie back against a pillow made of my insulated shooting vest. It is cozy in my improvised camper.
The tent canvas rapping against the stock rack frame lulls me softly to sleep.
There is no human being within five miles of this spot.
But the sounds of the prairie night assure me that I am not alone!
And five decades later, I am still happiest when, in the auspicious company of Robert Frost, I take the road less traveled.