The word I hear most frequently is my name. I have a job where at any given time there are 22 people clamoring for my attention, right now. I have a family where at any given time someone demands 22 things of me, right now. I like to do things for people and I never learned how to pronounce “no”, so I try to accommodate people. But now and then my head starts to explode and I need to unplug. For the past few years my chance to tune out has been a trip to North Ontario to open camp. There are no phones, no electricity, rudimentary plumbing, and no people. To get there involves a 12-hour drive, a 4-wheel-drive trek on a hidden trail, then a mile-long boat ride across an isolated lake to the camp, the only camp on the lake.
This level of seclusion isn’t for everybody. And that is a good thing. Otherwise, it might get crowded, which would defeat the point. Solitude is the point. For a few days at least there isn’t a single reason to utter a single word. I might curse out loud because the water pump won’t take a goddamn prime. But there is no real rush. I can have a cup of coffee and think about the problem. And up there the problems are always straightforward and always get solved. Better to keep my mouth shut and not injure the quietude with blasphemy.
Ok, it’s not perfectly silent. I use a generator to run the pump. The outboard engine takes me across the lake. An mp3 plays tunes while I eat. The hiss of the gas stove boils water for coffee. But the only mechanical sound I hear not coming from me is the distant drone of the occasional de Havilland Beaver carrying fisherman to distant lakes.
Opening camp is work, but it is done in time. Plenty of time to do things that people with time and solitude do: like go fishing.
After a day of doing, it is nice to lie in bed and listen to the uninterrupted night. But the peace is so complete that I am soon listening to my dreams. Several days in a row of this rigor and I am ready for anything and anyone.
The first words when I came out of the bush were at Tim Horton’s: “coffee, black.”