Reub's journey

16 January 2012

How much space

Detail of Tibetan painting, artist unnamed
A few years ago we were on a backpacking trip high in the Wallawa mountains, a remote alpine range in northeastern Oregon. We were with a group of John's grad students; it was a horse-packing trip organized by a young woman, J. I had completely mis-judged J at first, thinking that her blond hair,  pink sweater, pearl necklace, and degree from Brown University made know... a Muffy, a  preppy city girl.

Actually, J was a pistol-packin' rough-rider, raised partially by an alcoholic father with a barn full of pack horses, and a mother who moved to the city to further a lucrative lingerie-party business (thus funding her daughter's Ivy League education).

Okay. So obviously I couldn't wait to go on that hike. I love people like that. And the fact that J had a string of pack horses at her disposal was almost too good to be true. John's students are truly amazing.

There are a number of things I remember from that trip, each of them probably worth a post. But the one I'm thinking about right now is this:

It was quite dark, about 10 PM on a late July night. The darkening sky meant that the temperature had dropped quickly and it was nearly time to crawl into our sleeping bags. The brightest stars were  beginning to appear. The peaks just above us were capped in snow, and it was very quiet; the horses were already asleep. The fire was low. There were 8 of us sitting there staring dreamily at the embers. One of us broke the silence, saying "My family would hate this. They wouldn't understand.

 It was CK who said this, a Greek-American, and I've never forgotten it. "This wouldn't be fun for them! They want to be in a big group. Inside! With their friends and family, loud and laughing. This...solitude...they would not be comfortable with this." Wow. The rest of us looked at her, and listened as she described her family.

When are you happiest? It's a cultural thing, what you grew up with. CK, however, had gone in a different direction from her Greek childhood, marrying a wildlife biologist with a big black lab. She loved being out there in the wilderness, miles from other people. Like many of us, she found that she could recharge her energy in places like that; nowhere else is quite the same.

Not everybody can dash off to the mountains when they feel the need. Doesn't everybody need to be alone? Actually, maybe not. When we visited our daughter J in Niger, people seemed to be happiest in groups. Same with our own experience in Afghanistan: being a loner was discouraged.

So much of the world lives happily in very tight quarters. I don't know if I could be happy with that. But the following video (from Maeklong, Thailand) just proves that you can make it work no matter what:


  1. oh my goodness. how much we americans take for granted!!!

  2. well, we are pack animals, feel safest in the middle of the herd. but I'm a loner. I can do the pack thing for days at a time but I much prefer solitude. I just don't fit in well, mesh with the group dynamics. I'm the irritating element that won't conform. one of the things I loved about the river guide gig was being out in undisturbed wilderness.

  3. I am sure introverted people enjoy being alone. My daughter is one. Being with others wears her out!!

  4. The train scene does not appeal. Yikes!

    I've been thinking about this a lot as I just signed up to participate in the Happiness Project, so I'm really thinking about what makes me, and what doesn't make me, happy.

    One thing I realize is that no matter how introverted I am, it would most likely behoove me to spend more time with other people. Last night I was thinking at some point I should probably live with other beings again - at least a dog.

    Thanks for this. xx

  5. Whoa, that video is crazy! I think I would love to spend an afternoon strolling that market.


    ps I especially love the surprise of the tent-tops at the end:)

  6. twg: Isn't that the truth.

    Ellen: Seems like once you've had a wilderness experience you realize there is nothing quite like it.

    You're an artist. Conformity is something you will probably never value highly.

    Rebecca: Introverts need their space, that's for sure. But they also maybe need regular doses of other people?

    Reya: There does seem to be some balance that needs to be struck. You do spend a lot of your day with clients in pretty intensely close quarters, so it's no wonder that you cherish your alone-time.

    Of course I look forward to the day that you're ready for another dog.

  7. Jessica: I know, right? I love how this video ends! The train goes ripping through 8 times a day, so they have lots of practice.

  8. I imagine myself, speaking Thai, walking through the market to pick out vegetables that weren't just polluted by the train. And then I imagine myself on that train, commuting to Bangkok, wishing I were buying veggies.


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