I haven’t been myself this week.
I mean that in the best possible way.
I have just spent the past seven days at Hewnoaks Artist Colony on Kezar Lake in Lovell, and it has been, for me, a unique and transformative experience.
It’s not the beautiful lakeside setting, the call of the loons, the breathtaking sunsets, or being able to stroll a few yards to the water’s edge whenever I want that have made this week a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
As you probably already know, I have the remarkable good fortune to have spent every summer of my life beside a lake in western Maine, watching the sun set behind the mountains and drifting off to sleep to the call of loons.
(I don’t know what I’ve ever done to deserve this kind of luck, but believe me, I am grateful for it every single day.)
But here at Hewnoaks, I have lived alone in a remote cabin. I have risen every morning for a week and planned my day—or not planned my day—according to only my own needs, desires, or whims.
There have been no meetings, no scheduled work hours, no errands, no laundry, no meals to prepare for anyone but me. At my cabin, there is no television, no Internet access, and only intermittent cell service (enough to text—sometimes—but not enough for a phone call).
I came here to write, and I have written—about 10,000 new words on my current big project, two to three pages daily in a journal, a draft of an essay, and this blog post.
If it’s not quite as much as I hoped to get done when I came here, it’s because I decided to make the very most I could of this experience—to make the most of this rarest of times, a week of living alone.
I have gone swimming several times and canoeing twice. I have hiked up two small mountains and taken two long walks on nearby roads. I have carried a notebook and pen out to my cabin’s gloriously private backyard and sat under the pines for three late afternoons in a row, writing by hand instead of keyboard for a change, and listening to the remarkable variety of songbirds that fill the boughs above me.
I have seen a moose, a water snake, a great many tiny toads, and an osprey.
I have seen, for the first time ever, an American redstart.
It didn’t occur to me until this, my final afternoon at Hewnoaks, just why this experience has felt so different from any other to me. It finally hit me today: in my 56 years, I have never lived alone. Not even for as long as a week.
I went away to college, where I lived with a roommate. I married at 20, and again at 30, and in between there was single motherhood. (During that time, although I often felt lonely, I was rarely ever alone, even in the bathroom.)
Living alone, even for a week, has given me the kind of time I don’t usually have for introspection. It has allowed me to focus on lifestyle choices—choices about food and exercise and sleep. It has given me the opportunity to live lightly on the earth, and to consider the impact of my choices.
I have slept when I was tired, eaten when I was hungry, exercised every day. I have prepared very simple meals and eaten a mountain of fresh fruits and vegetables. (The only thing I have baked this week was a sweet potato.)
I have drunk only water and V-8 juice. I have eaten no meat and very little sugar (s’mores at a campfire with my fellow residents one evening).
I have generated one small bag of recyclables, one teeny-tiny bag of trash, and a big bag of compostables that I’ve kept in the freezer and will take home to my compost pile tomorrow.
I have walked up to the main lodge to check email and Facebook more often than I should have, but less frequently than I would have if it weren’t a rather rugged uphill climb all the way.
Now the challenge: to take what I’ve learned this week home with me. Can I eat more vegetables and less sugar, prioritize adequate sleep, avoid over-scheduling myself, keep on exercising (my streak is at 1,225 days now!), limit my Internet use, and make earth-friendly choices?
That will be my goal—to bring some of the magic of Hewnoaks into my “real” life and see where it takes me.