In a back issue of The Yosemite Journal that I find lying around at Yosemite’s Visitors Center, Howard Weamer writes about the Ostrander Hut that is in the area behind Glacier Point. The Hut is ten miles out in the backcountry and in winter is accessible only by cross-country skiers. Weamer was its caretaker and host for a good many years, and writes of the wide-ranging discussions that would go on into the night between people of different backgrounds. He also mentions the need for solitude that was often expressed by his visitors: "those who welcome it are assumed to have attained something special."
This phrase stays with me. Does being comfortable with solitude mean that we have arrived at our goal of attaining solitude? Is there nothing more that happens once we have arrived? What about self exploration? Does this happen only in solitude or do our discoveries about ourselves lead us deeper into solitude? Being able to be alone with yourself shows an acceptance of solitude. But it is also in solitude that we sort things out, drop useless habits, limiting conceptions and traditions, and become more focused on life and where we want to go. Certainly solitude is good for restoring our sense of balance, but it can also be transforming. Attaining solitude means slowing down enough not only to see the trees shimmering in the afternoon sunlight, but to see them differently.
The beauty and natural silence overwhelm me here.... How do you ask people, though, to walk into the trees and listen to ... nothing?" Joe Evans
It is not easy to get people to sit still and listen to the world around them. And when we do stop our activities and listen to the silence of the trees, are we listening with them as they commune with nature, or are we listening to their sounds in the silence, hoping to reach the place where we can finally hear them? Every time the breeze picks up the sugar pines hum. My mind jumps to the song "I Talk to the Trees" that Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin sang in the western movie, Paint Your Wagon, but as I sing the lyrics myself and start touching trees, I begin to laugh and lose track of my thoughts for a moment.
Being able to appreciate solitude says in great measure that we have arrived, although we may not realize how deep this appreciation goes. So if we appreciate solitude, then we, in some significant way, already have it, although much can still happen within this place.
As caretaker of the Hut, Weamer found that he often had to answer the same questions with each group that came in, and he tried, as with the Buddhist's bell, to speak and be heard as clearly on the fiftieth ring as on the first. He discovered his impatience and, in solitude, learned to let go of his pride. I would think that he also learned how to answer better, more tuned into the nuances of how those same questions were asked. People do not always say what they mean, and sometimes they do not know what they mean.
Today I walk on the trail going along Tenaya Creek to a place of solitude in an isolated corner of Tenaya Canyon above Mirror Lake. The water is low and boulders in the river are meditating in the still water. I wanted to come here early, get away from the bustle of people and activities, and spend time in quiet, letting a sense of balance and vision return. But it's already midday, the sun is warm, and the water is so low that it isn't reflecting anything. I move on, trusting the spirit to lead me to another quiet place.