One of the moments that I will never forget on my trip to Algonquin Park last week, was when I left my companions who headed back to the motel and drove deep into the park until I got to the end of the road on the shore of Opeongo Lake. I am sure that during the summer, the spot is busy with campers and day visitors who come to enjoy the crystal clear waters, but in the middle of January, with the lake frozen and snow covered, the sense of solitude was a feeling I had not experienced before. Not to that extent.
For miles around me, there was not a single human being. I stepped out of the car hesitantly and could not paint for a while. All I could do was experience the vast wilderness and me alone in it. Can I tell you a little secret? I felt an acute sense of anxiety. I have heard and read many stories about people who have spent days and years even secluded and away from human contact. Then there is the whole idea that the worst punishment you can impose on a pack animal like man is isolation. Isolation. That’s what I was feeling. Solitude is a gentler term for it I guess, but isolation is what gave me the anxiety.
Thankfully I had my paints and a car that I knew (hoped?) would take me back to where other humans were. A bit later as I was painting, my thoughts went to Tom Thomson, who painted not far from the spot I was at and he also did it in winter. He was made of better metal than I am of course, but he must have felt the melancholy of isolation at these moments I think.
For all the anxiety, I am glad I was there though. You have to experience this at least once I guess. Next time – given a choice – I would prefer the company of humans. Does that diminish me in a way? I don’t know. Some are loners. I thought that I could be… I know better now.
What about you? have you ever felt isolation? solitude? were you anxious about that?