A Room of My Own

Most of our waking hours are spent in the company of others, and this is as it should be: “It is not good for man[kind] to be alone,” God said, and we sense that truth in our bones, in the missing slat of man’s ribs. Yet coexisting with our yearning for companionship is another impulse, the urge for solitude, the need to know the self alone. Women, Virginia Woolf claimed, especially need “a room of one’s own,” apart from motion and commotion, roles and responsibilities, diversions and duties. My room of my own is my cabin, a single-room structure planted in our woods. William Butler Yeats imaginatively constructed a cabin too, his on the lake isle of Innisfree: “I will . . . a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made.” Thoreau’s cabin was two miles from the village or his nearest neighbor, but I wanted mine to be not insular, but peninsular. Clearly visible from our house—at least in bare-branched months, before leaves enclose it—it is only three hundred steps away from the life I live within those walls. But they are deliberate steps, steps that take me beyond the boundaries of our field-turned-yard with its coarse, wildtufted grass, steps that enter an unpruned woods. A natural path cuts through the maples and hickories, and the ground is packed hard and studded with patches of tightly knit moss. It curves down into a slight decline, the outlet for our pond, which we have spanned with wooden planks, now tilting wildly from several winter thaws. The path continues up, meandering through more trees that occasionally crack their brittle branches onto the trail. I must follow this circuitous path, for the pond cuts off  direct access, but the journey is part of the process. My steps measure the transition from where I am wife, mother, housekeeper to this cabin, where I am simply a woman, alone with myself.

Every time I take these three hundred steps, I am never sure what step it is that takes me into the woods and out of the land where I live. I am like the ballplayers in Field of Dreams, gradually dissolving into the woods as they melt into the corn. What marks the transition? Where does the real begin or end? I experience myself differently here, somehow. I am not isolated, because from nearly any point in the woods, I can hear the sounds of my home—the kids calling and laughing, the dog barking, sounds of mowing and hammering and work, all breadcrumb trails I can follow back—yet something internally alters when I am out of sight of home. I can almost always instantly retrieve a self that waits for me here. The walk is a kind of sloughing off of layers: the mother, the wife, the teacher, the respectable citizen are shed skins, and another more private self emerges—a woman who draws, who loves words, who is at home among trees, who prays soundlessly, who interprets everything, who aches for God.

What happens when I come here is barely short of miracle. I turn the doorknob and shove my hip against the stubborn, stuck door and walk into this other self. It is such a shift from my ordinary life that I have to meander around a bit in it before my feet adjust to the space. My cabin is a mere 120 square feet, smaller than any room in my house, but at the same time larger, much larger. All the other spaces in my life are shared ones or borrowed ones, but my whole family acknowledges that this cabin is mine alone—the most appealing feature of this place. Here is space to be alone, to think in the deep quiet of solitude, to create, to reconnect with a woman who by losing herself in nature can find herself again, who seeks words to worship, who finds God in these ways. Invisible strands of connection still tether me to my house three minutes on the other side of the pond, and I am glad of it, but I am also glad for this other self who sits at a desk recording this reality or who stands by the window, looking out at the woods around her.

I breathe in the hush; my lungs fill with it. I exhale duties and time. I breathe again. It takes a while for my breaths to go from shallow and uncertain to easy and natural, finding the rhythms of this new respiration, respite, respiriting. “Life pines,” Thoreau said, “because it breathes its own breath over again,” and so I fill my lungs with this new air, this fresh spirit that mills in this space. My mind clears. It feels empty and receptive. If I open a book, the words funnel directly into my brain. If I write, language comes to me less arduously, wrapped in silence and formed in solitude.

Hours later, or sometimes only minutes, I can walk out and shut the door of this cabin, and it is as if I am coming “home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day, with new experience and character,” as Thoreau promised. Solitude never diminishes me but always enlarges. And silence, in the ultimate paradox, enables language and meaning.

This post originally appeared in Reentering Eden: Christian Meditation in Nature by Colleen Warren.

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