This morning I am walking along the path around the lake. It is a beautiful Spring day. The sun is already warming the dew air. I see Henry and Jimmy relaxing in the hot springs. They wave me over, but I wave back and keep walking. As exciting and open I know that conversation would be, I need solitude this morning. My responsibilities as gate keeper of the Inn keep me charged with the presence and sharing with those I invited here. This is my world. There is no place else I would rather be. And for me to give all of myself to this garden of inspiration, I need to seek my other reality as Henry Miller puts it. That is time alone. Solitude.
After the roaring ocean sounds of Big Sur and the gentle lapping sounds of the South Pacific (except during hurricane season when the ocean and the wind combine to make nature’s loudest noise) I have come to appreciate the quietness here of the almost still lake, but today I venture upstream to the lake’s source a few miles up the mountain’s side. It is the place I go when I need solitude. It is as vivid a part of the dream that brings you this story as the individuals you meet. The veiled entry opens only to me. It can be observed from the trail, but not entered except by myself. The guests refer to it as Socrates’ Cave. No doubt a pun on my student Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave, but it is not a cave at all.
My cave is a small alcove open on one side to the stream which intersects a natural hot spring. I collected rocks from the hillside and built a round tub where the streams intersect to make nature’s most inviting hot tub. I know I could have just imagined the hot tub and it would have appeared, but I wanted to create everything in this space with my own hands. The only piece of furniture is a small sitting bench facing the stream. The other three sides of the alcove are vines, flowers, trees, and a family of red foxes who created their burrow here.
I look down toward the lake and I see May Sarton coming up the trail. I walk to my veiled doorway and open it so she knows where to come. I invited her to share tea with me this morning. I wanted her to see my place of solitude.
“Good Morning Socrates. I did not know you invited anyone to share your cave. I feel humbled.”
“You are my first visitor May. I wanted to invite you to my place of solitude because your poetry and journals greatly influenced me and my approach to solitude. Now solitude is as important a part of my life as breathing. I come here at least once every day to reflect and to review the on going events of my life.”
“I know exactly what you mean Socrates. I am alone here for the first time in weeks to take up my “real” life again at last. That is what is strange — that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life, unless there is time alone to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened.”
I added a small table for tea and two chairs in the alcove for May’s visit. The view and sound of running water over the rocks complete the serene setting. We both sit down and admire the moving picture before us.
“O’ Socrates. This is a most beautiful solitude I have ever experienced. Thank you again for sharing your cave with me. Do you come here to write?”
“No. I do not write here May. I come here to clear my mind of thought and to recharge my energy when life uses more than I sometimes have. It is a constant battle of balance. As you can see, the alcove is very sparse in furnishings and yet filled with nature’s abundance and beauty.”
Just then two of the fox cubs come out of their burrow and playfully approach May. She offers each a biscuit. The third climbs up my pant leg and falls asleep in my lap. The mother fox pokes out her head to check on the cubs, sees all is well and returns inside.
“I understand why your cave is invisible to the guests. A place of solitude must be available when needed in the moment. You do not want to schedule a particular time for solitude or have to stand in line for a ticket.”
“Yes May. I know you understand. Your writings, particularly Journal Of Solitude inspired me to carve out a place for it and to incorporate solitude into my life without guilt. I can see from here that all is going well down below without my presence. I also invited you here to share a little more about poetry if you are up for it.”
“Why of course Socrates. I am, I think, more of a poet…, if to be a poet means allowing life to flow through one rather than forcing it into a mold the will has shaped: if it means learning to let the day shape the work, not the work, the day, and so live toward essence as naturally as a bird or a flower.”
“How true. Although I do not write here, this alcove, this nature inspires my creative soul.”
“We are the same Socrates. We both journal our lives but deep inside we are poets. You choose to be a novelist, but you’re chosen to be a poet. This is a gift and it’s a tremendous responsibility. We have to be willing to give something terribly intimate and secret of ourselves to the world and not care, because we have to believe that what we have to say is important enough.”
“I am never quit sure of that last part May. I write for me so I do not know if my words are important to anyone else.”
“Of course they are Socrates. Poets find one another. I find my position as a poet today a curious one… For a long time I have maintained that the poet’s affair was the individual human soul, the story of it in one man, in my case the transforming of personal emotions into written events. I still believe that our job is somehow or other to be above the mêlée, or so deeply in it that one comes through to something else, something universal and timeless. It is only when we can believe that we are creating the soul that life has any meaning, but when we can believe it—and I do and always have—then there is nothing we do that is without meaning and nothing that we suffer that does not hold the seed of creation in it.”
“Yes May. Very true words. Poetry transforms and transports us through the chaos of life and even death to this universal, timeless space we are now in.”
“Solitude itself is a form of poetry. Both wait for the inaudible and the invisible to make themselves felt. And that is why solitude is never static and never hopeless. On the other hand, every friend who comes to stay enriches the solitude forever; presence, if it has been real presence, does not ever leave.”
“I understand May. Your presence here this morning has already greatly enriched this alcove, my place of solitude. You added another layer of inspiration to the running stillness of nature.”
“Thank you Socrates. I believe all art must be nourished by faith, the faith of an equal. We must live our lives burning them up as we go along, so that at the end nothing is left unused, so that every piece of it has been consumed in the work. There is no being sure of anything except that whatever has been created will change in time, and sometimes quite erratically.”
“Yes May. There is no certainty in life, but we are here, now. Poetry, solitude, journals are all necessary elements of the creative lives we live. I too want nothing left of my being unused…but before that happens, I am going to soak in the hot wading tub I built in the stream. Would you care to join me?”
“Yes Socrates! It would be my pleasure.”
The Gate Keeper Of Inspiration: Chapter Eleven — Ursula K Le Guin will be published on Sunday, November 11, 2018.
Cover Art “Aries” by Emilee Petersmark.