Coming to Alaska to spend a winter is not everyone’s cup of tea. A big part of my fascination with this idea was the opportunity to see Nature and Wilderness with little human interference. This experience is certainly a privilege. My admiration for the animals and plants surviving this rough climate grows every day. Without our protective shelter, fire wood, warm clothes, and fresh and canned food we are supplied with it would not be possible to exist here for humans. Walking in the deep snow to forage for food, as moose, caribou and other mammalians do is just admirable. Then there are the bears and marmots spending the winter in a state of hibernation with little activity and a severely reduced metabolism. Others, foxes, wolverines, picas, and mice stay active and keep feeding. And finally, the extreme: the frozen wood frog. Not to forget the small and big birds that have not traveled South, sitting puffed up in the trees, searching for seeds from last year, or a mouse that is brave enough to leave the nest.
I “knew” most of this before coming here, but being in the midst of it and experiencing the cold, the remoteness, day after day is much more intense. It is nice to sit next to the fire place, reading about explorers scouting the poles, discovering the unknown, scaling mountains and crossing waste lands. Looking through a double pane window and enjoying the pristine slopes surrounding our lodge with no human traces.
There are days when I realize how far away we are from our next neighbor. To far to walk, to far to ski. We could make it in a snow mobile, if we can find the trail. Otherwise, we are completely dependent on our bush pilots to be able to come out here and bring supplies.
This isolation and remoteness adds another dimension to the human experience: Solitude. The state or quality to be isolated or secluded have been studied by scholars. It probably makes a big difference when this state is experienced voluntarily or under forced conditions, such as imprisonment or being marooned. The extreme form of seclusion, being alone, with no contact to to other humans is certainly the most intense form of self-experience.
We are far from that. Still, the absence of other humans has an impact. On the positive side is the lack of distractions. There is ample time to focus on the essential, to notice details, to enjoy the small things in life that easily go unnoticed in the noise of a busy life.
Googling “Solitude” provides a number of interesting experiments: From silly to stunning. I found Robert Kull’s year in Chile interesting: “Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes: A Year Alone in the Patagonia Wilderness“. Then there are the 2000 contestants, who want to go Mars… Obviously, the reasons to seek solitude are plentiful and diverse.