River Reflections: ‘In Search of Solitude’

Powering along with a 30 lb thrust trolling motor, on a canoe, can feel exhilarating if you’re not used to having propulsion. It’s all a matter of perspective. Solitude can be the same way.
Photo by Matt Mittan

By Matt Mittan

It’s more of an ongoing joke than it is a reality. “Where’s your secret honey hole?” “What’s a great spot to go to that most folks don’t know about?” Not many people actually ask these questions of anglers and outdoors enthusiasts, because they know 99% of the time they will be met with a sarcastic chuckle and then sarcasm or silence. But we can all relate to the underlying nature of the question. Where can I escape the rat race and find some peace? Where can I enjoy some solitude?

I’ve written numerous times over the past several years about how immersing ourselves in nature can impact our mental, spiritual and general well-being. Indeed, there are secrets to living a joyful life that nature will reveal to you if you are willing to put in the time to unlock them. Sometimes it comes from a chance encounter with a wild animal. Sometimes it may be a sunbeam sneaking through a dense forest canopy. For me, it’s often convincing a fish to rise to the surface and violently disrupt a tranquil setting – as it chases a lure I’m finessing. Dipping ourselves into this aspect of creation helps us travel our own life path with more enjoyment and passion. Nature nurtures.

Meanwhile, today’s world seems to be getting more and more crowded. Over the time of COVID, more people than ever seem to have found that being outside is more enjoyable than anything they could do with their free time indoors. That is both a blessing and a challenge. Many outdoor destinations that have rolled along with manageable public pressure are feeling the pinch. Some places are downright overrun and having a hard time sustaining. Wildlife officials have had to close some areas just so that they can repair and prepare for the overwhelming usage and the impact it has on those places.

The other thing that has changed is that, for the most part, most of us have led a fairly isolated life for the past year and a half. Now, all of a sudden, we are finding ourselves surrounded by lots of people, frustrated by being stuck in more and more traffic, having to wait in longer lines for the things we enjoy and seeing a massive increase in trail, boat and shore traffic on the pathways and waterways of our region. In short, it’s getting harder to find solitude.

But I want to suggest to you that solitude isn’t a solitary endeavor. In fact, I feel like solitude is even possible in crowded lake coves and on congested mountain crests. All that is needed is community courtesy. Think of nature like a library. Enter quietly and considerately. Leave space in between each other. Don’t be disruptive or rude. Exercise patience. Leave things the way you found them. If someone leaves something behind or out of place, take a few seconds to pick it up or make it right.

If you’re on a trail, stay back a distance. If you see people are stalling behind you, step to the side and let them pass. When they get a good distance ahead of you, continue on. If you see a canoe or kayak fishing a shoreline, slow your boat to no wake as you pass. If someone is lying back on a blanket on some grassy knoll, don’t blare your radio.

Nature is a gift that is meant to refresh, inspire and reset our souls. More people investing themselves into its treasures is a good thing. And just maybe, if a larger portion of the public is able to rediscover these good and gracious habits with each other, solitude can be enjoyed by everyone – no matter how crowded things may be.

Matt Mittan is Co-Host of “Matt & Michele Outdoors”, a travel radio show centered around outdoor activities across the southern Appalachians and Foothills. Visit MattMicheleOutdoors.com for more info. Or email MMOutdoorsShow@gmail.com to connect.