A Recluse for a Day

South Dakota wolf
I’ve been reflecting on a poem found in an old navy blue-covered book, published sometime in the 1920s. The two collections were found purposefully placed in a box, sitting in the rafters of a garage built by Country Man’s grandfather in the 1950s.

I wasn’t surprised that the books have been left up there for more than twenty years; his grandparents aren’t the reading kind, and they’re ok with that.

The poem is by the famous Emily Dickinson, called “Not In Vain.” It goes like this:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall no live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Each poem in the book is marked with a quickly written ‘A’; for why I am not sure. What I do know is my nose begins to burn each time I turn a page, stirring up long settled debris, a result of being left alone too long. I know his grandmother said they had to read some of these in school, a one room building not far from this house I live. I’m not sure if it’s still there anymore. Perhaps she marked it fast to say she read it, before scampering off outside to play.

When I read anything by Dickinson, beneath it all I read the word lonely. While I am far from scholarly enough to even pretend to critique or discern each line of her work, I still know what comes to mind, and I usually read sadness. It’s complicated and full of despair, much like those behind the pen and paper. But not always.

South Dakota bear
I am thankful for those with the gifts of words and prose; who continue to seek truth and meaning in life. It’s a gift to those who enjoy the words, and to those who may not have the passion or desire to take the road less traveled.

I appreciate Dickinson’s “Not In Vain”. That’s the road I understand. In my nature I could choose the life of a recluse, but I know I’m not created for that. I would look back with regret otherwise. I want to make a difference in the lives of other people. Be a friend.

South Dakota goats

Because I can’t do this life thing alone. It’s often a battle with my nature, but I won’t surrender.

South Dakota elk

Photos taken from our trip to Bear Country, South Dakota. We took my five year-old cousin, William, who was mesmerized with the snake. It must be a family thing.

South Dakota cousin and snake

What path have you chosen?

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33 thoughts on “A Recluse for a Day

  1. I understand exactly what you’re saying. Dickinson’s words always bring tears, but for me, they’re cathartic rather than depressing. I think the road you’ve chosen is a wonderful one.

  2. Your pictures are wonderful.
    There is always something lonely in the process of writing – but then afterwards it is a good thing to get back to time with family and frieds. I want both.

  3. I think to be alone but happy is to accept yourself as you are, your capabilities are stretched and your creativeness becomes tangible, therefore to be lonely is but a fleeting moment.

    I enjoy your writing and the photographs. When I looked at the animals I thought to myself that they looked familiar. I have photographs almost identical of yours with the exception of the honey (?) bear, in my ‘photo she is sitting in water playing We visited Bear Country in summer 2009.

  4. I believe part of every life’s journey is to make peace with loneliness and find beauty in aloneness – and they are different. It is a settling. I believe Dickinson pull lies in her touching that lonely part of each of us, wrapping it in words better than any of us ever could. Thank you for this gift, in pictures and thoughts. I treasure the seeking of your mind and heart. Thnk you for sharing this journey with us – my life is the richer because of this.

  5. Maybe the A beside each poem is the grade she (your grandma-in-law) received after reading aloud to her teacher?
    I’ll have to re-visit Dickinson. When I read her in high school I found her too dark (maybe deep would a better word) and as you said, sad. My perspective has likely changed. I appreciate “Not In Vain” and your thoughts!

  6. I am glad that you are not living as a recluse, and that as a result we get a chance to read your words. Though I suppose we are all still reading Dickenson’s words as well, aren’t we? She didn’t get to have such immediate access to the vast amount of commentary on her work as we do with blogs though.

  7. I think Dickenson did actually lead a reclusive life. And none of her work was ever read until she passed away. That’s so sad to think about, but her work really is lovely.

    I agree with raisingdaisy–you chose the right path.

  8. When I first saw your pic of the old wolf (and yes, that wolf is OLD), I wondered how you got a pic of my old dog. She was part wolf and she passed away last June.

    So, other than a brief moment of sadness, I love your pics! They’re great! Looks like a fun trip!

      • I adopted her from a rescue when I lived in Alaska. She was 18 months old at the time. The rescue mistook her to be malamute-collie mix, but as she grew into herself and matured, she had behaviors that are particular to wolves, not domesticated dogs. It was after moving to Oregon and meeting a veterinarian who treated both zoo wolves and hybrids alike that I became sure of her heritage.

        Sadly, she passed last June while we were moving to Georgia. She passed away just miles from our current home and minutes from the end of our journey. She was my heart dog, the best “dog” I’ve ever known and is still greatly missed.

  9. Hello and I am glad I found your blog. I read Dickenson at school more than half a century ago. I have turned to her sometimes over the years and the poem you quote is strong in my memory.
    I have found a new poet – well new to me at least -James Rainsford and I quoted his poem ‘Put Down That Book’ on a post – Musing on what might have been. You might enjoy his poems and photography. I am blown away by how clever you all are.

  10. I love Dickenson’s poetry and agree with a lot of what has already been said, particularly, the coming to terms with loneliness and being alone. To me, she also writes about a world and a life that she knows she can never be a part of but only observe. A sense of mourning for the moments and events in life that she is aware she will never experience.

    Though, I live in a big, dirty, overcrowded city I am, essentially, isolated from much of what gives value to human experience and I have always sensed that in her work. A sadness of being on the outside looking in and knowing that one can never fit in. I think it is also found in Christina Rosetti’s work too. Perhaps, considering the era in which they lived, part of their sadness stemmed from the restrictions placed on women at the time; that they felt stifled in the opportunity to fully express themselves. I believe, I am correct in saying that Dickenson was not published during her life time and secretly wrote all her wonderful work.

  11. Pingback: what a year can do… « The Simple Life of a Country Man's Wife

  12. I know this feeling of being torn between withdrawel and turning towards others. By my nature, I’m introvert, but during the past few years, I have discovered the wonderful gift of friendship. It is often hard for me and closely connected to anxiety to open up to others (I can be very open on a merely rational level, but that’s not real openness because it doesn’t involve feelings and thus, the risk of making myself vulnerable), but I do not want to live curled up within myself. There is a saying that you need to dare something if you want to get something, or somewhere. I think this is very true.

    • hey Kath! i love comments on older posts; gives me a chance to look back at what i was thinking then. This quote has remained with me since my good friend posted it on our apartment bathroom mirror:

      And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anais Nin

      I so value and appreciate your comments here. i think we have some similar thinking ways!

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