An unexpected appearance: a ruby-throated hummingbird. Very rare in our vicinity; only 1 spotted in an annual Audubon count of sixty-mile area. The bird hovered over the colorful flowers a few moments, testing several, its wings invisible in the whir of motion. The throat was black, not red, as the field guide states often occurs. In a moment it flew off. A ten-second gift!


The dictionary does not help distinguish among words like hermit, recluse, and solitary. Etymologies help but each word is full of our own personal and subjective impressions. My sense is that hermit embodies a stricter sense of solitude that is conscious, deliberate, with personal justification behind it, if not a body of theory (philosophical or spiritual). A recluse is someone who avoids a public persona. That conveys a more psychological sense to me. A solitary is a kind of informal hermit, not strict in terms of interpersonal relations, not strict in terms of a psychological tendency.

Of course, all these shades of meaning are my own, and only at this moment. None of these perceptions of word meanings may be accurate at all (by what standard, anyway?), or mean the same things to you.


Early morning, listening to music featuring a koto. At the moment of executing the guitar equivalent of a tremolo (called, I gather, oshi tome yuri-iro in Japanese), my ubiquitous woodpecker-friend executes a “tremolo” on the metal raingutter. Six-fifty A.M., of course. And a perfectly timed duet of five seconds that makes me laugh out loud.

Moonlight II

How startling to be awakened in the middle of the night by moonlight streaming through an uncurtained window. It is almost a metaphor for enlightenment, especially when beginning in a dream no longer remembered. What is best remembered is the profound silence.

Two non-verbal attempts to capture moonlight: Debussy’s familiar piano piece, Clair de lune, and Chirico’s Melancholy and Mystery of a Street (indeed, any number of his paintings). (I don’t know enough about Chirico to know if moonlight is portrayed but certainly night is.) Both of these works are “surreal” in that we never really experience moonlight, only the feelings within us evoked by it. Yet these feelings, evoked in a living being by an inanimate object, are (if it does not sound pompous) intimations of the mysteries of consciousness.

Characteristics of solitaries

At least four things necessary for solitude would seem to be: 1) experience, 2) discipline, 3) study, and 4) maturity. By these I mean several things.

First, by experience, that a person should learn not only what the world is like but what they themselves are like, monitoring the self, its feelings and responses. This guides a person to cultivate experiences which enhance not degrade. Second, discipline is the ability to discern where one’s desires and attachments stray and to control or channel them towards better things. There is physical discipline as well as mental discipline, and both should be pursued. Third, study can be cerebral book-learning (invaluable in today’s world) but also acquiring or developing a skill or sensitivity, what Gardner calls one of the “multiple intelligences.” It can be any of ten such; his books are useful discussions of what too many people assume is just one intelligence, that taught in schools: logical-linguistic. A skill (even a sensitivity or avocation), which is the directing of an intelligence, puts one in touch with the self and its place in the world. Lastly, a solitary should be mature and come to this state of life and mind consciously, not out of rejection, pity, or thwarted ambition. We have to “earn” solitude.