My Stations of Solitude

Many of you have been politely asking why I haven't been writing much on this thing anymore. You want to know what the Hell I do up there when I leave Toronto with groceries and Baileys and say 'I'll see you next week'? Well, I'll tell you.

But first I need some Diesel. This car is amazing, I can't thank my Dad enough. I can do several return trips with only half a tank: $20. I'd need at least twice that for a couple of hours of stop and Go downtown. I put the Balsam Lake Mix in the CD player: a perfect compilation of country-themed tunes, part bluegrass and part my own past. I stop for a coffee with two raw sugars and I light a cigarette when the speed limit changes from 60 to 80. I'm crusing at 100 and there's no one in front of me or behind me. I've got just over an hour's drive and I'll be home.

It's dark by the time I arrive. The house is cold and the pump and hot water are off so it takes a while to warm the place up. At the moment I'm still breaking off pieces of wood that we broke to bits ourselves in the forest when some of you were up with me before my father passed away. I twist up old copies of the Globe and Mail and build a mini teepee out of sticks and light the fire with the door open. The flew open too if I can remember which side it goes to before the living room fills with smoke. If not, it's not such a big deal. I like the smell. It reminds me of camp, of cooking a turkey underground, of little girls dreaming of up what they'll be and who they'll be it with, carrying love letters in their camp uniforms beneath the makings of friendship bracelets. It reminds me of happier times.

Then I head for the records. Bob. Neil. EmmyLou, John, Louis, The Last Waltz of the Band. Depends on the day. Depends on the dishes I left in the sink the last time. While the fire's burning and the speakers are booming, I unpack the car and move back in. There are things that need to go in the refrigerator, there's another pound of coffee, there's a lot that's got to be frozen.

If I can avoid it, I wait to use the loo. There's nothing worse than washing your hands with icy water when it's cold outside and you haven't warmed up yet. I pull out my furry slippers. The ones that help me forget that I've forgotten my socks. I put my clothes back in the drawers I stole them from, always just enough to get through one weekend of city life. I sigh as I take off my pantyhose or my blue jeans that in a couple of days, I'll have to forsake the jogging pants again and wear something more 'street appropriate'. In the meantime, I'm alternating five sweatsuits and I love them equally. The one that says 'Trojans' on the ass could never really be worn in Toronto and yet, at 10 AM at the Kirkfield LCBO, I didn't even get so much as a funny look. I turn the heat to 50, just to get the place cozy again and then I'll cut it and live off the eco fan that blows hot air into my living room from the blaze inside the wood stove for as long as I can stand it. I think about how I need a cord of wood yesterday but I can't reach The Wood Guy.

Once everything is unpacked and I'm warm and the pine needles have disappeared from the living room floor, I'll either pour myself a manhattan or I'll bake myself some cookies. Depends on the spirit of the evening. Lately, it's been a lot more of the latter. I pull out my secret tin box that says 'Cough Drops' on top of the television set and its accompanying ZigZags and I disassemble a Belmont and get rolling. I'm not supposed to smoke on the terrace. Most days it's raining anyway so I opt out but tonight, it's a clear one. I strap on my head lamp and venture out onto the lawn to activate the sensor lights with no manual switch so that I can see at least in front of me, to either side and behind. Still, sitting out there is a bit like smoking in a tiny black box. Apart from the noises, I haven't got a clue what is beyond the shadows on any side of me. It's scary but apart from one unfortunate encounter with a raccoon and some squirrels who seem to like the guitar, most of the rest of my neighbours: the skunks, the deer, the chipmunks and the black bears seem to respect my space.

The first night is usually the same. With a collection of recent films from a variety store on Roncey, I cuddle up on the couch with my favourite cushions and a good drink and sink further and further into the futon, into the 1970s crochet blanket and the smell of the fire behind me and I watch for as long as I can take it.

Most first nights, I wake up somewhere around 1 or 2 in the morning and literally drag myself off the couch and into my enormous, comfortable, pleasure centre of a bed. 600 thread count sheets, great down duvet and a heated queen blanket in between that I usually leave off until after my morning pee. When you crawl out of the warm duvet and remember that December is just around the corner and that it's windy out there and that the kitchen floor is freezing.


The second day is exciting. I wake up when the sun decides it's going to make its way into my room. I don't generally close the blinds. The leaves look electric in the wind and I feel so lucky to see trees through my window rather than tall buildings or speeding cars. What a change this is from the city. It's so nice that the phone hasn't rung. That I can stay here or get up and it doesn't matter. That I can curl up with a book and fall back asleep if I feel like it. I'm so excited by the thought of no responsibilities I can't possibly stay in bed a minute longer. Anything is possible.

No later than 8, I am up. I scoop out the coffee from the antique tin I bought when I arrived and get it brewing while I pull back the dining table in the living room and set my yoga mat by the fire. In no way am I am shining example of excercise but it feels nice to stretch in the morning again. I had forgotten what it was like to take the time to feel good before leaving the house. I do the Sun Salutation 3 or 4 times with the crackling of the fire behind me and the lake lapping at the road in front of me. I'd like to do it on the dock. There is nothing more relaxing than the sound of water first thing in the morning. Before too many minds are a flutter, poisoining the day with things to do and places to go, before too many cars and buses come to take people away from Paradise and back to where they 'have' to be.

When the yoga's done, I take my medication with a big glass of water. For the first time in my life, I am faithful to the ritual of it. It does not end up forgotten, like it might when I had only 3 minutes to catch a bus so I could be here or there or anywhere. I see it in the bathroom, like I see my toothbrush, my towel and my New Yorker magazine. It's one of the only things I have to do today and it is important. And now, now it's time for coffee.

I began a rule at the house when I first moved in. Morning coffee should be Irish. Because it can be. I love Baileys and don't drink much but there is nothing so warm and sweet as a fresh cup of beautifully strong coffee with a hefty shot of Baileys. The smell fills the whole house and I get excited for the day. So far, visitors have been mostly amenable to joining me in my sins. There has only been one instance where a culture divide let to a French man almost spitting his coffee across the room saying 'This isn't coffee! What is this?!' From that point forth, even said French man understood the value, the luxury of being able to spike your coffee at 8 AM. Because you've got no place to go. No place to be. I'll be damned, we said, we're finally free!

It is a different kind of house, this is, when the guest rooms are empty and it's only me. For one, I like to go to the bathroom with the door open. I always have and here, it's like a paradise. I can almost see the lake if I lean properly and to my right I've got a big leafy tree to keep me happy. Not to mention a big basket of old New Yorkers to keep me occupied. No shame in taking a few extra minutes. I'm in no hurry. I've got no place to be. I wonder what I'll do with the day, apart from the 'quotidien' of the Cow Shed (that's the name of this used to be an actual cow shed). There are certain things that are done every day. And they don't feel a thing like those 'quotidiens' that exist in the city. I don't have to go to work. I don't have to take the subway or the streetcar or the DVP. I don't have to meet anyone for anything. I don't have to pay bills or find parking or find a solution to this or that problem. Unless of course this or that problem is that I'd like to go for a walk in the woods and I need to decide between the whistle and the bear bell and the risk of taking that walk at all, given it's hunting season and all!

My phone will not ring today.

No matter if I turn it off or not. It will not ring. People have stopped calling because they just don't know what to say anymore and that suits me fine. I don't know what to say to them, either. Some have let me down too much, others have warmed my heart to the point of bursting open but I sure don't want to torture any of them with another speck of my wounded heart either.  I'm thrilled at the moment with being rid of the stress of what I'm supposed to be for other people.  That seems to be a bigger part of grief than I expected.  You almost feel like you need to console everybody for feeling so sorry for you.  For some, just the sight of me makes them cry.  Seriously, it's happened on numerous occasions.  I know this won't last forever.  And maybe that's what is so perfect about this place.  It's not leading me anywhere.  It's just a shelter from the storm and for now, there is something freeing about knowing there isn't a single thing I have to do next.  Not one.  And maybe here, I'll figure out a way to get to where I want to get to.  Just when it's heating up again, the owners will come back for their summer home and I'll have to take a choice.  In the meantime, I'm on a really long working holiday in another strange place, maybe stranger than Paris.  I'm going to enjoy it until I find a place I can call 'home', - finally - either here or in Paris or some other place in this gigantic world.
There used to be a guest room. It was empty until just a couple weeks ago but I have since moved my writing materials in. My typewriter. My laptop. My books and notes and research on owl species throughout North America and Europe. It has become a bit of a shrine to my book and I'm guessing the next person who comes to stay will feel slighted that I have all but evicted the 'guest' room but I can because it's mine. Because it's all mine. I can leave private notes all over the place and no one will be there to read them. I could leave a porno on the dresser and feel no panic to conceal the truth. I am alone. And if a tree were to fall in the woods, I'd be the only one to hear it. 

I generally like to get some writing done in the morning. The writing room is colder than the living room so I wrap myself up with a blanket or a poncho or something, coffee sitting close by, desk lamp on, though there is probably enough natural light in the room not to bother. Still, it feels a little warmer with the soft glow of the pompom lamp. My desk is filled out perfectly. I adore being able to see the trees through the window and being surrounded by wood. My writing desk is beautiful, perfect. I've got a bed beside me if I get tired and if there's a good book around, I just might take a break.

For a cigarette. I want one. I still want one. I do until I get it to my mouth, anyhow. But, out there in the wind, its importance is downgraded a percent with every inhale. There is something unnatural about smoking tobacco in the great outdoors. It's a bit like that feeling I got smoking indoors in Paris. It feels dirtier than usual. Wrong. A destruction of beauty. But until I figure out a way to keep my mind calm enough not to need it, I'm keeping my butts in an old red coffee tin from the 50s and hoping tomorrow will be the day I stop. In any event, with the snow on its way and no covered place to puff puff puff, I'll be forced to re-think my bad habits any day now.

I love breakfast. I haven't always taken the time to make one but here, meal time is pretty well the only organized event of the day, I buy pastries half baked and finish them off in the oven. I snack on peanuts and sunflower seeds, raisins and bananas. I drink water.  I can't remember the last time I was conscious of drinking enough water. I pull the bacon out of its package and lay it on the wrought iron pan, letting the house fill with the smokey scent of crispy fat and pumpernickle bread. More coffee. Runny eggs. And a movie. Or two. Or three. I answer to nobody.

I don't have internet here. There are no emails to go through, no distractions, I couldn't give less of a shit about facebook status or tweets on a good day but here it seems comical. I'm not getting any instant messages and I couldn't even call someone if I wanted to, apart from 911, I've been reassured. My cell phone doesn't work out here and I love that. I do, however, have the largest television I've ever had in my life. It's not a big screen, really, it's not flat or modern and the picture's a little off but it's all mine and I've re-arranged the furniture to suit my needs. I can see the lake and re-runs of Party of Five and Six Feet Under all at the same time. There are no commercials and I've got a fire crackling just behind me. Life is good. It's really good.

And did I mention I can go to the bathroom with the door open?

The other afternoon, I sat down to lunch only to find twenty-two, yes I counted them and yes, it happens to be my favourite number, turkey vultures on my front lawn, doing their best with the rotting apples all over the property. The wind has retired the orchard for the season but here in God's Country (that's how the locals refer to it), there are all kinds of surprises in store for the winter. The dock will come in tomorrow and soon the snow will fall and my kayaking terrain will become a skating rink and the woods will get quieter. And I'll need snowshoes to get out to the street if I don't find a plowman soon.

And then, what will I do? Probably the same thing. Play more music, I'm enjoying the guitar finally and have somehow, through the quiet, have found in myself the ability to play and sing at the same time. It isn't any good but it feels great and I'm writing songs and sure beats singing along in the shower to the sound of the garbage truck stuck in a line of honking cars on rue St. Maur. And it most definitely beats paying $900 to live in Toronto.

Do I miss it? Not one bit.

I eat a late lunch. I relax. I nap. I wake up and I fiddle around, write letters I'll never send. I read pages of The Stations of Solitude slowly, trying to make it last as long as possible or I read a novel front to back. It's been a long time since I have been free enough to do that.  This book remaining partial to me.  I found it by accident in a used bookstore in the West End.  The man at the store was more than surprised when I brought it to the counter.  For me, it was a no brainer.  A book about a female writer who moves to the woods by herself (well, she's got a dog) to write, to be alone.  Well, it's not a very famous book and the coincidence was that someone else had just dropped off a hard cover, leather-bound copy that they had had specially made because they loved it so much.  I bought the soft cover version for $10 but I think I might go back for the real one soon.

I look forward to human contact again. I don't miss it yet but I long for it. Before, all I wanted was for it all to stop. And now I want to see my friends again and hug them and have them up for a weekend with too much wine and bad board games.

I don't need the anxiety medication anymore and I can hear myself think. I suppose that could be it too.

All in all, things are getting better. I think I am healing. Thank you for asking.  You should come up sometime.

Gotta run.  Time to get wood.
See you next week.



  1. Julie... your an incredible writer. My condolencenses (sp?) to losing your father. You have an incredible gift, please don't stop. Enjoy every minute of solitude, and also of company (invite me up:)) I look forward to reading your future blogs.

  2. Who is Anonymous above? I can't invite you if I don't know who you are.

  3. Hello,
    I have a question about your blog. Please email me!