Life’s journey is not the same for everyone, but each person does have to travel that sentient road, with its many potholes and detours, slick spots and roadblocks. Some choose to travel passively, letting life dish out what it will without question. Others, like author Robert Kull, prefer to take the steering wheel of life and drive it right off the map, into the wild, with no roadside diners to break up the odyssey.
With his sights set on presenting an unconventional Ph.D. dissertation, Kull was determined to examine the concept of solitude in all its aspects — physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual — by placing himself in the hot seat, alone and remote in the far reaches of the Patagonia wilderness. In his journal-style book, “Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes,” Kull documents the year-long challenge of living alone, alone, that is, except for Cat, the kitten unwillingly taken along for the adventure.
With a surprisingly engaging flair, Kull manages to make the day-to-day grind mesmerizing, describing the slow and painful process of settling into a new mindset, all while living in near-survival mode. It is fascinating to observe the author’s preconceptions crumble and to read the well-crafted “Interludes,” where he analyzes and critiques his own behavior and the overall presupposed concept of solitude.
Part nature essay and part clinical self-analysis, “Solitude” pulls the reader into the adventure, setting one’s mind to considering if such an experience could be universally met or if the unique trials of so many days alone would send a less determined individual over the edge.
Often, Kull seems bogged down in the dissection of his own reactions to his circumstance, and he becomes obsessed with his quest to find the “answer.” It is in the moments where he stops the scrutiny of himself and instead shifts his gaze to the dramatic setting in which he has placed himself that the real beauty of the book shines through.
As Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, famously espoused in his “Letters to a Young Poet,” “Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Learning to live with the weather of each day, rather than combatting the wind and rain as it came, becomes part of that “question” that Kull finds himself adapting to, but the natural antics of Cat are never fully tolerated, just as the wild creatures that frequent his environs are given more leeway.
As Kull settles into — and finally completes — his experiment, his emotions run the expected spectrum from depression to joy to anger to existential panic. It is not surprising, then, that the “answer” remains elusive. But the journey he leads the reader on is well worth it.