Bob Kull spent a year living entirely alone on a remote island off the coast of South America. As someone who had spent extended periods of time in wilderness solitude before, Kull was interested in exploring the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual effects of spending a full year in complete wilderness solitude.
One of the first things that struck me about his story is how much hard work (and how much technology) it took to experience this. In one way, Kull’s life during that year was a very simple life, but in other ways it was quite a complicated one as Kull had to build a cabin, cut firewood, bring in huge food supplies, run a laptop computer and satellite phone for his monthly email to friends and family to let them know he was alive. Solitude, particularly in the wilderness, certainly doesn’t always equal simplicity; in fact, a lot of his time and mental energy seemed to be taken up with doing and planning the tasks needed to survive.
The rest of the time was occupied with his own thoughts, and the relentless self-analysis does get tiresome at times — but, I think, it should. The book captures quite effectively the claustrophic feeling of one man alone with only nature and his own mind for a year, and the emotional highs and lows of that experience.
In the end, Kull, whose spiritual ideas seem most influenced by Buddhist thought, is left with a fairly simple “Be here now” message. Nothing, even a gruelling year completely isolated in the wilderness, is going to give you a stunning moment of enlightenment that will change your life completely. All you can — in the wilderness or at home — is be present where you are, be attentive to what’s actually around you. Kull’s descriptions of trying to do just that on his island and beautiful and lyrical. This book was a slow read — almost the exact antithesis of the last book I reviewed, which I tore through in a few hours. I dipped into Solitude off and on for a few weeks; while I certainly could put it down, I always picked it up again. An intriguing and thought-provoking experiment.