“Aren’t you lonely living in such a remote rural location, all on your own?” people often ask me. In fact, I am asked it so much, it gave me pause, as if perhaps there might be something wrong with me if I am not. So, I looked up the original meaning and etymology of the word. I was delighted to discover that the beloved William Shakespeare created the word and imparted with it the sense it carries today for us, a sense of “desolation” and a feeling of being “left out.” The first use of the word was in the play “Coriolanus.” Shakespeare wrote, “I go alone, like to a lonely dragon, that his fen makes fear’d and talk’d of more than seen.”
My farm is nestled in a valley, surrounded on three sides by woods, with two trout streams running through it. I live with my two children, 35 sheep, 18 laying hens, three peacocks, one wily barn cat and one guardian dog. My dog is a great protector for all those living on the farm.
When I step out of my front door, I’m reminded that I live amongst a gazillion blades of grass, nettles and thistles too many to mention, birds, butterflies and forest trails to infinity. At night, I’m graced with the company of 1 million warm lights, sparkling like fireflies, in a starry firmament suspended just above my head.
Accompanying me in the deep, dark of night I have the raindrops drumming on my rooftop, the coyotes yipping in the distance and the great, big dog barking in his inimitable baritone. Joining me while I’m doing farm chores I have the laughter of my children playing in the pasture below, the dragonfly that alights upon my arm while I reach for chicken feed and hungry birds pecking on my boots. Throughout the summer, a rush of new wildflowers pops up along my driveway, welcoming me home with an everchanging blaze of colors.
As a writer, and as someone with post-traumatic stress disorder, I will own that a little self-selected solitude in nature is, for me, healthy, magical and even medicinal. It’s a prescription that allows me to be (hopefully) the engaging person you might meet in person.
Recently, I was on a train in a major U.S. city, far from home, where many people were gathered but no one talked, not to each other, not even to themselves. All their creativity, kindness and energy were bound up in silence, screens and scrolling, such that sitting amidst all the isolated, heartbeats-without-connection, I felt a wispy cloud of “lonely” descend and wrap its chilly arms around me.
So, I wonder sometimes if I’m not perhaps a bit like Shakespeare’s dragon; returning to a fen/farm more talked about than seen, for if the people posing the question could see what I see, I think the question might be moot at best. Because far from being lonely, when I’m home, I always seem to find myself surrounded by the very best of company.
Etienne White lives where the land meets the sky on a farm in Iowa County where she raises grass-fed, Old English Babydoll sheep, as well as pastured chickens, a happy farm dog, a wily barn cat and her two spirited children. She runs a consulting business working at the intersection of sustainability and marketing, and is a sought-after speaker on sustainability in the United States and Europe.