When I first bought my cabin, I wondered how he survived the winters here, not physically but emotionally. Although a few of my neighbors live here all year round, back in the 1950s and ‘60s it was less common, so Bill would have had few human companions in winter, no one to chat with about the weather or the coyotes he heard howling at night.
For a long time, I wondered what he did all day. I've been told that he was a reader and that he had a dog. And there’s always work to be done: chopping wood, keeping the fire going, maybe hunting, making meals, hauling in water.
But it was mostly a solitary existence in winter. And it’s only now, in my third winter at the cabin, that I’m starting to get a glimpse of what it would be like to be here all winter every day, rather than my two-day forays from my Boulder home, where I can be endlessly entertained by email, my cats, lunches with friends, or news from NPR.
On my winter walks at the cabin, I rarely see anyone out, so there’s a sense of solitude but also of spaciousness, as if I could walk or wander anywhere or let my thoughts go in any direction. But more than that, everything slows down, so things I wouldn’t ordinarily notice in a more urban and chaotic setting become apparent. Subtle things, like the pattern of the wind-whipped snow, the murmurings of the chickadees coming from above me in the aspen trees, the muffled sound of the creek under ice and snow. And always, the sound of the wind rushing through the trees.
Gradually, life slows down so I’m hardly aware of being separate from anything around me; it’s as if my heartbeat matches the rhythm of life around me: the streaming clouds, the horses that look up from eating, the flock of crows flying overhead in the blue sky. The slow, subtle undercurrent of life pulls me along so I don’t need to do anything but let myself flow with it. It feels like a state of altered consciousness.
I don’t know why Bill Waite decided to live here alone. I heard that one of his neighbors offered him a radio to keep him company, but he said he preferred to listen to the wind in the pine trees. As he gradually absorbed the rhythms of life in this high mountain valley, he must have slowed down, as we all do when we're here, so all you want is to keep feeling this: the silence and sense of openness that fills your heart.