Word Cloud Resized

by Nona Blyth Cloud

For some writers, leaving the comforts of “civilization” for a simple life does wonders for their work. Henry David Thoreau is the best-known example of a writer doing more productive work out in the woods.

When I was born, my parents were living at the end of a long dirt road in the middle of the Arizona desert because there was a housing shortage in Phoenix, so my early childhood years were very isolated. The weekly trip to the library was a big event, and the beginning of my lifelong passion for the written word. Even after we moved “into town,” my family spent a lot of summer vacations camping.

I do have breath-taking memories of the beauty of the natural world that I wouldn’t have if we’d never hitched up a tent trailer to our old Rambler station wagon, and gone off on the roads less traveled. Still, it was a pretty comfortable way to see the U.S.A. and Canada compared to those hardy souls trekking up mountains in hiking boots while carrying all their gear on their backs.

You will note that my wonderful back-to-nature memories are pretty much in the past tense. I am a city dweller, with a deep appreciation for hot showers, washing machines and Internet access.

But it does resonate for me when May Sarton (1912-1995) writes in her Journal of a Solitude: “There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.”

May Sarton in old age

May Sarton’s family fled from her Belgian homeland when the Germans invaded in 1914, first to Britain, and then on to America, where her father, who was a chemist, worked at Harvard, and got a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. He became one of the first historians of science.

Sarton won a scholarship to Vassar, but disappointed her scholarly father by becoming an apprentice at the Civic Repertory Theatre, founded by the legendary actress Eva Le Gallienne. Later, Sarton founded her own company, the Associated Actors Theatre, but it failed in 1935, so she exited from the stage to concentrate on her writing, earning her living from it and from teaching others about writing.

In some odd way, I’ve felt that our wandering life paths touched many of the same places, but we were traveling in opposite directions. May Sarton started in civilization, passed through the theatre into writing, and then went off to village living in New Hampshire, and finally still farther out into an isolated house at the end of a long dirt road on the Maine coast. I started in the desert, moved into town, then into city, passed through theatre into the civilized battleground of non-profit management and fundraising, and now I’m writing in a small room but in a densely packed edge-of-urban neighborhood, and not for a living but because I can.

She was the consummate Writer, full of honors by the time old age crippled her. I am still trying to find the chart for my course, as my brain races against the aging of my bones.


by May Sarton

These days
Lifting myself up
Like a heavy weight,
Old camel getting to her knees,
I think of my mother
And the inexhaustible flame
That kept her alive
Until she died.

She knew all about fatigue
And how one pushes it aside
For staking up the lilies
Early in the morning,
The way one pushes it aside
For a friend in need,
For a hungry cat.

Mother, be with me.
Today on your birthday
I am older than you were
When you died
Thirty-five years ago.
Thinking of you
The old camel gets to her knees,
Stands up,
Moves forward slowly
Into the new day.

If you taught me one thing
It was never to fail life.

— – — – — – — – — – — – —

Thank you for reading this week’s Word Cloud.  Visitors and comments are welcome.


SOURCES and Further Reading:





I Knew a Phoenix: Sketches for an Autobiography by May Sarton
W. Norton & Company – ISBN 0-393-00916-5 pbk.

The House by the Sea: A Journal by May Sarton
W. Norton & Company – ISBN 0-393-00069-9 pbk.

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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9 Responses to Word Cloud: REFLECTION

  1. bettykath says:

    Word Cloud, thank you.

  2. wordcloud9 says:

    bettykath — You’re very welcome. Thanks for reading.

  3. Aridog says:

    I find May Sarton’s “need for solitude” (occasionally) a necessity for me as well. Periodically I too need time to mull over things I have experienced to clarify what occurred in my mind. Once in a while I discover that what I thought I saw wasn’t that at all. Maybe I’ve read too many books and wandered too many places, perhaps too emotional, but I find solitude, even now in the city, a necessity now and then. Some of my experiences were horrid and scripted by politicians I suspect, but with some thought I found reason inside the madness. It changes the way I live and it is an on-going process…

  4. Aridog,
    We all need some time for solitude. Some people don’t even understand what true solitude is. They seem to need constant stimulation from outside. Cell phone, text messages, streaming video, iPod and iPad. Put most younger people in a situation where there is true solitude and they complain of boredom, or even find it frightening.

    How can there be reflection if one does not find solitude from distraction, in order to make room and time to reflect?

    I live within a short bike ride from the Appalachian Trail. One thing that I find truly incongruous is to see hikers walking the AT with earbuds. Apparently the damn things are almost like a part of their body. At least half the experience is to hear the wind, birds and wildlife all around them; the sounds of nature. Those who cannot leave the gadgets behind are missing at least half the true experience of walking on the AT.

    As for me, I seem to have time alone when I don’t want it. When I do want to be alone, seems there are others who need my company. Can’t win for losing, sometimes.

  5. wordcloud9 says:

    True observations from both of you. I also find this constant electronic contact imperative of so many people today deeply troubling. Are they afraid to be alone with their own thoughts?

    My early childhood years, spending hours on my own with only books or toys and my imagination, have stood me in good stead in the rest of my life. Many times, I have longed to be alone, and many times, I have been lonely, but neither state frightens me.

    I do fear the terrible unceasing noise of this electronic age, which both connects us and isolates us. No progress comes without loss, but how high a price must we pay for the ever-increasing pace of change, and when will the bill come due?

  6. bettykath says:

    I, too, need solitude, especially after spending time with groups. The larger the group and the more interactive I need to be with the group, drains me proportionately. . I need aloneness and solitude to rejuvenate.

  7. One advantage of being an only child is that alone is not only good with me, sometimes it is my preferred state. I can be that way for many hours upon end. I know those who crave constant interaction and don’t do well without it. I find that rather perplexing. It makes me wonder about the quality of their inner-life if “alone” bothers them. I suppose the existential question of “alone-ness versus loneliness” weighs more upon them.

  8. I came back to savor your post, Nona. Like others here, I treasure alone-time. Too many people, too much light, especially too much noise all overwhelm me. Alone, I dwell in the quiet place beyond monkeymind, and just Be.

  9. wordcloud9 says:

    Sympathies Joy. Having very poor eyesight, my hearing is more acute, so loud or very high-pitched noises scramble my brains too.

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