; ;;; ;;;; a year of airplanes and taxis
and co;ee sipped in the chatty nowhere-
spaces of conference centres. A year
of long-distance radio interviews and
prickly panel discussions. A year of constant
(and often obligatory) connections. I’d written
a book about the value of disconnection in the
internet age, and its moderate success had
made me more connected than ever. By the
end of those promotional adventures I was
exhausted, and I noticed I was beginning to
slough o; conversations the way you might
shake rain from your umbrella. There’d been
so much necessary reaching out that by the
time things finally slowed down, all I wanted
was to clear my head and be left alone.
And so I made a decision. A week in the
woods. A week in the woods alone.
My family cabin, a 1970s A-frame built
from a kit by my grandparents, is perched on
the waterfront of a little island called Pender,
Columbia. When I disembarked from the
ferry, I waved to the orange-vested woman
directing tra;c, and that was the last interac-
tion I had with another human for seven days.
I hiked a couple of hours along the island’s
ragged coastline until I reached the solitary
cabin. I cracked open the door and there was
the old smell—cedar planks and musty books,
ashes in the iron stove. My backpack was stu;ed
with enough canned goods to keep me alive,
and the cabin had running water. I was set.
Only I wasn’t.
The task I’d laid out for myself seemed
simple enough: one week with no phone calls,
no texting, no internet, no human communications of any sort. And yet even before I’d
boarded the ferry it occurred to me this was
virgin territory. In all my years, I’d never spent
more than 24 hours alone. Not really. There’d
always been at least a phone call, or a quick
“I had three sweet hours of reading on the patio before I looked up and thought, What have I done? “
exchange with the guy making my Americano.
In the lead-up to my trip I canvassed my friends
and found the same: Nobody could recall a
time they’d gone longer than one day without
some form of human connection. Now that I’d
plunged into solitude’s deep end, I wasn’t so
sure I could s wim.
I had maybe three s weet hours of reading
on the patio before I looked up at the darkening waters below the blu; and thought, What
have I done? The sun had started to set. I would
learn, during my week on the island, to dread
the night. It kept me cloistered inside the
cabin’s walls, listening for things that bumped
and skittered in the surrounding shadows.
But the heaviest shadows I encountered
were within myself. The solitary self that was
so easy to ignore when I could simply text
a friend, or eavesdrop on strangers, or binge-watch Scandal. As the days crawled by and my
beard grew bristly, I started wandering the
A Week in the Woods
Is fear of being alone keeping us from truly being together? Our writer went
o; the grid in search of real connectivity.
By Michael Harris Illustration by Jun Cen