Last Updated: November 8th, 2018

Arlene shuffled down the subway steps to the platform of the subway station. It was dark and damp inside. Luckily the subway had just come in. She took the nearest door, which was jammed with a stream of commuters going to work, and found a seat next to the window. A group of youngsters in skimpy clothes stood in one corner, a middle-aged gentleman in a formal coat and tie worked on his laptop and a lanky man wearing jeans and warehouse overalls sat glumly in a corner seat looking at the rows of buildings that whizzed past. She lost interest in surveying the boring scene.

A buxom lady was admonishing a young crying kid for spilling pop on the floor. No one bothered to look or even nod a morning salutation to anyone. Arlene opened her makeup bag and touched up her nose and cheeks for the umpteenth time with L’Oréal blush-on. She was nervous as she was going to her first job; she felt suffocated and boxed in, surrounded by so many people. She felt lonely in a crowd.

Another quite different scenario from my own life. I spent almost five years living in the remote prairies. It was the kind of place where you’d be lucky if you even saw a car or a semi on the highway. You could drive for miles, surrounded by vast empty fields of golden corn pockmarked with tall grain elevators, without a soul in sight. Like Big Brother, the huge dome of a sky always watched over the solitary homesteads that dotted the stark landscape. One could have summed this place up in two words: total isolation.

I stayed with a farming family on a solitary farm near Regina. It was in the middle of nowhere, shielded by a belt of silver birch trees and a hidden lake with waters as blue as opal. Some might say that it would’ve been lonely up there. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. I’d never felt so fulfilled and happy in my life. I had company! It was a company that very few enjoy, but it’s all around us, all the time.

I was in the lap of nature—surrounded by hordes of birds such as siskins, nuthatches and other species, that I’d never set eyes upon before. The early hours of morning and the evening were especially enchanting to me. The farmland echoed and rang out with the twitter of these lovely feathered friends. I got into the habit of feeding them grains of rice and breadcrumbs that I scattered on the soft, green dew-spangled grass near the farm. They came—robins, sparrows, swallows, warblers, orioles and many others—until the whole area drowned with their chirpy sounds. I would stand at the edge of a brook, totally mesmerized, and watch another drama unfold—the play of light as the first sunrays fell on the rippling waters. In no time this leaden sheet of water would be a glistening band of gold. I would look at my watch and find that I’d already been there for 20 minutes. Time just flew by. I was far from lonely.

That is the difference between isolation and loneliness. I was isolated, but far from lonely. I had company. Moreover, I had learned to commune with nature and not commute to it. Loneliness is all a state of mind. It’s how we perceive the situation relative to us. The delicate interplay of emotions influences our thought process and we can look at the glass of water as half-filled or half empty.

Look around and learn the language of nature then communicate with it. It’s a skill that’s in every of us.

Kamal Parmar, a former freelance journalist who earned a Masters in English, is a respected poet who writes about British Columbia, the prairies, and her home in India. Since her first poem, “A Prelude to the Evening,” got published in a popular magazine, she has published books in the UK and India, and has published simple, thoughtful poems in Canadian and American literary journals and anthologies. She currently lives with her family in Ontario.
image: prairies via Shutterstock