2016-06-30
This beautiful book on the humankind's urge to leave civilization behind and go out into the wilderness aspires to be a "Walden" for the 21st century. While North Cairn falls short of Thoreau, her memoir of the seasons spent in complete isolation on Monomoy, a small island with nothing but a single lighthouse off the Atlantic coast, is powerful nonetheless. Descriptions of island wildlife--white-tailed deer, the death of a gull, the dusty miller on the dunes--alternate with Cairn's reflections on her inner life and deepening consciousness of her spirituality.

One of the book's most illuminating comments comes when Cairn recognizes that her fear for her safety on the island, like her fear of being alone, was really "a choice; which is to say, there are other alternatives, different ways to feel." By leaving human society, Cairn was able to recognize the degree to which even our most instinctual reflexes are shaped by moral choices. One wonders whether she was able to retain these lessons when faced with other people--who can, after all, induce fears and anxieties deeper than any isolation.

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