Drinking alone, traveling alone, eating alone. “Solo activities” have become recognized and understood more in recent years and refer to actions and experiences that match your own pace and thoughts. With the idea of mental and social independence, far from being negative ideas of “loneliness” or “being a loner,” we earn a place in society by triggering the development of a new self.
In the digital age, getting time to yourself is more difficult than you might think. In other words, it’s not easy to be fully immersed in something or find new values from being alone. Ironically, the new coronavirus has given many people the opportunity to stay at home by themselves.
Due to the frequency of forest fires in Australia and the United States, forest fire monitors, who prevent fires from their mountaintop watchtowers is an essential profession. The monitors spend several months in summer alone in the wilderness. Sarah Drummond teaches at university and works as a writer. She became a forest fire monitor a few years ago and spends the summer in isolation at the top of a mountain. What is it like facing daily loneliness be it in nature or not? Sarah was friendly but independent in the interview.
— You have various titles, such as university professor, writer, and forest fire monitor, but what are you doing now?
Sarah Drummond: It’s winter in Australia now, so I’m lecturing at university. For distraction, I go fishing by myself. During summer when forest fires occur, I sit in a watchtower at the top of Frankland looking after the forest. I listen to music on the radio all day, and watch for smoke in the mountains. It is sometimes boring when on duty, but you need to be careful. I’ve been a monitor for 3 years, but I often feel uneasy with the unknown qualities of Nature.
—How do forest fire monitors spend their days?
Sarah: I listen to the radio in the watchtower and check the weather, temperature, humidity, wind direction, etc. every hour. I sometimes encounter tourists in the mountains and chat with them.
—Why did you decide to become a monitor?
Sarah: A friend of mine was a watchman. When he quit, he recommended me as his successor. I love this job because I’m surrounded by the beauty of nature. I was interested in environmental conservation, and when I learned the cause of forest fires, I thought it necessary to control the situation in line with the nature of the forest. Australia has a long history of forest fires, but the forests always grow back and animals return.
—What do you do in your time alone?
Sarah: I read and write. I’ve recently connected to the internet, so I watch a lot of movies. I haven’t had internet access for 5 years, but life is easier now. I walk and cook at the beach with my dog. I also like to go fishing by myself in the evening on weekends. I enjoy living the quiet life and being in tune with nature.
—Do you like solo activities?
Sarah: yes, it’s relaxing to spend time alone. It is particularly important to be able to solve problems on your own. For example, if someone close to you dies you strengthen your ability to overcome sadness at such times when you are used to spending time alone.
I was repairing a leak in my house yesterday. “If you had a partner, they would help you!” No, I don’t think so (laughs). But when I was dating, I had doubts about what he could do for me and what I could do for him. I can take care of myself. For example, when you go fishing, you may cooperate with others, but when something happens, you have to do it by yourself. In the end, I think everything needs to be solved on its own.
—More and more people are finding value in solo life to face themselves. Your lifestyle seems privileged, but how did people around you react when you started living like this?
Sarah: When I started living here, I didn’t have any electricity and people were worried if I was all right alone. When I first moved here, a wild dog, as big as a lion, would run around my house at night. I was too scared to sleep that day. Hunters came to the area, and they put men’s boots outside the house and protected me. But now people around me treat me with respect, so I’m not afraid at all. Some people think it’s old-fashioned that I work in the watchtower, but others think it’s great. There are many people who want to be a forest fire monitor.
—Did the pandemic disrupt your life?
Sarah: Not really. We’re not on lockdown here and you can go to the beach, so I’m not as stressed as the people living in town. I am worried that the situation will continue. The other day, I mistakenly ate a poisonous mushroom and got very sick. And my closest neighbour is 25km away. I’m worried about being found should something happen during the pandemic. When I was self-isolating, I read books that would let me escape from reality, rather than non-fiction, to alleviate any anxiety I felt.
My writing didn’t go as planned. It’s hard to write about kissing and sex under the current conditions, and I don’t feel like kissing (laughs). My new book will be published in November. I want to stay here and make my home more comfortable. I also want to be kinder to myself and others. When the pandemic began, I started thinking that being kind was more important than anything else.
—Do you have any advice for people who have started a solo lifestyle?
Sarah:1 I don’t think you can be mentally independent unless you are comfortable with being alone. Having a routine to improve yourself is also important. Having a dog is also good, as they make a good companion.