Solitude on Burton Island

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I’m all alone on the big island. It’s way before the start of summer camping season. Burton Island State Park is absolutely deserted. And no wonder! Who would want to camp here on a night like tonight? Lake Champlain’s icy waves are impressive – “white caps” the park ranger said when I slid my kayak into the choppy waters. Despite the fact that one 4-foot tall wave gave me serious pause, I paddled the mile long roller-coaster ride to the island without incident.

Now, in the gray May twilight, I walk along Burton Island’s west shore. A dark and foreboding Lake Champlain slaps at the pebbly beach. The beach is made entirely of gray granite stones polished to smooth round balls. Over towards New York State the rough surface of the lake shines purple and pink in a glorious dusk.

For the last hour and a half, I have circled the island following a rustic trail. In summer this is one of Vermont’s most popular places. And why not? Every campsite here is within a stone’s throw of Lake Champlain. In deep summer this place will be bustling; but tonight I have the entire island to myself.

Solitude is a funny thing. I have come straight from the hustle and bustle of work to spend 24 hours alone on Burton Island. I have so recently come from the thickness of people it takes me a while to stop thinking about this or that person, or this or that problem. I keep chattering to myself about what I should have said, or what I might say in the future. I am clouded by the buzz of my own voice.

I think we humans are a bit afraid of being alone and so we fill our lives with the chatter of other people, and if that fails, with the constant chatter of our own thoughts. What is it I fear about being alone? Do I think I simply will disappear if I can no longer hear the sound of a human voice?

Ahh, I’m going to stop thinking about it and watch the night come on. The waves splash, splash, splash on the rocks – and behind that sound, a low and distant rumbling like far-off thunder. I listen intently until I realize that the sound comes from the hundreds of waves falling up and down the long, western shore of Burton Island. I breathe deeply. The chatter in my mind is finally stilled. On the shore, barely lit by the cool light of a crescent moon, a cedar clings to the rocks; its silhouetted arms raised into the dark night.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College.

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