Ask a Hermit, Part II

by Holly A. Case (Interviewer) and Tom J. W. Case (Hermit) 

The following is the continuation of an interview with Tom, a pilot who has largely withdrawn to a small piece of land in rural South Dakota. 

Interviewer: Have you ever experienced something annoying that got transformed by hermitude into something at least harmless if not good?

Hermit: Right. Sure. I used to be annoyed by wind, now I like the thing. Used to prefer summer to winter, now that has reversed. Rain will ruin a hermit picnic as quickly as it will a regular person’s, but usually with nice enough after effects. Perhaps my best example at the moment is what happened when I started sleeping with very minimal heat in winter, just above freezing. It was miserable at first, but I got used to it. The thing what amazed me most is that I lost weight (the opposite of what I was used to during winter) burning calories to keep warm, alongside consuming far less fuel for heating my living space. An apparent win-win. So obvious, but it never had crossed my mind.

Interviewer:  What’s so great about wind, and after-rain from the hermit point of view? And what does it mean to “get used to” almost freezing?

Hermit: Only the obvious things. The wind cools and makes difficult the movement of flying insects in the warmer months, and is easily dealt with in winter by dressing appropriately. The rain, you know, rainbows, plants love it, etc..

And I’ve so far kept my space just above freezing for the sake of the liquids. Tried dipping below once, determined I lose more liquids that way as they burst their containers, also destroyed my water filters on that one. There is likely a physiological process which allows one to get used to the cold, but I think it is as much a mental acclimatization. Easier to get used to the cold than the heat, in my experience. In the end, so long as your fingers still work, all is well.

Interviewer: Regarding the elusiveness of hermits, if you could write a manual (or guide) for the non-hermit, what information would you include under the heading: “Common Misconceptions Regarding Hermits and Hermitude”?

Hermit: That is just it, misconception. Understanding.
Few of us, if any, really understand anything, and I would go so far as to say that not one person is fully understood even by their own inner self. Even science, as careful as it has become, is capable of developing noticeable cracks at the most inconvenient times.

Ironically, it was probably my own desperation to understand, to be understood, what delivered me here to hermitude. It slowly became apparent that I do not understand, and also, more painfully, am not understood. I spent so much time and energy trying to be understood that I became little more than that thing, the thing which seeks to be understood.

Seeking understanding is a fine enough endeavor, another prominent facet of our nature, but as one seeks to understand something they are also paradoxically failing to notice its state of being. Worse, when something is seeking to be understood, it is presenting little more than an opinion of itself and utterly failing to be. What we think we are changes, evolves, but what we really are remains constant. Opinion is a color covering an object or subject, it is not the object or subject itself. We are dangerously close to painting each other’s houses and cars in the night a color we see more fitting, while never knowing the story of the house or car. It does not matter the color of something, yet it is the most observable aspect. Sometimes I wonder how a blind person thinks. It must be fascinating. But I digress.

When I was a child, on family trips our route would take us through the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and I remember nearly all of the houses being the same color—seafoam green—and to this day when I see that color I am whipped with that same feeling of misery one can freely experience on that reservation. A treeless landscape, barren, with cars on blocks and all manner of mixed breed, free range dogs, a skinny horse with its ribs all too visible, a lone indigenous man walking a miserable stretch of highway not within ten miles of any possible destination. All because of a color. I have no idea what the house itself, or the man himself looked like, and that is not fair.

So, say you take the time to observe those things, their outward features. Now are they understood? Certainly not. So study their makeup, their structure, their personalities. How about now? No. Go deeper. Where did the trees come from to build the house, who cut them down and why, and who sawed them into boards and what are their stories? Who were the man’s parents? How does he feel about things? Perhaps we are getting closer to understanding, but what led up to the soil, the climate, the ecosystem which encouraged those trees to grow where they did? What about the man’s ancestors, how they lived and why, their environment and how it came to be? How was it deemed suitable for them? What about the origins and stories of those who ultimately displaced those indigenous people? Should we not, in fairness, seek to understand them as well so they are not merely seen as those with seafoam green stains on their smocks?

On it goes, and there is always another turtle. The important bit is that while I was putting that down, I was completely gone, absent from the world which exists the same at this particular point in time regardless of my attempts to understand it. Perhaps more importantly, the whole of it has a hue of seafoam green upon it for my efforts. Why, though? Perhaps I should try to understand that, too. Oh, look! Another turtle!

If one is not where they are, or at least conscious of everything being squarely where it is, they are nowhere. I have gone there—nowhere—many times, but not one person has asked to see the album of photos from those trips, nor have I exercised its binding for my own nostalgic amusement. If I did, it is certain I would be in as much in awe of what I looked like then (“What was I thinking wearing that?”) as most people are when they see photos of their parents from a time before their conception.

It is likely that from all of this your readers will unwittingly apply a color to what has been said here; perhaps due to what was said, how well or poorly it was said, or what is, or is assumed to be, between the lines of it. Maybe it will be seen through the filter of their own mood, applied for reasons begging for their own understanding. To conceptualize is inevitable, but worthy of great care. Files placed in cabinets are not themselves the extent of the subjects they pertain to.

There is no textbook hermit, but if a hermit does indeed seek to live in the world the way it is—without coloring it, having it be colored, or even having color suggested—the most likely path is one of solitude. In my case, though it is in its infancy, I see that path leading not toward giving up on the state of things, but toward a way of solving manmade problems by not creating them. I can only lament the invisibility of such an approach, but if it were not invisible so, too, would it have a color.

Interviewer: The manual has proven rich terrain. Let’s do another manual heading: “Phrases and Behaviors to Avoid in the Presence of Hermits (Hermit Pet Peeves)”

Hermit: Alright. Phrases to avoid:
“You’ve got something in your beard.”
“I don’t get out much.”
“I forgot my hairdryer. Do you have one I might borrow?”
“You should totally get a cat.”
“Beans? Again?”
“Oh, look at the time!”

If you have a question for Tom, you can send it to (subject heading: Ask a Hermit).