On isolation I watched a great documentary about Annie Proulx last night. It was a few years old, and in it she was researching and writing That Old Ace in the Hole, which I think was published in 2003. It was a fascinating documentary, though i confess I haven't read anything of hers since Postcards, which I didn't like nearly as much as The Shipping News, which remains one of my favourite novels.
Anyway, the program told of Annie's great love of driving herself all over the US, and how she lived in the Panhandle areas of Texas, in a little house all by herself, to research the hog farms and rural environment of this largely neglected part of the US for Aces in the Hole. And then, to write her book, she took herself off home, briefly, to her house in Wyoming, where she lives way out in the sticks so she can ski in winter.
There, she organised all her research material, and eventually took off again for her other house in a tiny little seaside village in Newfoundland.
All of which brought to mind our recent visit to Ghost Ranch, in northern New Mexico. On two or three hectares in the middle of this huge ranch, Georgia O'Keeffe had a low-slung adobe house, Rancho de los Burros, in which she lived off and on from the 1940s, in contented and productive solitude.
Her husband, Arthur Stieglitz, remained in New York, holding showings of her paintings, pushing up her profile and her prices. You can visit Ghost Ranch and stand on spots that must have been darned close to the actual places O'Keeffe set up her easel to paint some of her landscapes. But unfortunately, you cannot visit her house, which remains private and inaccessible — though you can catch a glimpse of it from the track. (If you click on the pic, you'll get a bigger image.) Well, I was enchanted by all this, and in raptures over the desert landscape. I joked to David that this would be a perfect set-up for us. I could live out here, painting and working in the beautiful wilderness, while he could live in some city somewhere, doing amazing PR for his wife and organising fabulous exhibitions of her work. Just the ticket.
But then I got thinking about the solitude. The place is remote even today. In O'Keeffe's day, getting into Santa Fe, which is about 95 kilometres away, or Taos, almost the same distance, would have been major undertakings on dirt roads in slow vehicles.
She had no electricity at her house, either.
I could get by without TV and computer, and maybe even radio, so long as I had the means to listen to music or something.
O'Keeffe had occasional help, and visitors and even guests, and the main ranch house was only about a a couple of kilometres away.
But those evenings must have been very long and quiet.
I don't think I could have hacked it — and even if my set-up was more like Annie Proulx's, with electricity, and connections to the outside world, I'd still find that solitary life unsettling, I think.