I found this incredible article on April 1 and assumed it was an April Fool’s joke. But it’s real; the Smithsonian isn’t really known for pulling legs, and besides, the article was originally published in January.
In 1978, a team of geologists discovered a family of 5 that had been living in complete isolation more than 150 miles from any civilization for 40 years. Here’s the article. Read it, it’s fantastic.
It’s hard to imagine what that would be like. This is not “Little House on the Prairie” isolation: this is “if you can’t grow it or make it, you don’t have it” isolation. This is “our best entertainment is telling each other our dreams” isolation.
I found it very inspiring and enlightening. What does all that isolation do to a person? I think it’s fascinating the way each of the family m
embers responded to their discovery of other people. Fear, initially. Gradual acceptance. Then variations: stubborn refusal; stoic interest; awe.
The discussions of the differences in language were really interesting, too. The daughters had invented a singsong way of speaking that the geologists found difficult to understand; they didn’t really need anyone but their parents and brother to understand them anyway, so they never adopted a “grown-up” tone.
I think these kinds of amazing true stories are important to read because they can inform so much of our writing. For example, I think it would have helped Hugh Howey write his descriptions of feral children or the man alone in the silo. In short, they wouldn’t be speaking with the strangers, or maybe at all. Maybe they’d have their own languages. There’d be a lot more fear. There would be more unusual ways of coping.
The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Image from KelleyHouseMuseum.org
I’ve found stories of isolation compelling since I visited the Cabrillo National Monument and lighthouse in San Diego a few years ago. The museum there explained what lighthouse work was like at the time: a family lived in the lighthouse, visiting the small city of San Diego only every few weeks for supplies, a long two-day journey. They were otherwise alone, and had to rely on their ability to collect rainwater and provide their own entertainment. (Clearly they were often bored; so many things in that house were “decorated” with seashells!)
Even more interesting? The lighthouse assistant–often a woman–lived alone, in a small house nearby. While she was in training to take over the lighthouse in an emergency or possibly in the future, she did not eat or interact with the family. Her isolation was even greater than that of the lighthouse keeper, a man who could at least rely on his family to be there for him.
What inspires you?