Last spring, I booked a one-way ticket to Italy. I was off to spend some time alone in a small, stone farmhouse at the bottom of a valley beyond the reach of Internet service or cellphone reception to work on a book I’m writing. Before I left, I sat down with Lisa Bonos to talk about my anxieties about spending so much time alone — and once I returned we did a recap for the Solo-ish podcast.
Though I went there seeking solitude, I feared I might be overcome with loneliness. However, developing a comforting routine quickly diminished my anxiety about living alone for an extended period. Instead, I began to fear being attacked by a wild boar.
I had been hoping to see a wild boar and looked for them on my daily walks up and down the hills outside my house. I heard they sometimes attacked humans by charging into them with their bristly noses and biting with their pointy teeth. I rehearsed what I would do if I encountered one of these ugly beasts: Scream. Wave my arms wildly. You couldn’t outrun them, I heard, so fleeing the scene would not work.
I imagined hobbling back to the farm after a boar attack and crying out “cinghiale,” the word for boar, and “ospedale,” for hospital. I’d already determined the location of a clinic in the small town nearby in case the neighbor wasn’t home and I’d have to drive myself there.
One evening at dusk, I heard rustling in the bushes and stopped to scan the woods that were barely lit by the setting sun. I spotted the mythical creature when it ran by me about 20 yards away. My desire for social media glory temporarily surpassed my fear of being attacked and I pulled out my cellphone to take a picture for Instagram.
By the time I got the camera turned on, the sound of running hooves petered out and the boar disappeared. I trembled with exhilaration and fear while I looked around for a rock. I picked one that had a sharp edge and held it in my hand the rest of the way home. I’m not sure what I was planning to do with the weapon if the animal returned.
Once a week, I’d drive to a nearby Franciscan monastery and go for a steep, two mile hike, which ended with a magnificent view. Though the trail was well-worn and clearly marked, I rarely saw another person. I wondered what would happen if I fell and hurt myself. If I was lucky, I’d stumble in a spot where I could use my cellphone to call for help. I’d memorized the emergency number for medical care: 118. Reception was intermittent, though. I was mentally prepared to drag myself down the mountain until I found a kind monk to assist me.
If I were severely injured and became unconscious, I hoped my boyfriend back home would spring into action if he didn’t hear from me after a day or two. Though we hadn’t been dating long enough to formalize a rescue plan, we communicated daily. He was resourceful and a bit of a worrywart. I felt confident he’d find me wherever I was.
I always carried my cellphone along with a portable battery charger. Even if my boyfriend didn’t come through, all the important people in my life were saved as favorites. The police would have been able to track down my next of kin easily.
Sometimes I think I should have been more scared to live in such isolation. I could have bled to death before anyone noticed I was missing. If I’d thought more about the dangers, I might have been too scared to go. I would have never seen the wild boar or hiked up that mountain. I wouldn’t have learned that I would flourish during nine weeks (mostly) alone. I returned to America unscathed.