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A Time-Share Cottage at Walden Pond � Chef�s Choice Six Will and Ellen Culbert don�t mind being alone. They can�t wait, they say, to get away from the chaos of the city, its frantic pace, the soul-robbing throngs. They would go �stark raving mad� (her words) if they couldn�t escape to their haven on the coast every few weeks despite the long, gas-guzzling commute.

And so during the warm months, but seldom after the weather turns, the Culberts make their two- or three-night soul-replenishing pilgrimage to the beach -- never longer and always together.

�More than three days, I get antsy,� says Ellen, who is 58. �That�s just too much aloneness, I�m afraid.�

Will, 63, a retired marketing executive, pats his wife�s arm. �You can take the girl out of the city,� he says reassuringly, �but you can�t take the city out of the girl.�

They really relish the peace and tranquility, Will stresses. �Getting back to nature, having some peace and quiet and time to think is vital to our equilibrium. But I don�t think either of us would enjoy doing it alone.�

They always come fully prepared to make the most of their precious time away from the bustling city, Ellen points out. Upon their arrival, they immediately haul out the electric barbecue, set up the deck chairs, restock the pile of wood by the living room fireplace and run up the black-and-white windsock in the shape of a wide-mouth bass twisting in the wind.

�I erected the flagpole the week we bought the vacation home,� Will says, �not just to raise the Stars and Stripes on appropriate occasions, but also so friends will know as they drive by that we�re back at the beach. We enjoy people dropping in.�

�We�re not antisocial,� Ellen makes it clear.

�We�re not loners or mopers or lie-abouts, �she adds quickly. �We enjoy doing things with people -- the more the merrier. And we love to exercise.�

A morning jog and an afternoon bike ride are part of their daily regimen, Will points out -- rain or shine. �After all, we�re native Northwesterners,� Ellen chimes in proudly.

Their evenings are spent reading, but they also enjoy watching movies. More often than not, they�ll rent a video but occasionally drive to the tri-plex cinema in a nearby town.

�We love our place at the beach,� Will says.

�We�d go mad if we couldn�t escape here,� says Ellen.

Why, then, did they put the house up for sale a few weeks ago?

�Well, we�re looking for something closer to the city,� Will explains.

�Not quite so isolated,� adds Ellen. �With more things to do.�

For these tentative Thoreaus, then, a time-share cottage at their Walden Pond might be preferable to a primary residence, for though most of us covet a tranquil place in which to be still and serene, to touch once more our true and natural selves, we can bear these pastoral retreats only for so long.

Conditioned by society to regard those who choose to be alone with contempt tinged with awe, we think of new hermits as did Samuel Johnson: �The solitary mortal is certainly luxurious, probably superstitious and possibly mad.�

In our supersonic age fixated on unrelenting productivity and achievement, we look on them with a mixture of envy and suspicion, for as Thomas Merton noted, �The solitary is necessarily a man who does what he wants to do. In fact, he has nothing else to do. That is why his vocation is both dangerous and despised. Dangerous because, in fact, he must become a saint by doing what he wants to do, instead of doing what he does not want to do. It is very hard to be a saint by doing what you like.�

And even harder doing it alone.

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Lionel Fisher is the author of Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001). Reach him at beachauthor@hotmail.com to share your thoughts on magnificent aloneness.