When you choose to live in isolation

Maxim Artyomov has his animals for company.
Maxim Artyomov has his animals for company. / SUR
  • While we’re all locked down in our homes, missing being able to walk down a busy street with our friends, Maxim Artyomov chooses to cut himself off from the rest of the world

More and more people are suffering from the prolonged isolation, wondering "when's it all going to end?" However, some have gone to great lengths to achieve self-isolation, not just as a temporary measure in a health crisis, but as a way of life. Such individuals want the escape from people and civilization to be continued for ever. Ten years ago, Maxim Artyomov took the decision to leave his intense life in the megapolis of Moscow for a quiet plot of land in the middle of a Spanish forest.

When did the idea of living in isolation occur to you?

Actually, in my childhood. I lived in a settlement in the Siberian region of Yakutia. In spite of its small size, I already dreamt of living in a totally deserted place, somewhere deep in the forest, where I could work as a biologist and study animals and their behaviour.

Is it possible to survive in frosty Siberia living totally alone?

Actually yes. There is a good example - Agafia Lykova, perhaps the world's most remarkable hermit. When she was a child, in 1936 her family had to flee from the "red virus" - Soviet communists. Her parents were Orthodox Old Believers. So they were targets for Stalin's religious persecution. Only in 1978, after being spotted from the air by a group of geologists, the family was suddenly discovered on a remote mountainside in the deep forest.

But when you were 20 you left Siberia not to be in the middle of nowhere...

After school I left the wooded Siberia for the "concrete jungle" of Moscow. Of course, life in any mega-city offers a lot. I managed to get higher education at the university and was successful by establishing my own business. But soon I felt myself being, as we say in Russian, like a "squirrel in a wheel". Daily work was already considered by me not as living, but rather surviving. So I became disappointed and tired. In addition the hypocrisy, intrigue, stress, and superficial style of life in general pushed me to look for a shelter in Spain.

This looks like downshifting...

Yes. And I am not a pioneer of it, even in my country. Those people, who consciously choose to live simpler lives, have always been respected in Russia. In the modern society with its Facebooks and WhatsApps, it is not easy to concentrate on looking for what is the meaning of life. I think you need to create a vacuum bubble around yourself and avoid media intrusion. At the beginning of this century many Russians who had enough of living in a consumerist culture started dreaming of leading a simple life. For example, some of my friends settled in India and Thailand, where the cost of living is cheaper than at home. Actually, I also wanted to settle near the beach of the Costa del Sol or even the wilder area the Costa de la Luz...

But in the end you gave preference to the forests in the north...

Yes. First I started travelling by car around the whole of Spain until I saw green forests with pine-trees covering picturesque mountains. This landscape immediately reminded me of Yakutia. When I suddenly came across a clearing with ruins of an old stone house I fell in love instantly. I bought a trailer and started living in the forest. There was a derelict well which I restored. I must say, that the fresh air and the water made me feel physically better. From the first day I started constructing the walls of my future house with stones. I learnt many things by doing.

For example, I made a kind of smokehouse from an old metal barrel, where I prepared fish I caught myself in the sea. I bought two goats, three sheep and a cow and they eat the fresh grass all year round. In this way I have milk and make kefir and fresh cheese. Hens give me eggs and I bakemy own bread. I became a real peasant.

It sounds like your childhood dream came true in Spain...

Yes. Although I didn't become a biologist, I surrounded myself with animals. Even wild ones - boars, deer, hares - they all visit me from time to time. The bees are surely more than welcome. So now they live in my apiary. Moreover, as a kid I wanted to ride horses and in Spain I managed to buy a horse called Rai, who helps me cultivate the land. Most of my vegetables and fruit come from my orchard and garden. Apart from my horse my friends are a cat and a dog.

What about your own entertainment?

In self-isolation you can enjoy silence, and it makes you pay more attention to details. I can watch a spider creating its web for hours. I have a camera and started taking pictures. Actually, in nature you become more creative. I started painting and sell my pictures. It helps my income and in summer I rent out a hut I built.

During this lockdown many are on their own and feel quite lonely. Any advice to overcome that loneliness?

First of all, it is necessary to understand that there is a huge difference between being lonely and being alone. I assume, that a great number of people feel lonely in physical isolation. But it is important to learn to enjoy your own company. If you survive, it means you are really self-sufficient. Here I don't speak about independence. I want people to focus on their autonomy. So, quite a few people experience emotional isolation.

Technology helps us to avoid it. As for me, in my darkest moment I say to myself that there are people out there who are thinking of me. In this situation with the lockdown nobody is alone - we are together... though isolated.