Apr 18 2011

Foggy Isolation

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like it’s just you in this world? I don’t mean a down-on-your-luck day where you’re sure the world will never stop its relentless kicking at the seat of your pants.

I mean the kind where you’re physically isolated. No one around. Stillness.

I had one recently. Hubby had to work on this particular Sunday, leaving at 5 a.m., so I’d slept in a bit, lulled by the sound of rain the night before. When I awoke an hour later, a curtain of fog began its descent upon our house, whispering from the San Pedro River valley.

The fog transforms these saguaros into ghostly apparitions and completely obscures a large mountain range – The Galiuros – in the background. Click to enlarge. Click forward button to see all photos.

The fog moved quickly, engulfing our ranch within minutes. I stood in the middle of our quarter-mile-long dirt driveway (camera in hand), suddenly enveloped by this milky thickness, a rare occasion to behold in the desert.

I swear time stopped right then. Everything changed around me. I could feel the moisture on my skin. I was now blind to the behemoth train trestle beyond our wash. And sounds, noises – chirping birds, cars passing by – they were all suddenly absent. Everything was still.

I felt oddly insulated. Singular. Protected. Alone. The moisture clung in the air, forming a kind of shield, a thermal blanket that seemed to wrap its way around our property. All the background noise of the world was muffled. Gone, really. Vanished.

If you haven’t experienced this kind of wonder, I hope you do. It was nothing short of spectacular. Inspiring. Humbling, too. (Scroll below for more photos).

For Writers: As writers, are we too insulated in our writing lives? Is it dangerous to be too happy in our own heads? Or is it vitally important to have that “alone time” in the mind – on our own little island of ideas? What happens when the background noise in your life is turned off? How might you work to achieve that kind of solitude occasionally? Should you?

Our long and winding driveway disappears into the fog, though the horse stable is still visible. Click to enlarge

The sun struggles to break through the fog near the watering hole we dug for wild animals. Click to enlarge.


49 Responses to “Foggy Isolation”

  • avatar K Says:

    WOW! What a lovely trio of photos to keep in my daydream closet for my crazy, busy day. Thanks for taking the time to nudge me into thinking and fantasizing about our special world, Melissa.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love the notion of a daydream closet! Did you happen to get this much fog up on your hill?

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    While I know this is not exactly what you’re talking about in this post…This is something I’ve thought about a lot lately — when my life is more tranquil and there is less “background noise,” I am a much more productive writer. When there’s a lot going on in the background or my head and I’m distracted, worried, or concerned (about a non-writing part of my life), my productivity as a writer goes way down.

    Regardless, the beauty of solitude and isolation in nature — that your description painted so vividly of the foggy desert — is also a critical piece of my writer’s mind. It’s one of the reasons I like to go to the ocean, where the water demands attention. Solitude and isolation are imperative parts of my writing life, but for me (as an introvert) it’s a fine balance between too insulated and alone and not enough alone time.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I can totally see how the ocean would provide this solace (and confess to being a bit jealous in our waterless abode). I think most of us might agree that when we’re distracted by other ‘things’ in life, – when the background noise is LOUD – our writing suffers. Thanks for stopping by, Julia, and for your continued support.

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  • avatar Amy Sue Nathan Says:

    I love days like that…usually for me there is rain involved. But quiet isolation with two dogs is a tricky thing. Good thing I’m a dreamer.

    Lovely photos. I’m glad you had one of those days!

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  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    Sometimes when I’m writing, I feel like my mind is enveloped in the fog of the story. I’m in the story and I don’t see or hear things in the real world. I LOVE it when that happens. The writing is so fun then. Other times, my mind is bright and sunny and it’s difficult to concentrate on the manuscript. Then the writing is work.

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    Melissa Reply:

    This is actually going to be the topic of a future post, V.V. – that state of “flow” that we sometimes achieve with our writing (and other projects) — and how to harness it all the time!

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  • avatar greentreez4me Says:

    Isolation is something i require! I get nothing dont though during these sessions! I sit and enjoy the cows the clouds and usually just let my mind wonder!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ah … but maybe those sessions are more productive than you think! Letting the mind wander and clear itself out can help with productivity after-the-fact!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Beautiful photos as always, Melissa.

    I think this is such a good question for all of us. Writing is a joy but its isolation can be challenging. The internet is a wonderful resource, and I know this will sound heathen-esgue of me, but I still miss the face-to-face communication of seeing people during the day. That said, I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know other writers and readers through Twitter, because before that, I think we were all REALLY isolated from one another. I think every creative endeavor benefits from the input of others–not to mention we as people. We are at risk of becoming too self-involved otherwise.

    That’s part of what I love about your posts–that you are constantly reminding us of the importance and the wonder in looking around us, in getting out of our heads to see where we fit into the big picture. It’s too easy to forget that!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I can relate to your sentiments of missing face-to-face conversation. That was the biggest adjustment for me when I began freelancing in 2001 (because I had previously been a social butterfly). Twitter has really helped me, too, in terms of connecting with such wonderful writers – especially now that I am in such a small town. And – so true… creating in a vacuum is never as good as creating with the help of others.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Breathtaking writing and photos, Melissa! It made me want to purchase a ticket to AZ and camp out on your ranch ’til I could feel the fog on my skin as you had described!

    Being a social butterfly who still needs the wrappings of her cocoon, I find that writing helps me love being around people — strangers, friends, relatives — and being around people helps my writing come alive through dialogue and descriptions. But if I spend too much time being social or too much time writing, the careful balance slips, and I am short with people and my writing starts to suffer.

    So, I suppose a lil’ fog, a lil’ sun is just what this gal needs.

    Thanks for another great post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I hope you WILL purchase a ticket and come visit me in AZ! I am the same social butterfly (and was less the cocoon-type before beginning my freelance career). But now I see the beauty in that balance that you refer to. It’s so important, isn’t it? Love the way you put it: a lil’ sun and a lit’ fog. Such a great way to look at it.

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I love those quiet moments. It reminds me of a time several years ago when I spent New Year’s with my husband and mother-in-law in her winter cabin. There was a lake not far from us that was completely frozen over. We took an early morning walk, sat on a log, and just listened to the silence. I don’t think I’d ever heard real silence like that (since I’ve always lived in a city).

    I crave that for my writing. That’s why my best writing is done early in the morning, before I feel like the rest of the world is up. I love to have “alone time” with my manuscript, and the silence is a huge part of that.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I can totally picture the cabin and the frozen lake – and your puffs of breath escaping into the cold air as you sat silently on the log. SO glad you were able to experience that departure from city life, if only once. It is really so refreshing and good for the creative soul. I’m the same as you when it comes to writing: must have silence, must have alone time.

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  • avatar Brandee Says:

    I have experienced this in a different way. I went to school in the Four Corners area, and our college was (is) up on a mesa overlooking town. There were days when we were literally in the clouds or above the clouds. It was surreal, and hushed and truly a magical experience.

    I am working on the isolation that I feel as a fledgling writer. I appreciate knowing that this is something that others struggle with, as well.

    Thank you for sharing this post…the photographs brought back some wonderful memories for me.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I think I went to the wrong college (no offense University of Mount Union). But this sounds truly breathtaking. What an inspirational setting for study (or, in my case, a distraction!) So happy my photos brought back pleasant memories, Brandee.

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    I loved this. I haven’t felt that sort of stillness since I was TRULY isolated in the Bob Marshall Wildnerness in Montana. I miss that. I miss the stillness, the quiet, the impenetrable quiet. I long for it so much. It’s not easy for me to get those sort of times anymore. I get close to it when I am up in the woods at my uncles. I miss living in the country. I miss being away from people and machinery. Savor those moments. As a writer, it’s hard these days. With a toddler running around I find it hard to get that time to get inside my mind and be still because of constant interruptions – cute interruptions though they are. Sometimes I feel it is harder to get that alone time in the mind with the internet and the constant barrage of sounds, tv, music, online stuff, etc… Sometimes I need to just pull away from it all.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh my … must learn more about the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Hubby and I LOVE Montana. Did you live there? The times at your uncle’s place sound wonderful, too – and something to cherish (especially with a little one demanding so much attention).

    I agree that there is sometimes too MUCH everyday noise. As you mention – TV, music, social media – it all has the power to draw us away from our creativity in some ways (but in other ways, it really can inspire). LIke you, I think getting away once in awhile can be therapeutic.

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    Tracy Mangold Reply:

    I’ve spent a good portion of my life in Montana. Used to go on packtrips as a little girl into the Mission Mountains and Bob Marshall with my family. We were friends with the outfitters. Then when I was a teenager, I went to work during the summer at the ranch and then after highschool, I worked at the ranch half a year – summers at ranch and on packtrips (cooking) and then in the falls – up in the Bob cooking in the hunting camp – (30 miles in the wilderness by horseback) No power, no running water – unless you count the creek. I lived in a walltent for three-four months every fall. Crosscut and chopped our firewood. It was wonderful. Loved it. Did that for about seven years..going to college during the Spring semester. Great experience! 🙂

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    I can SO relate to this! My favorite time of the day is after 9 p.m. when my daughter, animals and husband are all usually fast asleep. The house is quiet and still. And I can be alone with my thoughts and write. I love that time. I wish I had more of it.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    I love your beautiful photos of foggy desert, Melissa. We had a foggy day up here awhile back, after a tremendous day of rain. I couldn’t see across the cul-de-sak, it was so dense. It reminded me of being near the Pacific ocean, which I love. But was strange for these parts. The only time I’ve seen fog that dense in 8 years of living here.
    Time alone with ourselves is essential to being a writer, and also to our spritual selves. Coming from the very social family of origin I do I used to feel like I was different from others in my need to have some solitude, but I no longer feel that way, and no longer struggle against it.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Cynthia. I’m so glad you’ve found peace with that need for solitude. I am actually the opposite in some ways. I was always the social butterfly, so the insular world of freelance writing was, at first, very difficult for me. However, I’ve always drawn inspiration from nature to work out problems of all sorts and find that I’m drawn to it more and more as I focus on fiction writing. It seems to provide such a springboard for creative thinking.

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer Says:

    I feel like that when it snows, especially in the mountains. It muffles everything and all I can hear is my own panting breath, after tumbling halfway down the slope on my hiney. I love the feeling of being very small in a very big world. I agree with Julia about the ocean as well. That sound never gets old.

    However, in writing, a little too much of this makes me a little crazy. I enjoy the quiet moments: a rainstorm, the peace after the kids go to bed, or occasionally if I get up early. That kind of quiet gets my mind moving. But after a while, I start to twitch and my fingers reach for the mouse and somehow Twitter shows up on my screen.

    Now I’m hoping for a rainstorm…:)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh yes! I can remember that isolated feeling during snowy days in PA, too. Now that you mention it, I kind of miss it. Ha… I can relate to the Twitter twitches…

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  • avatar Katie Pickard Fawcett Says:

    Lovely pics…and, yes,solitude can be enchanting.

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  • avatar Shakirah Dawud Says:

    I lived for a couple years in a tiny town in upstate New York tucked into a mountain valley. The sky was huge there, since everything was so flat with the mountains in the distance, and it was very fog-prone in the mornings. I adored walking up to my bus stop in that quiet, gentle nowhere. But you know how it always seems to retreat just out of reach as you walk into its midst, so that you can be swallowed up but still have this seemingly clear space around you? It’s that part that really made me feel isolated, and I loved it. Reading your anecdote and seeing those pictures brought back that chilly-but-not-clammy feeling of moisture, and that quiet. Thank you!

    I tend to retreat into my mind during quiet times because living with family makes it hard to physically retreat on a regular basis. I find it satisfying. I simply pick out a sentence from an inner narrative already lurking in my mind (one I’ll probably never write down) and slowly spin out the rest of it like spinning a fine, fragile thread. It’s a fun exercise in creativity to see how far I can get with my self-storytelling before I lose my muse or the spell is broken.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, Shakirah … I want to visit the ” quiet, gentle nowhere” that you describe. It sounds heavenly. And yes, that clearing around you, which you described, is exactly what made ME feel so isolated (thanks for putting that into words). I love the internal retreats you plan for yourself and will have to try that out on my own; what a great way to exercise the creative mind.

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  • avatar Sharon Bially Says:

    Haven’t stopped by in a while and miss doing so! That feeling of splendid isolation you describe: to me, that is the definition of inner peace. And I’m all about it. When I lived in the south of France, there was a spot along a rarely-traveled back road overgrown with gorse and Spanish broom, overlooking a valley, where I used to go just to sit and think, or not think at all, losing track of time. I wish there were more moments like that now in this hectic, suburban, mini-van and work-driven life.

    As a writer, though, I’m able to reproduce the feeling in any environment when I’m in the right mindset. Then my family gets upset because I’m physically there, but mentally not.

    (PS – One of these days your spam protection is going to give me 2 numbers I cannot add!)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Missed you, too, Sharon. So glad you stopped by. The area you describe in southern France sounds so perfect! I love hearing about other people’s ‘isolated’ experiences and how they affect creativity. It IS so hard to carve out that time with all of life’s demands, I agree – which is why it’s so good that you have the ability to conjure that feeling on demand, no matter where you are.

    PS – I know … how evil of me to throw math questions at writers!

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    Shakirah Dawud Reply:

    Lol, I’m telling you! One time I commented I really had to stop and think about the answer! I was like, oh, come on, Shakirah, you KNOW this… 🙂

    Oh, no, here comes another one… 😛

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  • avatar Kimberly Says:

    Oh, yes, this kind of solitude is essential, not only for creativity in writing, but also just for being. Living in downtown Chicago, sometimes I have to seek out this kind of solitude to quiet my brain. There’s a secluded spot on the other side of the Planetariam, where you can sit in the grass and look out over Lake Michigan and can’t hear the city or traffic at all. It’s such a peaceful silence and I always feel rejuvinated when I get up to head back home. Now that Spring is desperately trying to make an appearance, I’m looking forward to visiting my spot soon and soaking in some solitude. Until then, I’ll just look at your wonderful foggy pictures and imagine such a peaceful place.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Your retreat sounds wonderful, Kimberly. I’m so glad you stopped by. I hope the weather finally cooperates for you so that you can enjoy that quiet space. I bet every big city has those little pockets of “solitude” if people are adventurous enough to try to find them.

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  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    Fantastic photos! You’re really great with your camera as well as your words.

    I’m a card-carrying lone wolf and an introvert, so solitude is my BFF!

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    Melissa Reply:

    You, a lone wolf? No way! Thanks for the compliments about my photography. I’m just lucky!

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  • avatar Sara Says:

    I’ve been thinking so much along these same lines lately. I worry I get too happy and comfortable in my head, and when I come out of there that life will be lonely. I do my best writing in isolation, but it doesn’t need to always be that way. My boyfriend works out of town months at a time, so it’s just too easy to slip into solitary writer land.
    However, if you aren’t one of those people that isolation comes naturally too, I do suggest you seek it out just for the sake of experimenting because it can be amazing and revealing.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Sara. I guess it’s all about balance – for those social butterflies AND for those introverts who write. I always joked about my freelancing gig being “perfect” in that I was around people during the week about 3 out of 5 days. I needed some face-time with humans, but not “too much.” I live rurally now and find I WANT to be around folks more (never happy?!). But that alone-time is IMPERATIVE for my writing. Must be quiet. Must be alone.

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  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    I loved the pictures, it looks like you are living in your own private paradise.

    There are days when I crave solitude, I need the silence to hear myself think, to speak with my characters and listen to their whispering voices. Then there are days I crave the company of family and friends.

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  • avatar Helen Cassidy Page Says:

    Perfect post and photos. I live on a busy street with buses and trucks rolling under my window and write in a closet (a big one) to get away from the noise, but this post transport me back to the times when I lived on country roads and let Mendocino fog hovering over the ocean inspire me. I love your blog (found it on twitter) and will put it on my blogroll.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hi Helen. So glad you found me and that you enjoy my blog. California is so beautiful; I can only imagine that fog hovering over the ocean. It sounds positively beautiful. You are THE example that, as writers, we can write ANYWHERE, if we make our mind up to do so! Thank you so much for adding me to your blogroll. I’ll be heading to your blog as well!

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    I think it’s SO important to have alone time and I don’t have enough of it. I honestly can’t imagine ever getting too far in my head. When that happens, it will be a good writing moment for me.

    p.s. these math questions are stressing me out. Using my fingers sometimes . . . so embarrassing. 😉

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    Melissa Reply:

    I imagine, with a small army of kids, that alone-time is a rare gift! Sorry about the math anxiety. That was my husband’s idea, not realizing that all of us writers stress out when we see numbers :-).

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  • avatar Emily on the Prairie Says:

    Feeling a sudden urge to throw a tent in the back of my wagon!

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    Melissa Reply:

    C’mon down, Emily! I’m so glad you visited.

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  • avatar Amanda Hoving Says:

    Those quiet moments are hard to come by, but I try to grab hold of them tightly when they do. As an aspiring hermit, 😉 I would love more of them, but my four children ensure that I get out in the world. It’s good though, because out in the world is where I find ideas, and in those moments of solitude I help them grow.

    Lovely pictures!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hi Amanda. I couldn’t agree with you more – that the world “out there” is where many ideas first take root. Four children… gulp. How do you get ANY writing done?

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  • avatar Jonathan Mugan Says:

    Wow, I love those pictures. I need to get out of this city.

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    First, can’t believe that’s your driveway. Gorgeous, what an inspiring home you have!

    Second, yes, yes, yes. Sometimes I get lost in my own head…a necessary personality trait in a writer, but sometimes it’s tempting to ignore reality. Fortunately, with three children reality is very loud. Can’t shut it out for long!! 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m sure three kids are quite the reality check, Stephanie! I do find so much inspiration where I live; I’m so lucky to call this slice of desert my home. So glad you stopped by. Your advice to me last week about us not being ‘professional bloggers,’ rather ‘novelists,’ really helped put things in perspective for me. Thank you, again.

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