Nov 4 2013

Solitude’s Reward

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Welcome to “my” front yard – an area of desert wonder, accessible for camping, observing, decompressing, rejuvenation.

This photo is actually taken from the backside of the butte that I can see from the front of my house (Arizona state land, not ‘mine,’ unfortunately. Can you imagine calling this your own?). Click to enlarge.

Despite having access to this incredible area since 2004 – which hubby and I have visited numerous times – this weekend was the first time we’ve camped overnight (Thanks Mark and Roxanne, fearless trail guides and seasoned campers).

The solitude, the quiet, the nature … Wow does it ignite the senses, and, it turns out: creativity.

Another view of the butte from a different mountaintop. Ocotillo and mesquite frame the photo. Click to enlarge.

This mining area, established in the early 1900s and defunct by the 1940s (though expected to start up again soon… UGH!) highlights beautiful geologic wonders, like this turquoise-green chrysocolla. Click to enlarge.

Our campsite is a local favorite, a once-lake at the top of a manmade dam, crowned by a magnificent cottonwood too big even to photograph. But if you look below, you can see one of its fallen branches, parallel to the mountain folds cast in the brilliant light of sunset.

I love how one of the mountain pleats is still hidden in shadow, mimicking the colors of the tree branch. Click to enlarge.

See that tiny orange dot to the left of the giant cottonwood tree? That’s Mark and Roxanne’s tent. Ours is out of view. Click to enlarge.

We took our Rangers on top of a nearby mountain to get an even better zoom out view of our campsite. See the giant cottonwood - again - in the middle of the green? That was the site of our home away from home. Click to enlarge (it's worth it!)

Of course, camping isn’t all relaxation and placid thinking. There was rain. It was completely unexpected and is never fun for tent campers. But the most disturbing – and exciting – incident was being awoken to something lapping water from the tarp right in front of our tent (at our feet, near the entrance). Something lapping loudly, I might add. I have no clue what it was, but the mind always tends to race after coming upon images like this, which we saw on the way up into the mountains:

Yes. More mountain lion tracks. Though I doubt this was our visitor, whom we think was a smaller critter, lighter on the feet (The absence of growling and the mountain-lion’s signature musky animal-smell were our clues). Click to enlarge.

Just so you know, though … There was a gun in the tent, between us – just in case. And Roxanne had hers at the ready when her dogs began to growl inside her tent at the nighttime visitor. Maybe it was a coatimundi? A raccoon? A skunk? Next time, we’re setting up our trail camera to see if we can capture the wildlife sauntering into camp.

All of this nature – exhilarating and relaxing – brings me back to the jolt of creativity I experienced. I want to write. I want to focus. With my head de-cluttered from the noise of social media and void of technology for only two days, I already feel the difference. Creative engines – mine at least – seem to fire when I’m in that solitary, focused mode.

How could I not be affected by these views?

See the two gentle sloping mounds in the right foreground? If you look directly between the dip that connects each, you’ll see in the mountains beyond, a light horizontal strip. That’s where I live! And those scraggly-looking sticks are ocotillos, void of their leaves in preparation for winter (as well as two regal but declining Century Plants). Click to enlarge.

So what’s the lesson learned from this camping trip? For me it was a good reminder of the importance of unplugging, feeling, seeing – and living – in the moment. It was a good reminder of the way those experiences feed my writing and feed me. As a result, you may not see me around as much in coming months as I silently focus on the creative endeavors that seem to be thwarted by too much noise.

For Readers, For Writers: Do you think technology, social media, news, television – all of these always-accessible media and moving parts – affect creativity? Do you think writers write better when they isolate for periods of time – or stop social media presence completely? Does nature impact your creativity the way it does mine?


39 Responses to “Solitude’s Reward”

  • avatar Jonathan Mugan Says:

    It looks wonderful. I would love to have a place where I could get away from the noise of civilization.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I didn’t realize how much I NEEDED that “get away” until we moved from Phoenix to here. I think you need to plan a family camping trip! 😉

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Those photos are breathtaking — and your camping trip sounds fabulous (by the way, I’ve never been on a camping trip that did not involve rain, so I know what that’s like…), and the lapping animal sounds terrifying (you know what a wimp I am). I agree that periods of isolation are critical for me as I write… sometimes I can balance those (with all the distractions) pretty well on a day in day out basis, but there are times that I need to isolate more completely and focus only on writing and on the nature around me. Which brings me to this: Enjoy the unplugged, decluttered writing time and the amazing, incredible natural views! Here’s to living the exhilarating writer’s life!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Yes, you seem to be an expert juggler! Me: not so much, unfortunately (did I mention that I’m jealous?). Thanks for the unplugged well-wishes!

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    Sooo jealous! It has been tooo many years since I enjoyed exploring the back and beyond in AZ or did any tent camping. A tent would probably not make the cut as far as enjoyment these days. But for those kind of views, I would give it a go. As always your pics are absolutely spectacular!! Thanks for sharing.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I have to agree that tent camping isn’t all that comfortable (my hips are telling me today, after sleeping on a flimsy foam mat that felt harder than the ground). You’re so right though: worth every ache, pain and discomfort for the views and air!

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  • avatar Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    Enjoy your semi-hibernation. I’ve been craving that a bit lately…so many little things to do they take up the whole big day and after a few weeks I realize I’ve done NO writing. Nature is a writer’s best friend, isn’t it? I feel such a personal connection with everything in nature, as if it’s there just to inspire me.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    YES! What you described is one of the key reasons I need to go into hibernation mode — the lack of writing as a result of social media and Internet activities.

    I think nature IS there to inspire us. A lot of people don’t realize it, though, and have no idea what they’re missing.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Oh my gosh, thank you so much for the virtual tour (minus the midnight water lapping outside the extremely thin tent wall). Clearly, you live in a breathtaking part of the country!

    When I’m in full-on-write-mode the ONLY thing I have on my laptop screen is my document. Everything else is logged off: no email, no internet, no nothing. Sort of like using a turbo-boosted typewriter from the olden days. And I’ve recently taken to enjoying a “digital detox” on Sundays – I just let all things technical/internet/social media rest and use the time to recharge my personal battery.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thank you, Laurie. I do feel privileged to call this area home! I have a crush on the desert, if it isn’t obvious :-).

    I love your discipline and the idea of a weekend detox (and I miss my old Smith Corona, by the way!). I need a much stronger detox than a day, I’m afraid. I think it’s interesting how we each find our own methods — or don’t — of working with information overload.

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  • avatar Manny Says:

    Well I can agree with you, I do my best sewing when I have peace and quiet. Love your pictures. Wish I was there.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Mom! This is the first comment you’ve ever left on my blog. How fun! And I know that your sewing takes concentration, too. Good thing you have one giant room for your peace-seeking. Wish you were here, too. Soon!!!!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Well, you already know what I think: Yes, yes, and yes. 🙂

    The photos are gorgeous, Melissa! That’s REAL camping.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Ha… I KNEW how you’d respond (Thanks for a scintillating post last week). Yes, that was real camping, and I loved it – rain and all.

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer (@Hallie_Sawyer) Says:

    Absolutely! My intention is to always use social media/technology as a reward after writing but it tends to come first then the writing never happens. It is such a time suck and it takes an iron will to walk away from it. I’m glad you found what you needed to recharge your creativity. It’s a good reminder to myself to keep the writing as the priority.

    The vistas you captured were amazing. Thank you for sharing a bit of your world with us. Lovely, as always!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Boy can I relate to your comment about trying to use social media as a reward, but that somehow it’s the first thing you do (for me, it’s the “Let’s get this done so I can focus on what’s important” mentality). And then the ‘what’s important’ gets the backseat. I also find that starting the day with social media totally changes my creative mindset – in a bad way. Wish you could come out and see these vistas with us!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Oh that spot!! As you know, my dear, it is one of our goals to camp as you all do–I cannot imagine how utterly breath-taking and transporting it is to camp in that landscape–your pictures took me there. I feel as if I have a sense of how remarkable that would be. Thank you, as always, for sharing your journeys with us. I can’t wait to share the pictures with the gang.

    And I love how you raise the point we have been discussing, and what better proof of that point than to experience a removal under those circumstances. Your writing is so deeply tied to the natural world so I can absolutely imagine how for you a total re-immersion into that environment (not that you’re ever removed from it, I know) would confirm everything we’d talked about–how good it is for the creative soul and focus to truly let go, or at the very least, pare back significantly. Every day I am reminded of that again and again. 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I would love NOTHING more than to host you guys for a desert camping excursion! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I can’t thank you enough, Erika, for your support as we’ve discussed this very issue. It’s meant so much to me to know that others feel the same way/understand the struggle. So glad that you’re finding the away-time from social media the perfect elixir for creativity! I can’t wait to get to that stage, myself. Here I come!!!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    I feel exactly the same way about getting away and unplugging. I think it’s so important for people today to remember what quiet and solitude are, and how it makes us better able to hear our own internal voices. I’m glad you had such a nice time camping!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    You’re so right … I think about younger generations,
    never having experienced a noiseless existence. They don’t realize,
    probably, how much they could gain by being stripped of the “advances”
    and literal bells and whistles around them.

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  • avatar Diann Says:

    How amazingly beautiful! I feel unplugged and like I can breathe more deeply just b looking at those photos.

    As for your question, I’ve been thinking a lot about that very subject lately. (It’s inescapable isn’t it?) Social media is such a double-edged sword. As a mostly work-from-home freelancer, it goes a long way to making me feel connected (and I’m not even very active). Unfortunately, I think it goes a MUCH longer way toward interfering with what I consider my “real” creative side–that part of me that thrives on diving deep and bringing to the surface something possibly more meaningful (at least to me).

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I’m so happy to hear that my photos transported you in that way!

    As a freelance writer now working exclusively from home, I can obviously relate to the double-edged sword that is social media. I’ve drawn the same conclusion as you, though: that the interference level is far greater to my creative side than I’d previously thought. Diving deep … yes… that’s where it’s at. Social media stops the frequency of those deep dives for me every time, and all I’m left with is shallow doggie-paddling. I agree 100% with ALL you’ve said.

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    I have to echo the sentiments of the other commenters: The photos are breathtaking! There’s no better place than nature to find the solitude needed to be our most creative selves.

    I wholeheartedly agree about needing time away from all the white noise in order to be our most creative. It’s one reason that I enjoy writing first thing in the morning — before having my mind cluttered with the craziness of the day.

    You need time to turn things over in your mind, time to piece different experiences together. I’m heading out west for a few days to visit a friend and I look forward to “disconnecting” as much as possible. Have you ever heard of a technology sabbatical?

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Yes, morning writing is sublime – IF you’re disciplined enough to do it. I seem to want to “just” check email first — before I get started with my day — and sometimes that is the beginning of the slippery slope to nowhere. Even with that morning approach and all its benefits, I feel like I need something “bigger” — a detox of great proportions so I can really get into the creative zone. A technology sabbatical sounds great. How long are they usually? Have you done it? Enjoy your disconnect out West. Sounds FABULOUS.

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    Jackie Cangro Reply:

    I’ve read about technology sabbaticals being anywhere from a long weekend to a month. Something about it is so appealing, but so hard to do. Amazing when you consider it wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t have any of this technology to take a sabbatical from. It’s become so ingrained in our lives.

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    What a beautiful place! I find the idea of camping so relaxing. The reality is that I can’t sleep in a tent, so I’m tired and grumpy the next day, which spoils all of the daytime camping activities I love. But unplugging, even if only on a day trip, does seem necessary to the creative process. Social media is usually a blocker for me. I have a few favorite blogs (like yours!) that feel more like chatting with friends and I sometimes read a useful and/or motivating essay, but usually, my time is much better spent with a pen in my hand.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    In many respects, we are the same. I RARELY sleep well while camping (I haver a snore monster right next to me and I DO hear every little sound outside the tent). Even so, I’m ready to go the next morning because of “where” I am.

    “Social media is a blocker for me.” Yes, yes, yes. But thank you for calling my blog one of your favorites. Just think: you won’t have my blog to distract you from YOUR writing soon enough! 😉 Though I may post some “Wordless Wonder” photos here and there.

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    Oh Melissa, your post makes me long to live somewhere like you! There are so many times I want to just move away and live simpler. I can’t blame technology too much since that’s how I make my living, of course. But what I wish is to be away from so much material stuff. I guess in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my simpler surroundings and look at your beautiful photos!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    True; it is probably hypocritical of me to lament the ways that technology has cut into my creativity, since my computer has been my breadwinner for the greater part of my career. But it doesn’t negate the fact, I suppose, that a consequence of technological immersion is a dulling of the senses (at least for ME, I feel that way – mostly because I’m inept at juggling and switching gears, I think). Let me know when you’re up for a visit! ; -)

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    That is a such a lovely area, and I can understand why you felt so inspired. I hope you get to do more of these types of trips in the coming months! And I also relate to the social media “mission creep,” and how frustrating it can be, sort of a hamster-wheel effect. I have a feeling that this trip will be serious fuel for your creative fire, 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    “Mission creep” — such a FABULOUS way of putting it, Mahesh! And of course, I DO feel like I’m on the hamster wheel, too … but not for long! I love your gut feeling that this will ignite some creative fire. I HOPE you’re right. Thanks, as always, for your support!

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  • avatar Milli Thornton Says:

    Loved all your photos, but especially the chrysocolla! I have a pendulum made of chrysocolla but this is the first time I’ve seen it in the raw.

    Setting up a camera next time to spot night-time visitors sounds very cool.

    I’m lucky because usually I can barely force myself to do social media. I see writers frittering their time away on Facebook and I wonder if they’re really happy. Entertained, maybe . . . but happy as a writer?

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    “Writers frittering their time away…but are they happy as writers?” I have an answer for you! You are wise to stay away, my friend. Wise.

    I hope you’re loving life in NM!

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  • avatar girl parker Says:

    Holy buckets, I am way behind! But I’m tickled pink that I started w a post that required you having a gun in your tent. HAAA!!

    I do believe slowing down clears out the noise in our heads. But when the going gets lonely, I’m sure glad there’s a community out there to connect with, like you!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Happy to amuse, Lori! I agree that social media has connected me to some absolutely fabulous people – like you- whom, even though we’ve not yet met in person, I really consider and call “Friend” — with an intentional capital “f.” That’s you, sock slider extraordinaire.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    You know I am right there with (minus the camping).

    Do you think technology, social media, news, television – all of these always-accessible media and moving parts – affect creativity? YES

    Do you think writers write better when they isolate for periods of time – or stop social media presence completely? PROBABLY

    Does nature impact your creativity the way it does mine? NO, but quiet does, and I think there’s a similarity. I finally succeeded in waking up really early three days over the past two weeks. They were my best writing sessions in a long time.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh, yes… you are definitely right about early-morning writing (and research). Something about rolling out of bed and just sitting down to write, write, write (or read, read, read – which is what I’ve been doing in the research phase of my writing now). Keep it up! I love those best-ever writing sessions.

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  • avatar Lura Slowinski Says:

    I think the noise does affect creativity, but it’s not always negative. There needs to be a balance. Sometimes I’ll go through periods of time when I don’t pay attention to the noise and that’s good, but there are other times when I do tune in and get a sense of my place in a larger scheme than what I come across on my day to day experience. I think both that attention to the here and now and to the wider world are crucial to creating, just in different ways. The quiet is where the creating happens, but the noise can inform what we create, if that makes sense.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I love your perspective, Lura. I agree that the “wider world” is essential to informing us creatively and that balance is key. I just don’t seem to be all that great at balancing the ‘outside noise’ of social media on a daily basis. Thanks for stopping by.

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