A Natural Love Story

I’ve told you how much I love barns, that I used to want to live on a farm, that my son currently does, and that I still sometimes think I should have had the courage to try rural living. Might still. For now, I live vicariously through Melissa Crytzer Fry, whose natural surrounding inspires her own writing, and mine. I asked her to write a love story for February and, no surprise, she wrote about her landscape:

As I sit writing this post, my Jeep idle at the side of Cowboy Miller’s dirt road, it’s easy to share my love story. In front of me, majestic saguaros rise from the desert landscape, their perfect-postured trunks caressed by morning sunlight, a cloudless sky of deep blue their canvas.

Cholla cacti, as dangerous and ornery as they are with their double-barbed spines, glisten like happy tinsel. A cactus wren trills, hisses, and quiets. The only thing I hear is the urgent call of a gila woodpecker and the slight rustle of squat paloverde trees, their lime-green trunks a welcome sight amid hues of winter brown. The open-range cattle are nowhere in sight.

My view as I wrote this post

My view as I wrote this post

I’ve officially lived in Arizona for 16 years now (a Pennsylvania transplant). One might say, “Ah, by those standards, you’re a long-term desert dweller.” The truth is: that didn’t really happen until I moved from the middle of the city (downtown Phoenix) into the desert (outside of Tucson). And, yes, this is where I fell in love: with desert vistas so wide, no camera could capture the endless mountainous skylines; where the air is so clean, a thousand deep lungfuls would never seem enough; where I sit amid the proof of nature’s ire and force: volcanic mountain ranges molded, crushed and scraped away by the hands of time and by her great breaths of wind, her fierce monsoon rains; where also I am enveloped by her beauty: wildlife fierce and free, wildflowers of flaming fuschia, sunshine yellow, deep violets and dusty pinks.

This is where, indeed, I fell in love with nature. Again. For years, I’d let my inner “wild woman” grow dormant. Amid the pavement and office buildings smacked down into the sprawling desert Valley of Phoenix, I’d lost something of the farm girl I once was. The girl who played in haymows, who stared at copper-colored salamanders with awe, hunted for settlers’ graves in the woods, held tree frogs with care, rescued deer mice, and never grew tired of the rippling effect of a stone upon water.

I didn’t know what to call it – this missing piece – but I now know, after reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s book Women Who Run with the Wolves, that I was in search of a reconnection with my Wild Woman. (Incidentally, Estes believes we all have that Wild Woman instinct, eroded over time by societal expectations and outside pressures, not unlike the mountain range that flanks my view. Yes, even you city dwellers who prefer your nature in a vase on the dining room table – you have traces of Wild Woman in you yet. Not just a longing for nature, but wild, noble, fierce instincts.)

As Estes states, “It’s not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own inner wild natures fades.”

Prickly pear cactus shaped like a heart

Prickly pear cactus shaped like a heart

This is why I love the desert. It is wild, still. The evidence of man here is slight – sometimes nonexistent – and always restorative. The other benefit: the unexpected connections to creativity and spirituality.

The crackle of dried desert wildgrass. The calling of ravens.  Access to hundreds of miles of open range pasture. Unlimited creative possibility. Happiness. Yes, this is my love story.


Melissa Crytzer Fry is a freelance writer and journalist living out her writing dream in southern Arizona and blogging at What I Saw (MelissaCrytzerFry.com). Her literary novel, Bedside, was named a finalist in the 2011 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. Twitter: @CrytzerFry.

27 thoughts on “A Natural Love Story

  1. What a beautiful post — so evocative of the southwest and so fascinated to learn about the Wild Woman re-connection. I’ve never heard of it but there’s no question that when I was driving across the country last summer, it indeed felt like (as you know and advised) I was getting back in touch with that inner part of me. A great post, so happy to find you here, Melissa! (p.s. Jess, I’ve always wanted to — still want to — live in a barn, too! I say never give up!)

  2. Beautiful! I fell in love with the desert when we traveled, first by camper and later by boat, in Baja California. The contrast of the desert against the sea was mesmerizing. I think I discovered my “wild woman” there, and continue to explore it in by blog. Thank you for sharing this writer with us, Jessica. I will be checking out her blog and her novel.

    • Nice to meet you Deborah. While I’m in the Arizona desert and not California, I agree about the sea/desert contrast! I love that you discovered your Wild Woman during your travels and even more excited to hear you’ll be writing about it on your blog. I’m off to visit YOUR blog as well. (My novel is not yet published. Still working on making that dream come true, but thank you for your interest!)

  3. This perfectly brings to mind the desert that I have known. People often think of the desert as nothing but dust and dry heat, but there is so much more to it. The desert is alive with nature – creatures, desert plants, and beautiful vistas. What a beautiful post. I enjoyed it very much.

    • I agree, Michelle … I have family members who come to visit and say the same things: “It’s so brown. Everything’s dead.” Quite the contrary! I find it amazing that so many plants and animals have adapted to tolerate the heat, which, on the ground is sometimes 120 degrees. I’ve seen insects and critters I’d never seen in Pennsylvania, and we live near one of the most diverse river beds in the nation (we get all the birds migrating between S. America and the US) – such diversity!

  4. Wonderful post, Melissa! We are kindred spirits in so many ways. Without the wilds of the woodlands and communing with nature and her creatures, I would wither.

  5. This was so beautiful, Melissa. What I love most is that I truly felt the love in your words as you described things that so many of us probably overlook. I may not be a desert person but you have convinced me to look at it in a very different light.

    You have no idea how much I want this to be my love story. There are so many times while on vacation in Colorado or driving through the Flint Hills of Kansas that I am moved to tears. It’s as if my soul is sighing. I know my kids would love it but my city slicker husband needs to be close to civilization for his job. He says he loves the outdoors as well but he is like the mayor wherever we go that I’m not sure he would be truly happy. But I think the views and calm could be very convincing. It’s in my ten-year plan for sure. 🙂


    • Thank you, Hallie; it means a lot that my voice came across genuine to you. It is SO difficult when spouses aren’t on the same ‘geographic’ page. The interesting thing for me is that my hubby grew up 15 minutes from Manhattan, and he has embraced the rural life equally. If he hadn’t, I don’t know what I’d have done: withered some more, as Beth says, above. Though I think there ARE compromises — even if you can’t move permanently to a rural area, you can always plan weekend retreats to cabins (or GIRLS’ weekends like I do!!), or go on scheduled nature walks, or just lie on your back and stare up at the sky. Nothing wrong with a 10-year plan, either, to both you AND Jess. I just want to be sure I’m invited to wherever it is you both end up! 😉

  6. What a lovely, evocative essay, Melissa. Well done! I’m off to add Women Who Run with the Wolves to my to-read list. I’m currently reading A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, written in the 1940s by a conservationist decades ahead of his time. His words about man’s need for wild places really resonate with me. I think you’d enjoy his essays.

  7. I love this. I know I’m late to this wonderful party but I never miss the chance to check in with one of my favorite “women of the wild” and her camera.

    Melissa, I couldn’t agree more that women possess–as strongly as men, but maybe in different ways–a craving to connect to our natural world–how can we not? I have always said that is why I am so drawn to the ocean. The rhythm of the tide, the surf–I think it’s impossible not to connect ourselves to nature, and yet we spend so much time and effort trying to control it, or live outside of it. Even something as simple as watching a bird feed at a feeder can break that invisible wall we as a culture continue to raise. Taking a moment, taking a breath, can make all the difference.:)

    • Oh, Erika.. You’ve said this SO well! Why is it, I wonder, that we do spend so much time fighting this call to the wild today? Clearly, it’s hurting us in ways not understood. I agree — a simple breath, a bird-watching episode, a glance into the starry skies: somehow it always calms.

  8. Melissa, your lovely descriptions make me want to leave this concrete jungle and run away to the desert right now. I remember my trip to Tucson years ago. The saguaro cacti were absolutely enchanting. I think about them often — so stately and serene — kind of majestically presiding over the hills. I hope to get there again soon.

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