The Sweetness of Solitude

 

Traffic. I detest it.

The cars were at a standstill, two lanes thick. Hope was doled out sparingly a few feet at a time every minute or two. After what seemed an endless wait the bottleneck was released, but then immediately the two lanes merged into one. Plodding along at 25 miles per hour, crankiness was brooding under the surface as I wondered why I should be stuck in a jam of cars and people in this place.

This was not a weekday commute on the interstate of a crowded metropolis; it was a beautiful October weekend at one of America’s most spectacular national parks in southwest Utah.

I can’t blame the hoards of tourists and photographers from all over the world for swarming to Zion in autumn, as it is one of the great spectacles of the American Southwest. But I was in no mood for congestion. I craved quiet and solitude where I could create in peace.

 

Climbing the switchbacks toward Zion's east side grants a stunning view of the main canyon

Climbing the switchbacks toward Zion’s east side grants a stunning view of the main canyon

 

The vast majority of Zion National Park’s visitors congregate along the main canyon road, where the beauty slaps you in the face with its utter grandeur. But I knew on this day I had no patience for these crowds, so I drove past the renowned Zion Canyon Drive and wound my way up the switchbacks, through the long dark tunnel, and out into the light of Zion’s east side.

Here, the number of cars and people are a tiny fraction of those crammed into the valley on the west side. Immediately I began to feel tension starting to release. Though the landscape on this side of the tunnel was less famous and more subtle, I knew it would suit me photographically. And most importantly, I knew I would find the delicious solitude I craved.

I navigated the curves of this much quieter road and found a promising pullout at the entrance to a small side canyon. From the road I caught glimpses of glorious autumn color lining parts of the canyon, and with much anticipation I hoisted my photo pack and tripod on my back and began climbing down a rough path leading to the canyon floor. I prayed for God’s grace to give me eyes to see his glory, and for the ability to make inspiring art in his world.

This little canyon proved a very blessed choice indeed. Right away I was treated to intense reds and oranges of lovely late-October maples, and further along in my wandering I came across a captivating mini slot canyon. There was more to explore and photograph than would fit in one day so I was happy to return to this and other nearby side canyons on Zion’s eastside for several more days of exploring and photographing sandstone patterns, autumn leaves, mountain goats, and sunsets.

 

Showy maples bring jaw-dropping color to the autumn party on Zion's east side canyons

Showy maples bring jaw-dropping color to the autumn party on Zion’s east side canyons

 

Characterful sandstone walls in glowing reflected light bring a mini slot canyon to life in Zion N.P.

Characterful sandstone walls in glowing reflected light bring a mini slot canyon to life in Zion N.P.

 

As much as I loved making images here, it was the sublime solitude that I most cherished. Not another soul interrupted my free-flowing thinking down in these canyons. While the crowds filled the main tourist sites and visitor centers ten minutes away, I basked in the deliciousness of being utterly alone. When God assigned my personality he made me an introvert, and it is in sweet solitude that I am strengthened and refreshed. It is in solitude where I best process my thoughts, ponder decisions, do my most inspired creating, and work my hardest. Solitude prepares me to love and serve people; without enough quiet alone time I quickly become no good to anyone.

 

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“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
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And it is in solitude where I most naturally commune with my Creator and think on his amazing glory. During these quiet canyon hikes my mind was occupied with the Good News of God revealed in Scripture – that fallen rebels like me have been outrageously loved and forever forgiven by trusting in the perfect once-for-all performance of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, very God himself. A free gift! No earning required, nor even possible. All of mystifying grace, none of me. There are depths to this spectacular salvation found in the pages of the New Testament that I am only just now beginning to comprehend, and what I’m seeing is creating a profound paradigm shifting in how I relate to my Father in Heaven and live out of his love. I hope to write about these things in the coming new year.

 

A solitary fallen maple leaf complements the textured lines of sandstone during autumn at Zion

A solitary fallen maple leaf complements the textured lines of sandstone during autumn at Zion

 

If any readers are in the mood to share, I would love to hear your comments about the idea of solitude. Is it something you crave? In the hustle of work and family and holiday chores, do you find you don’t get enough restful silence? When you are able to carve out time alone, what do you do with that time? What occupies your mind? Does solitude renew your spirit? Or like one of my good friends, do you find being utterly alone more draining than it is rebuilding? I would love to know my readers better if you are so moved to share your thoughts.

 

“In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.” – Richard Rohr

 

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4 responses to “The Sweetness of Solitude

  • Barb

    I can so relate Ross! I crave solitude and my most favorite place to find that is in the mountains with the smell of pine and the whisper of the tall pines among total silence. That is the most refreshing times that I get. I worship the Lord in my heart and revel in His creation. Alas, I rarely get to do that. Maybe 2-3 times a year which is sad when we live at the foothills of the Blues, just a 10 minute trip up the mountain puts me in the pine. So my frequent moments of solitude come at 3 or 4 in the morning when I usually spend time in the Word and listen to some of the old hymns that declare the Lord’s glory. Occasionally I miss church so that I can have the house to myself and I turn on the music and worship God, singing and sometimes weeping in prayer and conversation to Him and that is refreshing. My job requires that I be social and even though it goes against the grain it is what God has also given me a gift in and that is relating with people. It seems odd to me and can only be something that our God can do…..long for solitude yet be able to be a relational leader at work. God is amazing and He gives me just what I need when I think I can’t take the social scene anymore, He meets me on my drive to work on some mornings….this mornings 30 minute drive for instance was full of tears and prayers and worshiping my Heavenly Father. I felt refreshed and whole when I got to work and able to meet the demands of my job. Thank you for sharing and thank you for the beautiful glimpses of creation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ross Martin

      Hey Barb, thank you so much for sharing! I am fascinated by what you wrote. First, I relate deeply to the smell of pines and wind in the trees and am visualizing that now, but feel sad that you are not able to get that sublime experience more often. Second, I too have been known to stay home from church when needed to have that quiet that is so healing. Third, I’m amazed how you know yourself to not be built for lots of socializing yet you must do it daily in your work. I feel that pain for you! And am amazed at the ways God is faithful to strengthen and refresh you as needed.

      Like

  • Melissa Stiles

    Thank you for sharing your amazing photos and thoughtful words about solitude. Ross. I really like the pink color in the leaves and rocks and appreciate your prayer as you started your photo hike and work. I like the Spurgeon quote too. Being alone and quiet before God shows that we have contentment in Christ. Jesus is all we need.

    Like

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