Bear Spray, Princesses, and the Wandering Mind

I recently took an amazing vacation to Alaska. We hiked (to glaciers, lakes, waterfalls), fished at the break of dawn (which is REALLY early in Alaska in the summer), flew to the wilderness, and generally spent our time doing, moving, and going, not resting and relaxing. But despite this, my mind felt like it was being completely renewed after a long brain marathon that started before I can remember.

I realized this near the end of our trip as we hiked back from a lake where my husband had skipped rocks surrounded by snow topped mountains, green forests, sparkling water, and no people. (I posted a picture just so you could see what I mean.) DSC00820I had just passed another indigo wildflower, which led my mind to ponder on the abundance of blue wildflowers in Alaska. They seemed to be more common than at home. And you know what, my brain said, utility vehicles have blue lights here, unlike at home. I wonder why. Is there a reason that there are more blue flowers and blue lights? Are there really more blue flowers, or is it the season, or my bias? My brain just kept going. By the time we reached the end of the hike, I had come up with a citizen science wildflower database idea that could span the continent and provide me with the means to answer all my wildflower questions. Also, I like databases, which is weird, but I’m weird, so there you go.DSC00811

After imagining my wildflower database and all that could go into creating and running it, it occurred to me that this was not my first idea of the trip. I had also thought up a bear spray rental business idea and a new story idea about a bunch of princesses that go to summer camp together before they have reached their Once Upon a Times. I even wrote a page or two and did a brief outline.

Now some of you may come up with ideas on a daily basis, and be wondering why it’s noteworthy that my brain was that active. But I am not that mentally productive in real life. I do not come up with well-organized business, writing, and scientific ideas on a regular basis. So, for me to have all of them in one week is pretty amazing.

I began to wonder why. Why had my mind gone into productivity mode? It wasn’t because I was bored and had nothing to think about. We had seen glaciers and bears.


Note the people for scale. Glaciers are amazing!

(BEARS! They were twenty feet away.) DSC00799

We had flown on a tiny plane into an area so beautiful and remote it was almost creepy. We had spoken with people from around the world. There was so much to see and to do and to look at, it surprised me that I had time to think at all. And not only that, but I wasn’t even tired. After a normal day at home, I usually feel like my brain has just summited Mount Everest. By the time I put my kids to bed, I am only capable of watching Netflix and (on a good day) knitting.

But on this trip, I gave my brain a break. I didn’t have to work. I didn’t have to write. I didn’t have to keep track of three other tiny humans. I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go. And where it wanted to go was to some really great ideas. All it needed was the chance to wander. I guess the point of this (besides having an excuse to post more pictures from my trip) is to say that letting your mind wander is important. Brains need a little freedom too.

I’m not sure how to make this productive mind-wandering time happen in real life, but it would be nice to be able to experience it more than once a year or so. How do you let your mind wander? Does it boost your productivity like it did mine?

I don’t know that the ideas I had in Alaska will ever become concrete. Some of them need a lot of research (wildflowers) or funding (bear spray), but you never know. (I’m really hoping I find the time to develop the princess story, because it’s great.) They are in my head now, and that is the first step.

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2 Responses to Bear Spray, Princesses, and the Wandering Mind

  1. Ashley, This is just my theory, but I think novelty gives our brains a creative jolt. In our everyday setting, they seem to go into snooze mode, but when we go hiking or see new sites, they perk up. The closest I can get to making this happen at home is to go on walks and try to pay attention to my ideas and thoughts. I used to listen to audio books while I walked, but now I use my phone to record ideas that come to me while I walk. Judy

  2. Welcome back! I’m so glad your trip was refreshing and full of adventure and new ideas! Definitely agree about the importance of wandering/resting brains. The most common thing that I find helps my brain wander is weeding. Some combination of rote activity and dirt under the fingernails makes fresh ideas come. Also, painting can help.

    And I think that princess summer camp idea is adorable, and would totally read it!

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