Jul 28 2010

Mighty Mite

Melissa Crytzer Fry

My goal yesterday, when I set out with my friend and hiking buddy Kathy, was to show her a secret hot spring in the middle of the desert (shared with me earlier by buddy Roxanne).

The plan was to drive the quad to the site, take a peek without disturbing the natural area, then explore along the riverbed. As we were tooling along the outskirts of the riverbed, I looked to my left and, to my surprise, discovered that the normally dry river was flowing from the monsoon rains we’d been getting!

A failed trip to a nearby hot spring led to a hike that showcased this gorgeous velvet mite, a red-tailed hawk, Devil’s Claw plants, and more. Photo by Kathy. Click to enlarge.

So, before the flow got any heavier and whisked us away, we decided to formulate Plan B. After maneuvering up to higher ground, we parked the quad and set off on foot. Oh the things you will see and hear in the desert when you’re close to it, walking quietly!

We were mesmerized by the velvet mite, an insect that I learned comes out only during the rainy season – sometimes staying buried in the soil for years! His only source of food is the flying termites that seem to go nuts after a rain, swarming and skittering through the thick air. Velvet, by the way, is the perfect description for this mighty mite. I was tempted to reach down and pet him, but didn’t know if I’d be bitten (other fuzzy insects in the Sonoran Desert deliver painful stings).

Being the sweet tooth that I am, I took one look at this tiny insect and immediately thought, “Red raspberry Hostess Zinger!”

The trip didn’t end with the discovery of the velvet mite, though. We also saw a beautiful red-tailed hawk and heard intense reverberations coming from a large cavernous opening. At first, I thought that flowing water was moving beneath the rock somehow (maybe I was secretly hoping for hot spring no. 2?) … But when Kathy said calmly, “bees,” and I saw them – thousands of them – buzzing in and out, I realized how wrong I was.

That seemed as good a time as any to turn around and complete our trip through the sticky humidity. But what I learned most is that sometimes failed plans lead to even more discoveries!

For writers: Description is vital to storytelling, but sometimes it’s difficult to choose the right words to describe something you’ve seen. The technique of comparing one thing to something seemingly different is often helpful to readers, similar to my Velvet Mite – Zinger comparison. How can you incorporate this style into your writing? Did you ever think of comparing a character’s difficulty in socializing to squeezing out a half-empty tube of toothpaste? Or comparing spirals of dust falling to the ground to the whirly birds that often cascade from maple trees?

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