Jan 17 2011

Rancher Wannabe

Melissa Crytzer Fry

A few days before Christmas, I had the opportunity to tag along with one of my college buddies to a ranch in southern Arizona.

Dark clouds were beginning to blanket the sky, precursors to the upcoming rain, snow, and hard freezes that would plague us for the next week. Dusk was also approaching, making my friend, who works with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, wonder if he’d be able to get photos of the fifth-generation ranching family that he sought.

The chill of upcoming weather didn’t dampen my spirits as I looked out toward the Galiuro Mountains. Click to enlarge. See photos below of canyon wren and cardinal.

It was actually questionable as to whether we could reach the ranch that splayed out like green quilts beneath the Galiuro and Santa Catalina mountains. You see, the 14 miles of meandering dirt roads leading up to the ranch actually crossed several normally dry washes that were likely to be flowing from the previous night’s mountain rainwater.

For me, all the ifs added to the fun, though. Would we find the ranch before sunset? Would we be paddling through a flowing wash (and would my city-slicker friend know how to navigate the 4WD through the water)? Would the ranch owners welcome this stranger (me) tagging along for no apparent reason?

Fortunately for me, the family was quite receptive and friendly. They were lovely, in fact. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave. While they were being photographed, I wandered around, taking in the sights and sounds.

I listened to the sharp trill of a cardinal on a naked tree branch, his fiery red plumage further dulling the tawny feathers of the dozen house sparrows flanking his side (see photo below). I talked with three little boys from Nevada as they sat atop two sorrel quarter horses, divided between them. I was struck by their vigor, their excitement to be spending the holidays with their ranch-hand grandfather, and their skill at handling horses about twenty times the size of their small bodies.

I witnessed a peculiar Bell-blue phone booth on the edge of a rural dirt road, placed there in the middle of a field, specifically for cattle buyers. Yes, I even smelled the crisp scent of cattle … and their earthy, shall we say, “aftereffects.” I saw a cow hide drying on a fence post (not for the faint of heart), watched giant hay bales and cattle as they were loaded on to a trailer, and watched a majestic red-tailed hawk glide to a perfect landing in a sycamore tree, apparently fascinated by the photo session as he peered beneath the tree’s bony branches.

And did I mention the endless emerald green fields, their sharp juxtaposition to the towering Earth-toned Galiuro Mountains behind them – mountains turning a gingerbread pink as the sun set? In case you couldn’t tell, I honestly think I could have stayed forever.

For Writers: This ranch wasn’t far from my home (mind you, us ‘country folk’ don’t measure distance the same as most). But it felt like a completely different world. I simply couldn’t get enough. That feeling – of never wanting to leave – that’s what we strive for when we create new worlds in our novels.

We all hope that our readers will want to stay forever in the world we’ve created, reluctant to close the last page of the book. Which novels have you read, where you’ve been disinclined to leave a fictional world?

In 2011, my goal is to continue creating that kind of vibrant world in my novel – one that my readers don’t want to leave, even if they don’t love the desert southwest the same way I do. My goal as an author is to help readers experience the setting, become a part of it, to fall in love with it … the same way I have.

Canyon wren posing for me at the corral. Click to enlarge.

Cardinal and house sparrows in tree near the corral. Click to enlarge.


12 Responses to “Rancher Wannabe”

  • avatar Marianne Smith Says:

    Melissa,
    This was beautifully put. Speaking as one who writes daily from a ranch, you captured the magic of it. As for reads that I don’t want to leave, I like anything set near the water. Provides a similar yet different refuge for me.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you so much, Marianne. Do you actually ranch? I love that your writing setting is similar to the above description. How invigorating! My hubby and I, ourselves, have what we call a 40-acre “ranch,” but I’m afraid it doesn’t count, as all the horses are gone, and we have no livestock.

    I agree with you that water settings are completely engaging, too. A home with a “running stream” or some type of water is my husband’s second dream locale. Thanks for commenting!

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    Marianne Smith Reply:

    Melissa,
    We raise Registered Miniature Donkeys and have an assortment of horses and Pygmy goats, along with the usual barn cats, inside cats and a giant dog. I’ve found that I write best watching horses walk by my office window. Our home is located in the middle of our pastures, so I always have that land and critter connection that fuels my creative side. I need to be connected to land and animals to write well, though my hub’s mantra is “Houseboar and a Harley!” The water would work, too, but I think I’ll save that for retirement. Good to connect with you!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Your comment, “I need to be connected to land and animals to write well” says it all. I can relate! Great to connect with you as well!

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  • avatar Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud Says:

    Creating that kind of setting–rich in all senses, seamless and all-embracing (in a good or bad way) is worth the time and care it takes. Even the scene you described didn’t appear overnight–from the mountains to the little boys’ riding skills. You did such a wonderful job describing everything I didn’t want to leave myself!

    How was the trip back?

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks so much for the comments. Trip back was fabulous. No running water, but stunning sunsets that lit the mountains up into a gorgeous gingerbread pink!

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer Says:

    I am so with you. Love the wide open spaces and the pace of country life. Time seems to stand still. I felt that way when I read Dances With Wolves for the first time back in college. I wanted to live in the Sioux village and learn the language. I wanted to go on a buffalo hunt. The images I had conjured up when reading were so vivid. That is a sure sign of a great book for me.

    Loved your descriptions of the ranch-the colors sounded fabulous. Love your blog! I always look forward to seeing what you are up to next. You might even get me to like spiders. Don’t get all giddy. I said might. 🙂

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  • avatar Sharon Bially Says:

    Great post, Melissa. Nature has so many gifts for writers. When I read THE QUICKENING recently, set on a farm, I became a farmer wannabe. Now adding rancher to that wannabe list, too. Yet next book will be set in the city. Hmmmm.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Maybe your third novel will be set on a farm or ranch :-)? I can’t wait to read THE QUICKENING either. I grew up on the edge of one of the fields on my grandpa’s dairy farm. Have a soft spot for rural life!

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  • avatar M. McGriff Says:

    I just loved the vivid description of your trip! I could see and smell everything (even the not so nice smelling aftereffects!) I have no doubt you’ll be able to bring these types of experiences to your writing!

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I absolutely LOVE THIS POST. I think it is one of my most favorite you’ve written! It’s so full of so much that it’s hard to pinpoint just one reason — but at least part of the reason I love it so much is that I too have always wanted to live on a ranch. Such a dream after reading the Flicka books and Black Beauty! And I love horses….
    Plus, the photo of the bird at the corral, with the barbed wire reminds me of the Mr. Bacon shot MEH took “Don’t Fence Me In”… hilarious comparison! And I love the smell of cattle and horses…. what an amazing place that must be to wake up to every single morning! Lucky them! Which brings me to the feeling that I never want to leave the WIP I’m editing right now (as I’ve told you) so I can definitely understand exactly what you mean about the importance of creating this for our readers. BEAUTIFUL BEAUTIFUL post, Melissa, and I definitely agree that it didn’t get the attention it deserved!

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    Melissa Reply:

    We are kindred spirits, my friend! You wanted to live on a ranch, too? You MUST come out to Arizona! Our neighbor rescues horses and has a big non-profit set up for their care (she used to ride in rodeos, etc.)… There really is something so enriching about “simpler” living, isn’t there?

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