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.
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.