Apr 11 2011

Majestic Crested Saguaro

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Saguaro Series – II

I’ve been on a bit of a scavenger hunt lately.

It all started about a year ago when I realized that the misshapen form I saw on a distant hill (from my kitchen window) was a rare crested saguaro. From my vantage point, it resembled an ogre with thick, uneven limbs. What’s more, its giant Medusa-like, bulbous head teemed with little snaky arms.

My first crested sighting, visible from my kitchen window, has deteriorated rapidly since last year. The great news, however, is my discovery of another specimen some 300 feet downhill (next photo). Click to enlarge. Click arrow button to view all photos. Photo by Kathy Becraft.

At the time, I had only briefly heard the term “crested” saguaro. I did not know that only one in every 150,000 saguaros sports this fan-like hairdo. Or that biologists continue to disagree about the cause of this gnarled anomaly that occurs at the plant’s apex (growing tip). Some suggest lightning strikes are the culprit; others blame genetic mutation, and still other theories point to freeze damage. No one’s really sure.

So, when I finally trekked over to this fascinating “tree of the desert” with my hiking buddies and learned of its rarity, I became a bit obsessed. On every subsequent hiking trip, my eyes scanned until they burned. I was going to find more crested saguaros.

I call this saguaro the Catcher’s Mitt. Standing below my first discovery, this beauty did a good job of hiding its southeast-facing arm, despite me having been past it dozens of times. Click to enlarge.

Turns out, I do have a knack for spotting these rarities. Perhaps I am the Crested Saguaro Whisperer (though I’ve never had such luck finding four-leaf clovers, arrowheads, artifacts … But I’ll definitely settle for this gift luck!).

Big Betty is probably one of my favorites, due to the number of crested arms coming from all directions. She must be 20-30 feet tall, also, and was discovered only because of the sun’s reflection on the concentration of white needles found in the peaks and valleys of the crested fingers. Click to enlarge.

Please enjoy additional saguaro sightings below, all within a 20-mile radius of my home. And if you missed it, read my Saguaro Series I post about the “End of Mighty Saguaro.” Stay tuned for the next Saguaro Series installment.

For Writers &  Readers: When you begin a new work in progress, how do you go about your search for unique ideas – the rare – so that your story stands out as that 1 in 150,000? Do you conduct your own kind of scavenger hunt for fresh ideas, bizarre characters and unusual plotlines? Where and how do you begin?

And how do you go about creating something fresh, even if you’re using tried-and-true themes splayed across pages for centuries? Conversely, if you venture too far from common themes (boy meets girl, woman battles internal demons, who-done-it), do you run the risk of being too far “out there,” too unique?

And what about reading … are you turned off by seemingly standard plots? Is there even such a thing as a “unique” theme, a new story? Or has it all been done before? Should you even bother looking for your crested saguaro? Please scroll below photos to comment.

Our friend and neighbor, Mark, introduced us to Medusa, perched on a bluff and overlooking the Galiuro Mountains. Click to enlarge.

Hidden among short-statured mesquite trees along the San Pedro Riverbed, this plant popped up and demanded attention, even with his small crest. Click to enlarge.

Also spotted by Mark (okay – maybe I’m not the Crested Saguaro Whisperer. Maybe Mark is …), this is the Dudleyville Specimen, visible right off the highway.

One more thing! When you get a chance, please visit V.V. Denman’s wonderful writing blog, where I guest this week with my post, “A Girl & A Snake.”


25 Responses to “Majestic Crested Saguaro”

  • avatar Pam Asberry Says:

    I didn’t know there was such a thing. Thank you for sharing your experience, and the photographs!

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Wow! Incredible photos! I’ve never seen a crested saguaro! But if I had, I might have assumed it was some kind of abnormal plant growth, so I know would’ve been like you–interested to find out more. Fascinating horticultural mystery! (And great children book material with the great names you’ve come up with or did they tell you their names!?) When I start something new, I do tend to “go on scavenger hunts” with my writing because I enjoy delving deeply and finding the story behind the story. In my reading interests, I tend toward what would probably be considered “standard plots” or even “slice of life” (maybe with a little unusual added in)–because what I really enjoy about reading is hearing the writer’s voice and the understanding the characters the writer has created.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha. I’ve always been a “namer.” Named our cars, gave out nicknames to friends, name all the wild animals around my house. Just a natural response to name the saguaros, too. I suspected you were the scavenger-hunt type. Is your genre historical fiction? Yes, I think “relatable” themes are very effective, as long as that voice/characterization shines through.

  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    I would LOVE my writing to be the 1 in 150,000. Someday. 🙂

    I don’t mind a “standard” plot in the books I read as long as there’s an unexpected twist. OR the writer’s voice is so unique that I can’t wait to get to the next paragraph. That’s the approach I take with my writing. My plots are not hugely different from other women’s fiction, but I try to add a dash of spice here and there. Little twists and quirks to make the reader curious. Or I try to insert some humor. I like books that can make me laugh . . . and cry.

    Great post. And pictures.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I agree. The “dash of spice” is what makes all the difference. There is the camp that says “nothing new” is really ever written – i.e. it’s all been done before. It’s just the voice of the author that makes it an entirely different experience. Thanks for having me on your blog today, V.V.!

  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Oh wow–I want one! No, I want to HUG one! Okay, that might be problematic:). These guys are so amazing. I would stand and stare (and grin) for hours…

    You raise a good question about ideas, Melissa. I think there is such an emphasis on coming up with something unique in the market. And so often we are driven by that need over listening to the story ideas that really speak to us. I’ve been guilty of following those “leads” and then getting a 100 pages in and realizing I don’t care enough, or have enough passion for the story. My agent is so wonderful–when I present ideas to her and ask her what she thinks would be the best one to follow, she always says the one I am most excited to write!

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    Melissa Reply:

    How fortunate to have such a wonderful agent who is in sync with your writing preferences. I agree – if we’re not invested in or in love with our idea, it’s going to show to our readers. Writing our passions, I think, is always our most profitable route. (And, yes… I will forever be fascinated by saguaros).

  • avatar Sophia Richardson Says:

    I’m not turned off by standard plots exactly, but if they aren’t going wild and crazy with an ‘original’ plot then they’d better be doing something good with voice, character, setting etc. I don’t often consciously search for stories, usually an idea will come to me and from there I’ll brainstorm whether I could mix this idea with that one, or what kind of characters would fit that plot; or, more likely since I’m a character-driven writer, what problems this character would get themselves into.
    – Sophia.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You are a woman after my own heart, Sophia. I love character-driven novels. Interesting insight that ideas generally ‘come’ to you, and that you combine them together with other experiences/thoughts to develop a story. This is precisely how my current WIP has come together! Something else you said resonated with me: that voice, character or setting better be good if the story ISN’T unique in other ways. SO TRUE. Those elements are such integral parts of good storytelling. Thanks for sharing.

  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    I agree with Erika–I want a crested saguaro, too! Just this morning my husband was telling me that we’re going to have to throw one of our house plants that has grown far too large for the kitchen. I have tenderly tied back the branches so they won’t keep smacking us in the face whenever we enter the kitchen, but it keeps growing and growing despite these Sampson-like restraints!

    I think that house plant is how I am with my novels. My ideas just keep growing and growing until they smack me in the face whenever I try to get anything done. Thankfully, this is where an outline comes in; and although I hate the restraint of it, in the long run it helps my novel grow in the direction it should…and hopefully, that will help it become 1 in a 150,000 just like that crested saguaro!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I hope you don’t have to throw out your trusted houseplant. I LOVE the analogy of the plant and your writing ideas (and being a self-homebuilder, too, know exactly what Sampson Strong Ties are. Laughed at the reference). How IS the WIP going, Jolina?

  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    LOVE how you make me think about things I’ve never thought about before. You raise my awareness of things I hadn’t really considered. I have always loved nature and the unique life that surrounds us. And you showing us your surroundings has inspired me to do more of that. I have lived in Wisconsin all my life – save for my years in Montana and I take for granted sometimes, the things around me. I am going to try to do more of that with my camera if you don’t mind. I love the things I learn when I come to read your blog. THANK YOU for that! For me, as a writer, I find myself more frustrated than anything- that I am not unique enough and that I lack that special spark to make anything I write – novel wise – interesting to others. I am hoping that changes.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, Tracy … Please DO get out there with your camera, in nature, and write about it. I’m tickled pink that I’ve inspired you to do that. Please, please, please share Wisconsin with your readers! I can’t wait to see what you capture!

    And I SO disagree with you. Your poetry is amazing, and your writing poetic. Unique doesn’t even begin to describe the way you see things, the beautiful way you can put words to your thoughts. Don’t ever, ever give up! You do have that spark. You do.

  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I think so much of writing is just a leap of faith, so I guess I never really *know* if my writing will be original enough–I just have to do my best, hope and take that risk. I know a couple of people have mentioned the importance of original characters, and I’d have to agree. I could read two novels with the exact same plot, but if the characters are unique enough, they become two different stories. Like you, I’m a huge fan of character-driven books!

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    Melissa Reply:

    You’re so right about the leap of faith. It’s so important. Probably as important as originality of character!

  • avatar Cat Says:

    Big Betty is truly majestic! Great photos, all. While I do tend to research as I go to add authenticity as well as a few surprising twists that may take the story off the well-worn path, my stories to date have all found me ?. Either something I’m already passionate about or something I happen to come across that sparks my interest. Similar to your “Liberty Bell” post, I think there will always be room for a fresh point of view on the cookie cutter story line. Thanks for sharing the pictures and your words. Cat

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    And I agree. I personally think those ‘crested saguaros’ are out there in the book world, because every theme can change when draped with new settings, new characters and new plot foibles.

  • avatar Nina Says:

    Wow, Melissa. I know you read my post today so you can understand how this SO nails it for me right now. One of those crazy plants/trees or whatever they’re called(can you tell I live in Minnesota and not the west)is exactly what’s missing about my current WIPS and what I want so desperately in an idea before I spend a year or more on it.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Nina. You will find that “special” idea for your next novel – and like many others said, it may be a combination of ideas you’ve been thinking about that all come together to form something “unique.” My current WIP is just that: about 4-5 different snippets of ideas that had been floating around in my head for a year or more, and then WHAM – they came together to make something this is one-of-a-kind with a one-of-kind protagonist. It will come to you. Maybe you can take the opportunity to really capitalize on your reading challenge – just letting your mind take in those stories, journaling, taking notes about those interesting peoples’ stories you’ve come across. No writing yet. Just thinking. I guarantee, some of those parts will stick to one another!

  • avatar Amanda Hoving Says:

    Fantastic pictures, and yes, so inspiring!

    Normally, my ideas come from images of people I see out in “the wild.” 😉 Very much character driven. But these tall green dudes seem quite the characters themselves.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Tall green dudes. Love it! That’s what they are. And I’ve got to agree with you that the world with all its inhabitants often does seem like “the wild”! Thanks for sharing your process.

  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    What cool photos!

    Full disclosure, my current series is a fairytale retelling! So obviously I have a fondness for familiar stories! Seriously, I do tend to gravitate towards certain plot lines…ever since Pride and Prejudice I’ve never tired of “strong woman stuck in patriarchal hell” stories. My writing tends to lean in that direction as well. I’m going to guess most readers have a similar something that floats their boat, even if they don’t realize it.

    As a writer, however, I think it’s vital to do some kind of research before you commit to a concept. Just to ensure someone hasn’t beaten you to that great idea.

  • avatar Erika Robuck Says:

    I’ve never seen such a thing before. Great photos!

    I’ve always enjoyed reading (and writing) books that cross genres or take place in multiple time periods. I like layers and suspense, and that structure very naturally incorporates those two things.

    Great post and pics!

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    Melissa Reply:

    That kind of layering definitely leads to uniqueness. I love all those elements as well! Thanks for stopping by.

  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    I love the crested Saguaro, it looks magnificient.I am not sure whether I can call it a cactus. Would love to have them in my garden. Too bad you can’t send them,just like the lovely pictures you emailed me.

    Where writing is concerned, I try to create unusual characters and go for unexpected plot twits.

    There is an award for you on my blog.