May 30 2011

Captured on Cudde

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Things look a bit more sinister at night, don’t you think? For me at least, living in the true desert where things go bump – or growl – in the night, the veil of darkness seems to heighten my senses and engage my overactive imagination.

Some nights, the movie camera of my mind is really rolling. For instance, if I have to go outside to pull clothes from the line (that I forgot), I can make it back into the house faster than an Olympic sprinter, shirtsleeves and pant legs trailing behind me like finish line tape.

Talk about eerie. This band of javelina is bigger than those captured on film. Take a look at the glowing eyes in the background. I count at least seven. Click to enlarge.

Even with that healthy dose of apprehension, my animal-loving fanaticism wins out more often than not; I am always curious to see just what, exactly (or who), is rustling around among the creosote bushes, cat’s claw and brittlebush around our desert ranch while we sleep comfortably in our bed. That’s why hubby and I purchased a Cuddeback scouting camera (trail camera) a few years back.

As this outdoor photography gadget will attest (and to my absolute delight), lots of somebodies roam around under the star-studded skies – and even in the glow of the rising sun. In fact, lots of critters use the wash on our property as their own animal super highway. Take a look:

Although they are generally camera shy, this coyote, captured under the darkness of night, was very close to the scouting camera. Click to enlarge.

The morning sunrise colored the entire desert a soft pink as this coyote stood in our driveway. Click to enlarge.

A frequent visitor around our property, this very large bobcat is photographed at 4:45 a.m. near our woodpile. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: As you see from the day and night photos that the camera snaps, each evokes a different emotional feel, doesn’t it?

Do you think the bobcat looks less threatening in daylight? The same cat is pictured here at 4:05 p.m. near a mining tube directly behind our gate. Click to enlarge.

As an author, do you strategically plan nighttime or daytime settings/scenes in your novels, or do the days and nights just happen naturally, like a domino effect? What if you were more calculated about the way you planned sunrises and sunsets?

Here’s how I see it: a field – or in my case, a rocky desert hill – lit by an early morning sunrise offers a much different perspective and “tone” than the same hill colored with the glow of sunset or the reflection of the moon. Paying close attention to day or night can evoke different sensations, result in richer visual descriptions, and spur unique emotional reactions in your characters and also your readers.

The sun and the stars offer a goldmine of sensory opportunity to the writer! Why not pluck one from the sky and place it in your WIP?


45 Responses to “Captured on Cudde”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    What a great post & photos — I love them! Amazing (and frightening) visitors! I do think a lot about night time vs. daytime settings because of my current WIP having some mysterious elements, and you’ve given me some great new thoughts on how to present them and think about the night….not to mention that I must get one of those cameras! Very very cool. I might just capture racoons but we’ve also had moose and deer walk down our driveway, so who knows.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You’ll be surprised at what you capture on these cameras. I didn’t post all the photos, obviously, but we’ve gotten video (the camera alternates between taking still shots and videos) of the tail end of a beautiful fox, photos of long-nosed bats attacking my hummingbird feeder, road runners, vultures, tons of jackrabbits, squirrels .. you name it. I’m waiting for the BIG photo: of a mountain lion. How cool would THAT be?

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  • avatar Kim Says:

    In the first section of my WIP my main characters are minors, and so nighttime scenes all have an element of danger. That’s when the adults are away and when poorer decisions are made. During the day, they chafe under strict authority. In a few of the scenes you can feel the tension bubbling as the characters wait to be out of the sight of adults. In the later sections, when the characters are adults themselves, night scenes mostly have a poignant quality as the characters process the events of the day. Almost all of the major confrontations happen during daylight, although even those are informed by storm clouds versus blue skies.

    Thinking about this now is eye-opening… I can picture a few scenes that could really use a better grounding in that particular element of setting. Thanks! And thanks always for your fascinating photos… stopping here is quickly becoming a Monday ritual for me.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I am ultra honored, Kim, to be the beginning of a Monday ritual for you. Sounds like you have the setting issue totally nailed. I love the feeling that storm clouds evoke vs. blue skies. And the fact that your characters, as adults, bring a completely different appreciation to the evening is fascinating.

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  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    Love the pictures. Again. The night pictures are definitely more eerie than the day, though the cat is creepy either way.

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    Melissa Reply:

    So you think the cat is creepier than the big piggies? Interesting!

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  • avatar Country Wife Says:

    Wow! Love it! I wanted to share a recent trail cam find to discover what was stinking up my husband’s shed: http://sdliving.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/pepe-lepew-you-stinky-skat/

    Your coyotes snouts are quite different than those in South Dakota (the one your cam documented is much longer and narrower). The bobcat, however, looks huge! My husband would love to see that. I am interested to learn more about the javelina. I find anything that roams in packs most eerie of all.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I checked out your link; thank you SO much for sharing. How wild! Did you post a part II?

    It’s amazing, isn’t it, how animals adapt physically in different climates/regions? Our cottontails also have giant ears compared to the ones I remember from back home in PA. And, yes, we can agree that the bobcat is giant. I do believe he visited last night, given the spray marks on the French door, their height (and the fact that dog do not spray!)…

    Stay tuned for more javelina posts. I tend to love them (and watched two adults, three babies grazing this morning during my jog.. I kept a wide berth since they had young and can do some serious damage with their razor-sharp teeth).

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    Country Wife Reply:

    I did a small followup in another post, but there wasn’t much to add because Mr. Skat wasn’t seen again! I have a feeling, if he was hanging around any amount of time, one of the big dogs would scare him off.

    I have three small dogs, and my husband said those javelina’s would rip them apart! I cannot believe you jog in the same area as them… maybe they’re not as threatening as I have them made out to be?

    Will stay tuned!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Love these photos. Is the camera one you set out and it snaps if something moves nearby?

    In my historical novel I had to pay a lot of attention to time of day to orient the reader. Since they didn’t have clocks back then I fugure the characters would tell what time it is by the postion of the sun or stars.

    I think I’d leave those clothes on the line after dark. You’re braver than me, Melissa!! Like the image of the finishline tape 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yep. There’s a sensor that sets the camera off, based on movement.

    I love that your historical novel means your characters must pay attention to the position of the stars and sun. These things set mood automatically, don’t they?

    Last night, I PUT clothes on the line at 9:30 p.m. But I was in a very ‘free-spirited’ kind of mood and nothing seemed sinister to me. Though, upon waking and seeing the bobcat spray on the French door window, I’m wondering how misguided my ‘ease’ was.

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  • avatar Mary Ann Nissen Says:

    Beautiful photos, thank for sharing. Have a safe Memorial Day. 🙂

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  • avatar Sara Says:

    I love coyotes. I grew up with them in my backyard too. We used to hide in the tall grass and wait for them to get close, but they always saw us sooner than we predicted. So skittish.

    You know, I hadn’t really thought about day vs. night in my WIP, at least not yet. It’s a school setting so most things are happening in the day, but surely things will happen at night…just not sure what yet. Something to think about 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    I absolutely love your story of trying to get close to the coyotes. The Looney Tunes variety was called “Wiley” for a reason. They are so smart and so fast!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Those photos are phenomenal–I shared them with my husband (as I do most of your albums!). You must find that addictive, venturing out at such an hour–I can’t imagine how thrilling that must be.

    It’s so interesting how you posed the subject of hour in our writing. I go back and forth–sometimes the timing is, like you said, a domino effect, but other times I will find a scene is driven by time of day–depending on the mood I hope to impart. The same is true of weather when I’m building a scene.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I keep telling my husband I really want to purchase night-vision goggles or binoculars to see what is roaming around down in the wash; there IS a certain ‘high’ associated with it. How fun would THAT be?

    Oh yes… the power of weather in a scene. I agree with you 100%; it adds such an additional emotional element. I think in movies, this becomes so much more obvious, since it is visually depicted. But the cracks of thunder, the whirling wind – it all adds to the tension and drama. And we want that drama in our stories!

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  • avatar journeytoepiphany Says:

    Thanks for reminding me about the time of day coloring my descriptions…you are absolutely right! You are so brave with your pics!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Not brave at all … the camera does the dirty work for me :-)!

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer Says:

    This is something I haven’t thought much about, yet it can be a great tool for our writing. I think a nighttime setting in our novels can have the same effect as your pictures; a character’s secrets seem a little darker, their fears a little more frightening, and the suspense a little more suspenseful. Great point and I am going to make sure I pay attention to that as I keep writing.

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    Wow, these are AMAZING photos! But you are so right that the light – or lack of sun light – really changes one’s perspective when looking at these creatures. For example, I always thought coyotes were to be feared and are scary. Maybe they are. But the photos you snapped of them make them look smaller and less scary. Not that I’m about to go play with them, but that one at daybreak actually looks cute. The javelinas, however, are a different story. They look frightening. But I love javelinas after Sophie’s enlightening me about them (and knowing you see them on a regular basis).

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    Melissa Reply:

    Coyotes aren’t aggressive; as with most wild animals, they want to get away from humans as much as the humans want to get away from them. I came right upon a coyote once (he was coming up over a hill). He looked at me inquisitively, then just turned away. They’re the size of medium-sized dogs, really. I think they ARE cute. I have a fondness for javelina, too, but if they are threatened (esp. when they have young around), they can charge. And they have razor-sharp teeth. Just saw two adults and three babies this morning while jogging! Thought of you! (they were up on a hill, a safe distance away)

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  • avatar Suzie Ivy Says:

    What incredible pictures. I have a jackrabbit living in my back field and love seeing him daily. He drives my dogs nuts by standing at the fence where they can’t get to him. Thank you for sharing and I’ll write a night scene today. You’ve inspired me!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love jack rabbits. We have several long-time inhabitants living along the wash (and I’ve gotten many of them on the Cudde, too). You get out there and write that night scene, lady. I’m sure you’ll ‘nail’ it!

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  • avatar Erin Says:

    What an awesome writing tip, Melissa!! That’s crazy that those creatures are always lurking there at night, not knowing that you have the power to see them!!!

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    Interesting food for thought as always! I think for the most part my scenes just naturally fall into day/night. I do have a couple I really like that are nighttime, in front of the fire scenes. Some inside, some outside. Firelight does wanders for mood!

    BTW, that pig is like something out of one of my scarier scenes. Yikes!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh yes, firelight is great for mood setting! If it weren’t so dang hot here, I might consider curling up to one with a good book. But it is close to 100 … so, no go.

    You don’t think the piggies are cute? I LOVE them – except the time I came face-to-face with a mama and two babies. I shot up over a hill while jogging, and she was RIGHT there with her piglets – along with a male who started bucking and snorting when he saw me. I was looking for cover (there was none). But fortunately, they all ran the other way. Phew…

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  • avatar Nina B Says:

    What a good point about varying times of day. I often think about making sure to vary locations, but time of day and year are so important too! And holy moly creepy pictures! I’m such a wuss.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You’re not a wuss. I, perhaps, am just stupid to be so intrigued by wildlife and to get so close to it.

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  • avatar Shakirah Dawud Says:

    Soooo many of authors of classics employed these devices so well, but I just don’t, when it comes to creative writing. Or maybe I should say I don’t easily transition from day to night in a scene. Thank you for reminding me to look up sometimes, or turn out the lights and see what happens.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You’re welcome. You make such a subtle point: that looking up and turning out the lights can change our perspective in LIFE, too.

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  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Great Post and wonderful pictures. There are some scenes I deliberately plan as night scenes, I like the darkness as a backdrop to create intrigue.And, then few scenes are planned with sunrise as a backdrop to show hope and warmth.

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  • avatar Erika Robuck Says:

    I’m very conscious of weather and how it relates to mood. The great gothic novels–Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Rebecca–use the elements masterfully to reflect turmoil or calm in their characters lives.

    I love your night photos and how they made me feel. Thanks for the visual reminder of what we can do with words to add more power to our stories.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Erika. Yes, you are right about the classics doing such a fine job of integrating weather into the setting to evoke mood. Hmm… maybe I need to add some oldies-but-goodies to my stack of books to read. But then again, I am NOT as prolific a reader as you are, Speedy.

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  • avatar Lori Parker Says:

    Holy Smokes. You’d be Amazed how fast I can run if there was a bobcat around. But then he’d probably chase me and I’d be lunch. Would he understand if I whistled nonchalantly or would he smell fear? I suspect I’d be the feature story for the 6:00 news.

    Excellent point about time of day settings!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ah, see … you are correct. Running from a big cat is a bad idea, as they see you as prey. Best to let kitty make his own exit without causing a fuss. IF he comes after you, then you make yourself bigger (hands held above head) and shout. Then again, you could try whistling nonchalantly, too. 🙂 Got a good chuckle out of that.

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    Dang! I wish I would have had that camera when I worked in the Bob! The shots I could have taken at night esp. when bear was outside my tent as well as all the other critters creeping around! These shots are awesome and you are right about the difference between night and day that the shots evoke. I love twilight time, where day and night kiss and evening takes its watch. There’s something magical about that time of day.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I can’t IMAGINE the goldmine of photos you’d have gotten in Montana: bears, wolves, moose … How awesome would that be? Your prose is so lyrical, Tracy. I love it: “where day and night kiss and evening takes its watch.” Tell me you ARE going to put that into a poem or your WIP!

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  • avatar Tina Canon Says:

    “As an author, do you strategically plan nighttime or daytime settings/scenes in your novels, or do the days and nights just happen naturally, like a domino effect? What if you were more calculated about the way you planned sunrises and sunsets?”

    Excellent questions. And a definate more thoughtful approach on how the time of day can impact the emotional tension of what is occuring with one’s characters.

    thanks,
    tina

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hi Tina. Are you the same Tina commiserating with me over at Womensfiction blog? So nice to chat and know we’ve suffered similar editing woes! Glad you enjoyed my post, too. Hope you’ll stop by again.

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    Tina Canon Reply:

    Hi Melissa– I am the same Tina. 🙂 You have a beautiful site here, and I’ve already bookmarked it.

    Yes, it’s so nice to know others have gone through similiar experiences–not that I wish the experience on any writer! But I did learn an important lesson (which Amy commented on), TRUST YOUR GUT. There were so many times when I would follow through and make suggested changes, while my writing instinct screamed ‘this is wrong. You’re not writing romance. Maybe she doesn’t know the market.’

    I should have trusted my instinct, but I wanted to take my writing to higher level, and I wanted to learn.

    Nice to ‘meet’ you on the net. 🙂

    tina

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  • avatar Jonathan Mugan Says:

    Being able to see the stars is probably a great inspiration. I’ve heard it said that since most of modern society lives where the sky is washed out at night, we have lost a deep connection with the cosmos.

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    Melissa Reply:

    The skies are completely black out here (save those Harvest moon nights), so, yes, it is very inspiring and oh-so-beautiful. I think there really is something to the cosmos connection, given today’s urbanized society, though I confess I never thought about in that light.

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  • avatar Amy Sue Nathan Says:

    What amazing photos, Melissa. I’m not a naturey gal at all. I always say I like my nature in the middle of the dining room table. In a vase! Anyway, I do set scenes at night and in the daytime in my novel. In the nighttime scenes things seem to be serious and heavy and excuse the pun, dark. During the day, things are lighter (there I go again). In real life the way things are louder at night – how you can have the tv at a certain volume all day but in the depths of night that’s too loud? I try to convey the difference – I guess we’ll find out one day if I have. Wonderful post and thoughts, as always.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You are so hilarious, Amy. Nature = vase. Maybe someday I’ll create a character just like that! Great point about the television volume issue; it’s those details that really make a novel sing. And … not “someday IF you have” … “WHEN you have.” You’re getting close!

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