May 16 2011

Fading Footprints

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Footprints seem so solitary, so isolated, so lonely.

Maybe that’s because they are simply a shell of what once was, a reminder that someone – or something – traveled a particular path once-upon-a-time.

I think about this often during my morning jogs through the desert, when the tracks of my running shoes mingle with the footprints of coyotes, javelina, mule deer, jack rabbits and roadrunners.

I am convinced that these are the tracks of a mountain lion perusing our property. Lions (as the locals call them) have been sighted in our area, and one was struck by a car a few years back, sadly. These prints were way too big to be a coyote’s or even a bobcat’s tracks, showed no claws, and featured rounded toes. Did I mention they were GIANT! Click to enlarge.

The curious thing about fresh tracks is the sense of permanence that they initially evoke. An imprint stamped in the dirt reveals things seemingly imperceptible … a sense of authority witnessed by weight; a sense of urgency or leisure based on stride. And in human prints, we read even more into tracks – based on shoe type, barefooted preferences, foot size. Through mankind’s tracks, we envision hopes, dreams, isolation, independence.

I originally called these “mouse tracks in the mud,” but I believe they are actually wood rat or chipmunk tracks preserved in the mud, for a short time, after heavy rains. Click to enlarge.

I am frequently reminded of just how erasable, how temporary, these desert tracks are. Some mornings, quad and four-wheel-drive tracks snake over the tiny toe prints, pulverizing the short-lived history of past travelers, imprints dispersed again to dust. Other days the trails are traveled by so many – bobcats, skunks, foxes, lizards – that proof of previous visitors sinks away into the sandy soil. The rain and wind, when they come, play their role, too, in erasing these footprints that are much more than empty shells. They are unrecorded stories that can be written again and again.

This desert track stopped both me and my husband in our own tracks. What more can we say, except that we named the snake that created these markings “Snakezilla.” Just compare the truck tire tread width to the snake trail width, and you’ll know why.

For Writers: Writers inevitably leave behind a legacy with their work. Their footprints, a bit more permanent, take the form of words – ink on paper in bound books, e-ink on digital book readers, blogs with photos, magazine articles, white papers.

What kind of an impression will your writer’s footprints leave? Are you the kind of writer who wants to make her mark distinct, independent and fierce – one of a kind, with crisp, well-defined, solitary tracks?

Or are you the kind of writer who feels more comfortable leaving behind a trail of comingled tracks – ones that blur along the edges from so many passersby – your readers, family and friends – walking alongside you, sharing your words?


48 Responses to “Fading Footprints”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I love footprints too! It can be so mysterious and also exciting, to figure out what animal (or human) left them and where they lead to or from! They all tell stories. I think that’s how I like to think of my tracks as a writer: that my writing is interesting enough that people will be curious and intrigued by the stories I tell, so they want to read more and find out where the tracks lead.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I wonder if writers are more ‘tuned in’ to footprints and their stories? I’ve always been this way … piecing together the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why” any time I saw one. Hmm… Maybe that was the beginning of my journalism career.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Christine Grote Says:

    Another terrific post. I guess an advantage to your geographical location. We don’t see a lot of footprints here in the grass. Mostly deer prints in my garden soil.

    You’re out in the wild country.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Good to see you again, Christine. Yes, this IS one benefit of being surrounded by dirt: footprints everywhere! Sometimes I do miss the grass of my Pennsylvania upbringing, but not the constant yard work, I must confess. Indeed, this IS wild country and I so love it.

    [Reply]

  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    I hope to leave my readers with at least one nugget they can take away with them. Something they can learn from my writing to better themselves.

    Great post and pictures, Melissa!

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I agree. That is definitely one wish I have as well.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Sara Says:

    It’s Monday! – Melissa’s blog day!!

    “crisp, well-defined, solitary tracks” doesn’t sound like MY writer-footprints. Well, maybe the solitary part. I think my writer-footprints will up end being suggestions, provocations, inspirations, antagonistic creations that cause people to question their own footprints and forge new paths. That’s what I hope anyway. I certainly enjoy when I’m inspired by others to alter my path.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, Sara… Your enthusiasm makes my day! I can’t wait to read your work; I like subtle suggestion, inspiration and provocation in my fiction! And that’s the goal of truly good literature: to get the reader to reevaluate her own life, or at least to draw parallels and THINK.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    I always enjoy your ruminations! I think all writers hope to leave a mark…but I do think we can’t really determine what that legacy will be for our readers. Each person’s interpretation is so different…just hoping to reach as many as I can.

    At some point, anyway! LOL!

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    You’re right; the reader brings her own unique experiences to the table, making it so tough to predict the impact your work will have. I’m always amazed, even at the different filters people bring to my blog. Their totally varied comments show me the way personal experience defines the ‘reading’ experience and how different people take different meaning away from a particular message.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    That’s such a great question. I’d never really thought about what kind of footprints I’d want to leave, since I always just write the story I want to tell. But I guess I’d want to leave an impression similar to the ones my favorite books leave on me: they make me think and question, but long after that has faded, they leave behind an emotional connection that I can’t ever forget because it’s dug deep into me. It’s vague and intangible but its presence is always felt.

    Thanks for these great pictures. It must be lovely to see the world with such open eyes like you do!

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Given that we both read and writer women’s literature, I’m with you. I want my readers to FEEL when they’re done reading my books – to question, to think, to emote. I LOVE those books that stay with me for days, months, years. Thank you for the last compliment; I LOVE seeing the world around me and will never grow tired of my surroundings. I’m just SO happy to share it with other who appreciate it.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Billie Jo Woods Says:

    Fabulous post! I love the comparisons. You must live in an amazing space.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I so love the southwestern United States. But then again, I love the UK, as well. I have a friend who lives in Weston Super Mare. Is that anywhere near you?

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Billie Jo Woods Reply:

    No not near me! I am in the northwest of England just outside of Liverpool (The Beatles territory) but I grew up just outside of Albany, New York.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Joan Pyke Says:

    Great article and wonderful analogy. Definitions create borders, but leave the canvas blank and be creative by, say, watchng ‘footprints’ and the world comes alive!

    Love also the ‘creativity’ of the new format here. Excellent choice.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Okay, that snake track freaks me out, Melissa! Do you know what kind that was? I was spooked yesterday on my walk because I scared up a turkey that took off flying above my head. If I would’ve seen that snake of yours…well, I think *I* would’ve taken off flying! 🙂

    I think I would like to leave behind barefoot footprints. Footprints that reveal everything about me–my scars, my journey, the way I walk through the world.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I SO love the concept of barefoot prints showing ALL of you … scars, journey and all! Me, too. I want to be an emotional writer who can evoke tears, as well as laughter.

    And – the snake, I believe, was a rattler … the same one I watched mating with a much smaller female a few weeks back. He is a big sucker! Woo wee!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Shakirah Dawud Says:

    As always, adore your pictures. I must say to your questions that it really depends on my mood. Sometimes I want to get everyone’s attention and make ’em chant my name. Other times, I just want people to get my point and move on.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Good point, Shakirah. I think my response might be different depending on the ‘kind’ of writing project I’m working on – fiction or freelance … and even what kind of client.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Nina B Says:

    Good question, Melissa, and one that I’m surprised I can’t answer. Strange! I’ll have to think about this!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Shari Lopatin Says:

    Good question, Melissa. I think my personal voice and style tend to be more distinctive, and I hope to leave behind an impression people remember. That’s what I aim for when I write creatively, as well as journalistically. I want to touch people with words, leave an imprint on their minds, encourage change. And I hope that as I travel down that path, others are inspired to follow.

    Thanks again, for another great post!

    Shari

    [Reply]

  • avatar Leah Says:

    Until you described the footprints in the sand, I never thought of the footprints disappearing. Don’t get me wrong, I know footprints are not “permanent” in the ground. But I didn’t think of it as an opportunity to embrace a temporary mark. I really like this. … By the way, funny story about javelinas. Sophie kept coming home from preschool talking about javelinas living in the desert and how they chase animals. I had no idea what she was talking about and was convinced she had words mixed up. Finally, after months of this, I googled javelina and realized it is like a desert pig. Turns out Sophie knew what she was talking about because her teacher is from Arizona. I will never doubt Sophie or the javelinas again.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I so enjoyed your javelina story! They are, indeed, real. I encounter them frequently during my jogs, and they can be a bit intimidating! Girl, you need to get over to your neighboring state. I believe you hadn’t heard of saguaros before, either? C’mon over, and I’ll give you a tour!

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Leah Reply:

    We’ll have to plan a trip to Arizona so Sophie and I can see the javelinas. I’ll be sure to ask you to give me a tour. If the deserts are anything like your blog, I can’t wait!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Lisa Carter Says:

    Lovely metaphor, Melissa. My tracks will most certainly be comingled, particularly with the authors I translate. But also because my own writing is personal essay and memoir, where those who have affected my life play an integral role. I’m leaving some of their tracks behind too, but from my perspective. An onerous task.
    Your photos and descriptions have made me anxious to go back to the desert; my parents spent many winters there. But no snake tracks, please!

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Indeed, your translations make you such a part of the written word. Where in AZ did your parents live? Being a transplant from PA, I so, so love the sunshine here! Thanks for stopping by.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Ariana Says:

    Interesting post, not as a writer but as a mother I think our “footprints” are our kids, as a wife i think our “footprints” our relationships, as a human being our “footprints” is the legacy we leave behind.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I love the concept of our footprints being different people, different things, based on our various roles. Thank you for making me think even further about the ways in which we leave our imprints on so many!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    Hi Melissa! Sorry I haven’t commented lately. I’ve been taking a break from the internet. I loved this post about tracks. I have had the same thoughts from time to time too when I am out in the woods. They are stories untold, journeys unknown and yet they are there – signs – proof that something is going on there that life is indeed in motion constantly. As a writer I think I want both of what you suggested. I want to leave a distinctive mark that says, yes I was here! But more than that, I want to leave something behind that speaks to others and helps others, inspires, encourages, smacks with meaning. I think that is only natural. Thanks for this post. Wonderful, as aways!

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Your comment that “life is in motion constantly” is so profound. It is, isn’t it – even when things appear to be still. And, yes, I want my writing to “smack with meaning” as well.

    BTW – good for you for taking an Internet break. Sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered (as I can see from your recent, gorgeous post).

    [Reply]

  • avatar PW Creighton Says:

    Great post and an exceptional analogy. Whether we stalk on our path alone or mingle in the herd bound to be lost among them we are on a journey. Our path is uniquely our own but it doesn’t mean those that came before were anymore wrong or right than you. Following or forging, the path is our own.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I love the correlation of footprints and journeys. You can’t have one without the other, can you? And yes, each person’s path is uniquely his/her own… the beauty of individuality!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Beautiful post and lovely pictures! As a debut author of a novel and a small volume of poetry, I guess I’m happy to leave any footprints at all! LOL. But honestly, what I wish for is that my writing touches my readers, that it means something to them, and that it provides them with some entertainment as well.
    Christa

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks for stopping by, Christa. I think the ability to create meaning from our words is truly a gift – one that writers are privileged to possess.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    So funny, I think you were on my blog right as I was visiting yours.

    That funny trail looks like sidewinder.

    I mainly just want to entertain my readers. Maybe help them see something in a different light, or think about something they hadn’t considered before. Maybe also recognize some aspect of themselves in a character.
    But mostly I just want my fiction writing to be a ripping good read, ya know?

    [Reply]

  • avatar Amy Sue Nathan Says:

    The only footprint I’ve considered is the one I leave behind via my children. Not sure what my footprint as a writer would be…

    [Reply]

  • avatar Amanda Hoving Says:

    Thoughtful post as always, Melissa. You ask a good question. My writing is more to entertain and share with friends. I’m not breaking any new ground, but I hope to have company along my path.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Kim Samsin Says:

    I think I may not stop shuddering about that snake until at least Friday.

    I think I want my writer’s tracks to spider-web outward as people lend it to others and say you just HAVE to read this one.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I love the visual image of “spider-webbing outwards.” And what a great way to view the impact of your work (reminds me also, of the ripple effect when something plops in the water).

    [Reply]

  • avatar Bryan Says:

    “Snakezilla” is almost certainly either a coachwhip or whipsnake. Rattlesnakes and Gophersnakes move via belly undulation unless trying to escape from something, and leave a straight line track.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you, Bryan, for solving the mystery. We have seen coachwhips out here, and WOO WEE are the gigantic. Glad to know it wasn’t a gigantic rattlesnake, though I do have video and photo images of a VERY LARGE one mating…

    [Reply]

  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Hi Melissa…I hope my writing leaves its gentle footprints/marks on a small child’s mind/heart/life. That would be great. I still remember few books that left an impression on me in my childhood.

    Loved this post. I have used two more pictures that you sent. Was wondering where you had disappeared off to?

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Sorry for my silence, girl. Glad the photos are working out for you1

    [Reply]

  • avatar Holly Weiss Says:

    I loved this post. The photos of the footprints being symbolic of the impact of the writing we do. I’m flattered when people say they loved my novel. I’m ecstatic when a year later they mention something specific about it that left an impact.

    May we always write something that leaves a positive, lasting impression on our readers.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks for stopping by, Holly. Ah … I can’t wait to experience what you mention above. Though I’ve gotten such comments from my nonfiction/magazine writing, I dream of leaving that impression on fiction readers!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Denise Says:

    I’ve loved perusing your blog… I come back again & again, but am I the only one that was just a little freaked out by those mountain lion prints?!?!?!?!?!??

    Perhaps I’m a complete ignoramus about mountain lion behavior, but do you carry pepper spray or something on your runs??

    Anyway, I also just enjoyed reading “State of Flow”… something I will SOO have to work on soon as I send my youngest off to high school this year & have more “me time” 🙂

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    You weren’t the only one a bit ‘concerned’ about the tracks. Mountain lions almost ALWAYS want to get away from you more than you do from them, so they generally run. I don’t carry anything with me, except a cell phone. But maybe I should consider something else?

    Ooh… have fun with the additional “me” time Enjoy it!

    [Reply]

Leave a Comment