Apr 21 2012

Camp Lizard Bowl

Melissa Crytzer Fry

They say a picture paints a thousand words. So I’m curious … What words come to mind when you see this?

This little (or, rather large) lizard greeted us at our campsite last weekend. Click to enlarge.

I’m guessing your word painting might go something like this: Eww. Gross. Creepy. Ick. Disgusting. But how shortsighted of you. This lizard actually proved thematically significant during a wonderful overnight camping trip in Klondyke, Arizona.

You see, this is a Clark spiny lizard, the likes of which I’ve never before encountered. I love new discoveries. So when I saw him floating in the bowl, obviously lured there by the easy pickin’s meal-on-water, I took a closer look. Then I realized, “Uh-oh. He’s not enjoying his dip in the man-made pool; he’s in trouble.”

Desert spiny lizards aren’t aquatic. So I scavenged for a stick (to ascertain if Mr. Lizard was even alive, or if he were simply doing the dead man’s float). When I sensed some pliability to his floating body – though he wasn’t blinking – I summoned dear husband. “Bring the shovel to the toilet, please!”

He’s used to my animal-saving adventures, so he was unfazed by the request. When he lifted limp lizard on to the shovel, I was sure he was a goner. Even though I saw flaccid Gumby legs, I asked hubby to put the little fellow in the sun, careful not to smoosh any delicate toes. “We’ll just see what happens,” I said.

Hubs made an arrow with the shovel so we knew where to look later – in case some miraculous revival occurred. Look at poor waterlogged Clark. (Of course I named him). Click to enlarge.

We had lunch then headed off on a quad ride to the nearby Aravaipa Canyon Preserve with neighbors, Mark and Roxanne (They invited us on this adventure: our first-ever Arizona tent-camping trip. I know… really? First one? What have I been waiting for? Now I want to live there).

Along Aravaipa and Turkey Creeks, I was treated to series of exciting new discoveries:

This is a green heron, and apparently a breeding male, given his bright orange legs (which I saw only when he flew away). Click to enlarge.

The Salazar Family Church, open to the public (though it IS in the middle of nowhere, behind the Galiuro Mountains), was once a dance hall built in the early 1900s. Click to enlarge.

On this stretch of road, we bumped into the ranger, who explained that big horned sheep had been spotted ahead – AND that a mama ewe and her lamb had been seen the day before. Alas, no sightings for us! But gorgeous scenery. Click to enlarge.

And look at this wonderful Salado Indian cave dwelling along Turkey Creek, built in 1300 A.D. Click to enlarge.

Before the sun got away from us and chilled us to the bone (yes, we awoke to ice outside the tents!), we decided to trek back to camp. Cresting a hill in the road, we were greeted by the backend of a furry critter. Can you tell what it is?

No, I didn’t take a photo of twigs. Look beyond them at what’s staring back (out of focus). Can you see it? Click to enlarge.

Can you tell what it is now? Hint: meow. Click to enlarge.

I think this is a juvenile blue heron (beak isn’t the right color, and the plumage seems off)? Fun prehistoric-looking bird, though! Click to enlarge.

And finally ... Aren't these trees incredible? They remind me of a skeletal ribcage folding over and protecting the pathway. Click to enlarge.

As if the previous discoveries weren’t enough to leave me skipping down the dirt trail with the biggest of grins, we returned to camp and found this:

Look at Clark! He’s turned around and is very much alive. Notice how much more prominent his turquoise coloring is after being in the sun. He has super powers (known as metachromatism), whereby the darker colors of his skin increase the amount of heat absorbed from the sun. Later, all warmed up and dried out, he scurried away in the desert brush. Click to enlarge.

For Readers, Writers: I had hoped to experience wildlife encounters during this trip and certainly was not disappointed. But something else happened when we first entered the canopy of towering Cottonwood and Arizona Sycamores, their branches wrapped protectively over the dirt road like colossal arms.

I never expected a fictional character to emerge from the shadows. But there he was at 3,500 feet in the remote desert wilderness … standing on the edge of the road amid the lime of sunglow leaves. He wore a thick snow white Santa’s beard with his flannel shirt and camping vest. A tripod and camera clung to his side.

I’ll tell you … he teased me during the entire trip. I found myself taking photos of the abandoned houses along the creek, like this one, making each his home, with an accompanying story.

Lots of vacant homes hug the creek bed in Aravaipa. A giant canyon wall rises up behind this building. Click to enlarge.

By the end of the trip, I had begun weaving together a history for the old man with the Wisconsin plates on the back of his Explorer, an old man exploring in the middle of a nature preserve in the middle of nowhere. Why was he there? What was his story? Well… you’ll have to stay tuned, because I’m only now discovering it myself.

Readers – do you wonder how authors construct and flesh out their characters? If they’re sparked by events like this or drawn purely from imagination? Authors – how do you go about crafting characters? Have they ever emerged from the shadows like a ghostly apparition?


46 Responses to “Camp Lizard Bowl”

  • avatar Shary Says:

    I love your photos and your animal rescue story. I’m glad Clark made it. How wonderful to be so inspired on a camping trip. I hope we get to read more about your photographer from Wisconsin.

    Most of the time, I can’t remember exactly what inspired a character other than a plot wrinkle that needed a specific person. But I met one character almost fully formed in my notebook. Even though her personality doesn’t work very well as a heroine, she’s starring in my current WIP. I can’t let her go.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ooh… this character in your WIP sounds wonderful. How fun that she emerged fully formed in your imagination!

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Those photos are AMAZING!! And I’m so happy you saved Clark–woohoo Melissa and “dear husband” to the rescue! That photographer from Wisconsin is such a great character, no kidding! My characters have come from so many places — everything from people I know very well to some vague memory and even people I see randomly from afar. Very cool post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, random people can be such great catalysts to spark the imagination. I met several of them during my visit with Suzie Ivy over the weekend.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    I absolutely loved every moment of this virtual tour — especially Clark! My hat’s off to your husband.

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  • avatar Sue Mitchell Says:

    WOW. Is it a bobcat? What a fantastic trip! This is my idea of living!

    When I used to write a lot of fiction, I did find that characters and plot ideas often came when I was outdoors. I would be very relaxed and in that entranced state where the mental chatter was quiet enough for the ideas to come. Perhaps that’s why I am so nonfiction-oriented now…too much time in the left brain and not enough relaxed, flow time outdoors.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You win the prize! Yep! A bobcat. I think you’re so right, also, about the relaxed, entranced state that nature forces the mind into – such fertile ground for creativity! Come on out to Arizona, and we’ll get your mind into that flow zone.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    I was sucked right into this post, Melissa. I love camping, and now I can’t wait to visit Aravaipa. When Jim and I camp we usually go up to Cottonwood, or Sedona, but now you’ve made me aware of another beautiful green spot in Arizona!
    So glad little Clark survived his watery ordeal. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    You should DEFINITELY go to Klondyke. Four-Mile Campground! Though a large chunk of time is spent driving on all-dirt roads to get to the campsite (hope you don’t mind that kind of thing).

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Yay for Clark! You deserve a cookie. 🙂 I actually think he’s really cute, and I’m so glad you saved him. And what a cool trip — goregous photos. Good luck with that new character/story!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Glad I’m not the only one who saw past Clark’s scales to his cuteness!

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    What a cool lizard! It mud the lizard season here in San Diego too, since our cats seem to be bringing quite a few to the house. Poor lizards!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Do kitties play with them, or end up murdering them? Indeed – poor lizards. Our cats torture crickets in the same way.

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  • avatar Kim Says:

    I have to admit that Clark made me gasp… but I had my fingers crossed for him during the day-out pics, for sure. Glad he made it!

    Woke up to a surprise layer of snow and ice pellets today, and these hot and sunny pictures are doing me a WORLD of good today, Melissa. Thanks!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Your reaction was exactly the same as Roxanne’s – GASP. And I am the one gasping now: snow! Ice pellets! Say it ain’t so… ugh. Here, in the 100s.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Only you would request a shovel to be brought to the bathroom, Melissa. That really cracked me up! I loved, too, how your husband put that arrow in the dirt so you could find Mr. Clark. What a beautiful weekend you all had. I was slightly envious of everything you saw, but I am grateful that you capture it for the rest of us! Also, that old man with WI plates sounds intriguing. Can’t wait until you paint him to life with your words!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Glad you found the humor in it; I truly did utter those words! I also can’t wait to see how WI character develops!

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  • avatar StoriesAndSweetPotatoes Says:

    AHHHH! You’ve read my old post about lizards right? They are always trying to get me! This trip sounds wonderful but my lizard paranoia would be increasing exponentially.

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    Melissa Reply:

    But the wild kitty made up for your squeamishness toward Clark, right? And the green heron ;-). Your post was HILARIOUS.

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    Great post, Melissa! I, too, am glad you saved Clark, but I probably would have been less thrilled to see where he emerged, 😉 I also enjoy seeing buildings/homes that arise out of nowhere, and those settings definitely help spark new characters or situations. I’m glad you’ll be discovering this new character!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Glad you liked it. Yes, buildings hold so much history and always conjure all kinds of questions for me about the past lives that inhabited them.

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    actually what I thought was: Poor little guy!! xo

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  • avatar Abi Burlingham Says:

    What a wonderful trip Melissa, and I love your lizard – in fact, I love all critters! Your photos are amazing! I love the Indian cave dwelling. I get inspiration from people for characters quite a lot, especially in my current adult novel #wip, where the central character is very closely based on someone I know. People are just such wonderful inspiration aren’t they? Lovely post Melissa!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Always interesting to paint a real-life person with a fictional brush! Yes, people do provide a great deal of inspiration – as long as we keep our eyes open.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    I think he buried a body there and he wants to make sure nobody has dug it up.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Clark buried a body there, or my husband did? Ha ha!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Once again, Melissa, you transport us–and Clark, oh Clark!! (I will admit I scrolled down first to make sure he was okay 😉 ) And the green heron–aren’t they magnificent? I can’t wait to try camping in your neck of the woods. Lizards in the outhouses? The girls will go nuts! (Including this girl!)

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    Melissa Reply:

    What FUN would we have it you came to AZ to camp? Ha … funny that you scrolled to see if Clark made it. Bet I had you sweating up a storm.

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    What an amazing adventure, Melissa! And I’m so glad Clark made it out okay! He’s such a cutie. The lizards my cousins and I used to play with as kids weren’t quite as big; they were maybe half an inch long, at the most.

    I love that you discovered a new character on your trip–I think the beauty of writing is that you never know where your next character or idea is going to come from, and the best way to stir up ideas is always just by living and enjoying life so that it inspires you. I can’t wait to read more!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m still in awe of the lizard-earring trick. Seriously… As much as I love wildlife, I’m not sure I’d willingly have it clamp on to my earlobe! You’re so right; the beauty of writing is that we make fictional discoveries every day – even when we least expect it.

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  • avatar Suzie Ivy Says:

    Oh I love Clark. He is gorgeous! Your pictures are always breathtaking and I can’t wait to read more about your old man with the Santa beard.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Just you wait until NEXT WEEK’S pictures :-). Had a blast with you, officer!

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  • avatar Amber Says:

    Oh, I am so glad you rescued Clark! I would have done the same. Love all the pictures.

    While some characters seem to come out of thin air, I know that here are plenty that come from an experience or brief encounter. That’s why I think writers should give themselves the opportunity to get out and try new things – you never know what story it will spark!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Here’s to getting out and trying new things. Couldn’t agree more (and am happy to have you on my side with my lizard- and owl-saving endeavors).

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  • avatar Caryn Caldwell Says:

    What a great story! I love that you not only named the lizard (who’s cute, not creepy or icky at all), but that you called, him, of all things, Clark. Perfect! The photos were gorgeous, too!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you, Caryn, for not finding my animal-naming disturbing. I confess: all the ‘regular’ birds, squirrels, roadrunners, etc. have names, too. So happy you enjoyed the photos. I see you’re another southwesterner!

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer Says:

    So glad you looked before sitting down! You have given me one more task to do after I wipe off the seat, lay down the thin paper thingie, and check for toilet paper. 🙂

    I think characters should totally come from the experiences we have or have observed. That is what make them believable.

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    Melissa Reply:

    OMG. Leave it to you to crack me up with the tasks associated with sitting down in a toilet stall. Ha! How was vacay? All relaxed and refreshed? Ha ha.I know how anticlimactic the return home can be.

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  • avatar Lori Parker Says:

    Poor Clark! My favorite picture is the arrow in the dirt with Clark at the end. Smart AND hilarious. And yeah for the new character. Funny, cuz as soon as you said the church had been a dance hall, I flashed on a scene. Some characters are just “there,” but others seem to leave me clues to discover, like what happened to you. Awesome camping trip!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Gotta give hubs the props for the arrow in the dirt. HIS brilliant idea! VERY cool that you flashed on a scene for the church/dance hall. We writers are always entertained. Such fun!

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  • avatar Millivers Travels Says:

    Delicious post! So much to appreciate here it’s hard to capture it all in a blog comment. Here are a few:

    – I’m SO relieved Clark is OK. Thank you for rescuing him! I would have done the same. I didn’t think he was gross; he actually picked quite a clean bowl to climb into (esp. considering it was a camp ground). And who could blame him for diving in when those waterlogged bugs looked like easy pickins?

    – The Salazar Family Church, both the name and the building, reminds me of my seven years in New Mexico, where I saw many similar sights. (Taos-homesick for that. Sniff.)

    – I adored the language of this image: “. . . amid the lime of sunglow leaves.”

    – Your new character sounds steal-worthy. I wish I’d seen him first! I agree with what you made of it: how could you see that and not begin to make up his history, both inner and outer?

    – So glad somebody had the presence of mind to photograph Clark in the toilet bowl. What a classic!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Wow, Milli. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your very thoughtful comments. You made my Friday! And glad to know I am not the only lizard-recuer out there.
    Sorry for making you miss NM; I LOVE New Mexico and have been through Taos. So lovely! In fact, you’re making me want to take a long weekend to do a visit.
    A steal-worthy character … I’m humbled. He really DID appear as if by magic.

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  • avatar Susan Okaty Says:

    What a handsome fellow Clark is! So glad you saved him. I knew I had become a true Texan when I showere with a lizard and didn’t freak out. Great pictures.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha! I had a friend who would vacuum those poor guys up and leave them in the canister. Mean!

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  • avatar Christy Peterson Says:

    The only problem with this post is that I skipped the middle and scrolled to the end to find out what happened to the lizard! 🙂 (I went back later.)
    Every time I see your photos I want to get in the car and head SE!

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    Melissa Reply:

    You weren’t the only one who scrolled to see about Clark’s fortune. This time of year is hot for a visit. Plan your trip for Jan.-April

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