May 13 2012

The Bird Has Landed

Melissa Crytzer Fry

My front yard has been an aviary wonderland the past several weeks: hummingbirds building nests; hooded and bullock’s orioles playing hide ’n seek in the paloverdes, their plumage the perfect camouflage against pale yellow blooms; and fuzzy Say’s Phoebe chicks taking flight on wobbly wings.

So, you can imagine my surprise when a bird of a different sort landed in my front yard, right next to two saguaros. The bird’s shadow can be seen (below) among the green of cottonwoods and ash, next to the Gila River.

This is not my front yard. It is among the many bird’s-eye views I was treated to of southeastern Arizona this past weekend. Click to enlarge.

“Your ride is here,” hubby announced with a grin, amid the thwack thwack of chopper blades that sent billowing dust clouds into the sky. “Happy birthday.”

Of course, this wasn’t just any birthday; this was a big surprise for a big milestone-kind-of-birthday. Let’s just say that I’ve now been around for four decades. Ahem.

The first few minutes of the ride, my heart was in my throat. You see, this bird had no doors, so only a seatbelt stood between me and the cracked desert soil some 500 to 1,000 feet below. When I finally re-learned how to breathe and was comfortable removing my hand from the oh-shit grip (hubby’s affectionate name for the strap above the door), I started to snap photos. Yeah… and I never stopped – until 181 images later.

Please join me for the flight of a lifetime over this rugged Arizona desert I love so passionately – past nearby canyons and rivers – and as seen through the breathtaking lens of a bird’s eyes:

This is an overhead view of the road that took me and my Jeep, Betty, to my first writing session in the desert. Click to enlarge.

The above photo gives you a sense of just how far out into the mountains I had driven for my writing solace. The fourth bump in the road is actually where I stopped and wrote this post about my “Office Space.”

Next stop, Aravaipa Canyon: How different things look from the sky! This is the same canyon I hiked with friends back in 2010. Those tiny specks of green below are actually giant cottonwood trees, some 50 feet tall.

What a geologic wonder this canyon is! From the sky, the deformation of the rocks in this once-volcanic area is so prominent. A giant river carved this beautiful canyon. I fell in love all over again. Click to enlarge.

When visitors see these stacks from the smelter, they know they’re in mining country. We flew right over the massive tailings (seen in bottom left of photo). Click to enlarge.

Hubby and I visited the small mining town (above) last summer to photograph the area’s historic buildings. See the close-up views in my post.

This was THE highlight of my flight. Hubby spotted desert bighorn sheep running along a mountain ridge, so the pilot circled back around, allowing me to see them from my side of the chopper. They were SO camouflaged, that I basically pointed the camera and shot toward the tree he said they were under and crossed my fingers that I'd gotten something in the frame. I have been salivating to SEE bighorns for years (they were spotted in our hometown a few months ago). Score! Click to enlarge.

Another spectacular canyon view not far from the Gila River. Click to enlarge.

It’s no surprise that I was just as awed by the desert’s saguaro cacti from the air as I am when I see them on the ground. Click to enlarge.

This train bridge spanning the Gila River was stunning from the air. I saw several great blue herons along the water’s edge. Click to enlarge

This is me on the way back from our trip, SO happy to have the wind whipping my hair around my face, experiencing the desert in a way that few people have the opportunity to do. BEST birthday present EVER, hubby. Thank you. Click to enlarge.

Our homestead from the air (two structures to the left: white roof, and building with gray/white roof). Train trestle behind the house. Green at the bottom of the mountains is the riparian area along the San Pedro River. See – we really DO live in the boonies (and I LOVE it). Click to enlarge.

For readers, writers: I knew hubby was preparing some kind of surprise for me the week leading up to my birthday. Though I specifically told him “No party, under any circumstances,” I was sure he had planned a big bash (due to his cryptic behavior and cloudy, contradictory responses throughout the week).

So I spent a few days cleaning the house from top to bottom – just in case. I had myself in a tizzy worrying, wondering, being mad that he hadn’t honored my wishes of a calm fortieth.

The fascinating thing is that I was so obsessed about the surprise that something interesting happened with my fiction writing. Scenes came easily, and in a rush (during a time I thought I was totally distracted). Is it possible that, because I took the pressure off the WRITING and was focused on something else, it helped with creativity?

Would you have chosen the birthday bash or the chopper ride? Do you like surprises when you read? Do you get a tingle when a character surprises you with his or her actions?

The chopper flies away, over the hill behind the house. If this is what a 40th birthday brings, sign me up for one each year. Click to enlarge.

END NOTE:  This was THE best surprise hubby ever could have given me and was an illustration of how much this man knows and loves me: he orchestrated the ultimate nature ride, offering me a view of the local area – a perspective of the desert – I’ve never experienced. I got to be one of the birds I’ve been admiring so much from my perch on the ground.


43 Responses to “The Bird Has Landed”

  • avatar Shary Says:

    What wonderful photos from your amazing birthday present. Happy 40th!

    I love surprises when I read, but only if they make sense. In real life, I’d rather be prepared. A surprise party would throw me for a loop but a surprise outing like the one you had might be fun.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    happy, Happy, HAPPY 40th birthday to YOU! What a phenomenal gift! Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Spectacular photos, and I especially love the new perspective on your surroundings and the ones you’ve shown us from the ground! The trestle bridge is so cool looking whatever direction it’s viewed from, isn’t it? And Bighorn sheep must’ve been the frosting on the cake. What a wonderful gift, very very cool. As for surprises, in theory I think they’re a great idea, but in reality they always throw me a little. But this one? Wow. What a birthday, what a guy! Happy Birthday, friend 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Gotta agree… bighorn sheep the icing on the cake. And, hubby …. yep, I’ll keep him!

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Happy, Happy Birthday, dear Melissa! I had the biggest smile on my own face when I saw the image of you in the plane. Your husband sure did a good job, and I am very glad he honored your wishes. And, hey, your entire house got cleaned outta the deal! 🙂 Now, rest easy and enjoy BEDSIDE! Xx

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  • avatar Kimberly Brock Says:

    Mm-hm. Quiet birthday. Keeping it simple. Sure… 🙂 I think he outdid himself! What an awesome experience!! I love the Bighorn sheep and the dessert is gorgeous. What a wonderful gift — to you and to us! Thanks for sharing your corner of the world. I am amazed.

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  • avatar K Says:

    Tears of happiness were happening when I read and saw your surprise birthday gift! DAMN girl hubby outdid himself. I would have definitely chosen the helicopter ride over the birthday bash. Seeing the beauty, ruggedness, unique area of your home is a new chapter in your life. Happy birthday dear friend.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I was hoping you were home when we flew over YOUR house! I waved :-). Yes, such a wonderful surprise to see the area I love from a different perspective.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    What a wonderful gift! I definitely would have chosen the ride over a bash, Melissa. Although the thought of being up so high without benefit of a DOOR would have me clinging to the “oh shit” handle and completely unable to snap photos. So you have my full admiration for going along with THAT aspect of the chosen copter! That takes bravery. But I can see where it would improve the photo taking. So kudos to your husband for thinking of it. The photos are STUNNING. That’s a great photo of the Bighorn Sheep. My husband and I have been wishing to see some too. I guess there used to be lots in Arizona, but not so much anymore.

    I had to laugh when I read the caption beneath the photo of your homestead, because you took the words I had been thinking of right out of my mouth: You really DO live out in the boonies. My goodness! But it looks like a BEAUTIFUL location, with the river and green belt so nearby.

    Happy Birthday, Melissa…the 40s are amazing. Enjoy!

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    Melissa Reply:

    We were told the bighorn sheep were abundant in this area, so it’s nice to see them coming back (I’ve got to assume the decline in mining has helped, though I’m sad to report NEW mining will be opening up in their habitat). It was SUCH a treat to see them running along those steep cliff edges!

    Yep… embracing my “boonies”! I thought you’d appreciate that bird’s-eye view of our remoteness!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Wow, incredible!! What a wonderful husband you must have. And what a gorgeous place to live. I’ve never had a surprise birthday party, so I have no idea if I’d like it, but I know I would like the surprise chopper ride! Too cool.

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  • avatar Eden Says:

    You’re fella is a Keeper. What a thoughtfully grand surprise! What a treat to see your favorite landscape from the air. Thank you so much for taking us along on a photo tour.

    I’m with you, I’d prefer a helicopter ride over a party any day of the week. (feel free to send telepathic messages to my guy)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Consider the telepathic messaging complete! Yes, hubby outdid himself this time; best gift ever!

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  • avatar Brandee Says:

    First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

    Second, can I just tell you how jealous I am? What a COOL surprise. I have always been intrigued by helicopters, and even wanted to learn to fly one at one point.

    Such a delightful treat!

    I’ve been enjoying birds, too. I have floor to ceiling windows in my little office, and have seen all sorts of birds up close that I’d never seen before. Currently, there’s a quail family with 11 little ones pecking around for their afternoon snack.

    Again, happy, happy birthday!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you for the birthday greetings, Brandee! How COOL that you considered being a helicopter pilot! I’m so jealous of your baby quail; I usually see tons of them this time of year, but haven’t seen a single chick. Boo hoo. Aren’t they THE cutest when they’re so tiny?

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  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    All I can say is … WOW what a great birthday surprise! Your husband is one thoughtful guy! The pics are amazing, as is your smile

    Happy, happy birthday, Melissa!

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  • avatar Girl Parker Says:

    He’s the best !! And you are one adorable chickee with the headset on, one step away from flying around with TC on Magnum PI!! Congratulations and thanks for sharing the pictures. Fun fun!

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  • avatar Heather Says:

    Happy 40th Birthday Cousin! I won’t say any old lady jokes because mine is right around the corner too!

    Can you believe we are 40? What happened to the two girls sitting at the family reunion talking about our love of Basketball all those years ago?

    What an awesome gift that you will always remember!

    Thanks for sharing!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you, Cuz, for the birthday greetings! I’m so happy to know you’re still checking out the blog (haven’t heard from you in awhile!). I know… I actually remember “meeting” at that first Crytzer reunion so many years ago. How DID we get to 40 already?

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  • avatar StoriesAndSweetPotatoes Says:

    What an amazing and perfect gift for you!! You are one lucky woman 🙂

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  • avatar Cathleen Holst Says:

    I. LOVE. Your smile, girlfriend!

    Thank you so much for sharing those amazing photos with us. Your husband is something special for sure. Great post, Melissa. And happy birthday!!

    C xx

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    Melissa Reply:

    You are too kind. You know, after this experience, I was sure I wanted to be a full-time aerial photographer! 😉 Thanks for enjoying the ride with me!

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  • avatar Millivers Travels Says:

    Wow, Melissa, you’re becoming like some kind of Romancing the Stone heroine with all these adventures lately! What a fantastic birthday present (I would take the chopper ride over the party any day) and thank you for sharing all these visual treasures with us. The desert bighorn sheep are amazing! Way to go on that catch! I love the way you trusted your camera to capture that for you. I giggled at your Jeep being called Betty and enjoyed seeing the place you went to for your desert writing session.

    Happy 4-0. It’s a great age to be and don’t let anybody tell you any different.

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    Melissa Reply:

    A heroine I am not — just one lucky gal (also pure luck with those bighorns. You should have seen me dancing when I downloaded the photos and realized I HAD captured them. Pure delight!)

    I’m actually looking forward to the 40s. It’s only a number, right? 🙂

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  • avatar Country Wife Says:

    wow – what a thoughtful man! great pictures to keep in the memory box. Happy Birthday!

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  • avatar Tracy Hahn-Burkett Says:

    What an amazing surprise! Kudos to your husband…and to you! I love the photos and the chance to see this vicariously through your eyes. Happy Birthday!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Oh Melissa! What a ride! And what a guy your husband is! The smile on your face is all the proof needed that he chose perfectly. I admire you, my dear! I have a terrible fear of heights–I’d opt for the bash–but I’m so glad YOU got the pics–they are incredible.

    Happy birthday–and may the year be full of adventures!

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    Melissa Reply:

    No doubt: hubby is a keeper! What a great guy I have! You know, I’m not really fond of heights either (love roller coasters, though). I have trouble when there is no railing or no DOOR — but I managed to get over it pretty quickly when I saw the breathtaking landscape beneath me!

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  • avatar Suzie Ivy Says:

    I love the bighorn sheep. I actually love the entire trip. 40 looks beautiful on you and I can’t help but wonder how he will top this for the big 50.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hey, hey, there… what’s the rush? I just GOT to 40 and you are already discussing 50? Hold on, cow girl! 🙂

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    Suzie Ivy Reply:

    Well, I love 50 sooo much, I think everyone should be here 🙂 Okay really, I want to be the younger sister.

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  • avatar Christi Craig Says:

    Happy Birthday, Melissa! I would have chosen the ride, too (though I’m quite afraid of heights). You live in such a lovely place.

    I do love surprises when reading and love when characters does the unexpected while writing. I believe that means I’m actually listening to their stories.

    Enjoy 40. It’s a good year 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Here’s to our characters giving us those unexpected surprises! And to 40 and beyond. Glad to hear it’s a good year – aged like a fine wine, right?

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  • avatar Abi Burlingham Says:

    WOW! How amazing, Melissa. The photos are incredible. What a wonderful pressie. I confess, my hubby bought me a helicopter trip a few years ago as a birthday pressie, but I chickened out! Me and flying don’t get on that well. I think now though, I’d probably be brave enough to have a go. Not sure we’d get the sights you saw though!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh yes, Abi – next time you SHOULD do the helicopter ride. Such a different perspective (and don’t we writers love that alternative view of the world?)

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  • avatar Christine Grote Says:

    What a terrific gift for you. We took a helicopter ride in Hawaii, I only did it out of love for my husband because I am afraid of heights. But once I settled, like you, I took tons of pictures. That’s so cool that you saw the animals.

    And I have to say, you don’t look like you’re having any fun at all in your photo. 🙂

    Thanks for the tour.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’ve done the Kauai helicopter ride twice (over the area where Fantasy Island was filmed). Is that where you went in Hawaii? Absolutely LOVELY to fly over Hawaii!

    I didn’t notice, until now, that the wind had my shirt puffed up like the StayPuft Marshmallow man in that photo (but, yes, the smile was genuine!)

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    Happy belated birthday, Melissa! Wishing you many more adventure in the Jeep and everywhere else in the next year. To a year of fruitful writing, friends, fun, and fulfillment. 🙂 Nina

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  • avatar Christy Peterson Says:

    Happy Birthday to a fellow 1972 baby! 🙂 I also put the moratorium on a big party–had a lovely drive at one of the local wildlife refuges instead. 🙂

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    Love seeing your smiling face!! and you are soooo brave…amazing view or not I would have been freaking out…hiding my head between my knees trying to breathe….luckily there are braver people out there who can take such fabulous pics…happy birthday darlin!

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  • avatar Carolyn Says:

    Wow. Happy Birthday Sister. What a great gift. He is such a creative guy. The pictures are outstanding and the house is really coming along. So happy for you guys. Can’t wait to see the finished product.
    Love ya.

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  • avatar Pamela Says:

    I would have chosen the helicopter ride over the birthday party too – hands down. What an original, special gift. And yes, the more relaxed we are (not pressuring ourselves) the better our writing, I agree.

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  • avatar Lorraine Tooze Says:

    Happy 40th birthday old friend!! it looks like you had a wonderful birthday , what an amazing experience Arizona is such a land of beauty . my 40th was spent in hospital so we have postpond my celebration of 4 decades until july when i am well again . Love and hugs always Lorraine xxx

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