May 26 2013

Of Legend and Lore

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Hubs and I had the opportunity to take our first trip “over the saddle” last weekend – an area in the mountains in front of our desert home that clearly looks like … you guessed it … a saddle.

This photo was taken from our property and shows just how far into the mountain range we went to reach the saddle – about 19 miles on ATVs. Our neighbors’ white house is in the photo to give perspective. Click to enlarge.

Our campsite was even further into the desert on the “other” side of the saddle – about 22 miles – beyond that snaking swath of green (which is actually a valley filled with pinyon pine, cottonwoods and other desert vegetation). Click to enlarge.

Aside from being as close to nature as you can possibly be (see our camp photo below), I absolutely love these trips that are led by friends whose generations of family grew up in this area. They know every nook and cranny and always have a story of local lore or legend to share.

This was our camp area, surrounded by gigantic sycamores filled with baby squirrels. Click to enlarge.

Our local “tour guides” knew all about the Salazar Ranch home at our campsite, abandoned since at least the ‘60s, its innards removed by vandals – sinks and bedsprings littering the remote area. (But none of us knew what kind of birds awoke us at 4 a.m. with their incessant birdsong.)

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Photo of Salazar stable area and ranch home in background (in which a Mojave rattlesnake had taken up residence). Click to enlarge.

Yes, even bedsprings can be painted back to beauty by the brushstrokes of the sun. Click to enlarge.

The story that struck me most was one that connected Rancher Salazar to Carpet Hill, an infamous area I refuse to traverse in any 4WD vehicle (just a month ago, a man was killed on its steep faces). I had never understood why a bone-dry hill in the desert had such a name.

Within this series of steep hills is Carpet Hill. One wrong turn on our way home from the camping trip, and we’d have inadvertently been headed up its sheer slopes. Click to enlarge.

Randy and Fred were happy to share the legend of Carpet Hill: Rancher Salazar, you see, worked in Tucson as a carpet layer. When he returned to his ranch each night in his two-wheel drive pickup, he had only one way home: up that treacherous, steep hill. To gain traction, he’d throw carpet remnants along the hillside. And, alas, the name was born (And it stuck; all the locals know of Carpet Hill).

As we made our way back home and looked down on our sleepy little once-mining town, I wondered about all the other stories it held – those true, those fabricated, and especially those delicious ones that start with a real-life morsel, but take on new meaning as they pass the mouths of eager storytellers … altered, enhanced, transformed.

This lonely pinyon pine clings to the side of the saddle, standing sentinel above our town. If you look into the distance, you can see a line of green – the San Pedro riverbed that brought our town to life in the 1800s, thick with mesquite and story. Click to enlarge.

For Readers, Writers: Are you like me: a sucker for novels that incorporate legend and lore – the proverbial story within a story? Most recently, my book club read The Snow Child, a fabulous novel that takes legend and lore to new levels. Inspired by a Russian fairytale, it really straddles the line between fairytale and realism – and things are never quite what they seem. Another wonderful book, The Mermaid Collector, by Erika Marks, seamlessly shifts from a present-day story to a historic story filled with fascinating mermaid legend. And yet another novel that I felt was filled with artfully woven parable and lore was Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters.

What novels have you read that incorporate legend and lore? Have you ever tried to write a book that blends the present with the ‘teachable’ stories of the past? Why do you think people are drawn to legend and folklore? Are you?


20 Responses to “Of Legend and Lore”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    These photos are BEAUTIFUL!! I wish I could see them in person (the places, not the photos… someday!) As for novels with legend and lore, I loved Erika’s book, too. I’m trying my hand right now at historical fiction, and I truly appreciate the delicate balance between telling a story and outright teaching. For the first time in my life I can really appreciate the learning of the history in a way that makes it come alive, and I’m loving it! If only I’d known, who knows, I might have been an historian!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Well, if you put on your big girl panties and agree to go 4WD’ing, you CAN see these places in June when you come visit! Woo hoo.

    I know what you’re saying about history being so engrossing; I’ve found myself drawn to a lot of historical fiction lately – and books, of course, that have stories embedded with the framework of the novel, itself.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    What a fun campsite spot! I love how your neighbors appear to be miles away. That’s how it is out here, too. The pictures are lovely as always. And this reminds me that I need to read The Bird Sisters!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, I love being nearly neighbor-less (closest is probably 1.5 miles away) – especially after being on top of our neighbors in downtown Phoenix. You’ll love The Bird Sisters!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    What incredible photos! These might be my favorites of yours so far, Melissa. I love love love that one of the old bedsprings with the plants growing through; it could be framed art. And yes, I can sense how you relish the history and folklore where they mingle. No books like that come to mind off the top of my head, but I’m certainly jealous of your trip!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m so glad you pointed out the bedspring photo. I was so proud of it; I can’t tell you how many times I walked past that pile of metal without really noticing it. But then, through the camera lens (my crappy camera, too), I noticed the sun illuminating the wild grass, and – wowza – there was the shot of the trip!

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    Oh lovely! So gorgeous! What fun! I’m envious! Thanks for sharing. As always, you do such a wonderful job. Yes! The shot with the bedsprings! Incredible!

    Wasn’t “The Snow Child” wonderful? I must check out “The Mermaid Collector”. Hope all is well with you! I find the stories of Louise Erdrich – like “Tracks” and “Love Medicine” etc… combine legend and lore from a Native American perspective. Also, “The Girl with Glass Feet” by Ali Shaw draws heavily on lore and legend. Have you read that yet?

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, yes, yes … LOVED The Snow Child. And … you’re so right about Louise Erdrich! I read The Round House this year and thought it was fabulous. You’re right; it was filled with Native American story (The buffalo fable! How could I forget?) … I’m heading over to Goodreads RIGHT NOW to check out the other books you’ve mentioned. Thanks for the recs!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Melissa, all I know is that I can’t wait to go camping with you as our guide! That pinyon pine is breathtaking! One these days it WILL happen!:)

    You are so gracious and kind to include my novel in such incredible company. I, like you, love the idea of a legend–and how we as individuals cling to legend and lore to explain our own lives–or maybe just to enhance certain events.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh my goodness … I can’t wait until that day! We would have SO MUCH FUN camping and snooping around nature!

    You’re absolutely correct that humans “cling to legend and lore to explain our own lives.” You’ve articulated why I’m so drawn to it myself.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Oh my gosh, your photographs are absolutely breathtaking, and I thoroughly enjoyed the stories you shared.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Laurie. And I realized that now I need to know why that one peak is called “Holy Joe”… who IS holy Joe??? Hmm…

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Melissa – Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to go back and FIND OUT! Then let us in on it.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m working on it!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    LOVE the photos, and the beautiful description you use to describe the bedsprings, Melissa – “bedsprings can be painted back to beauty by the brushstrokes of the sun.” What poetry! Are you by any chance a writer?? Hehehe!

    That camping photo makes me want to get out the equipment and go camping! Lovely spot.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You need to come down here and visit so we CAN go camping!

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    I do like novels with legend in them . . . Harry Potter comes to mind. Is that a good example or am I missing the mark? My friend Anne Brown wrote a YA series starting with the book Lies Beneath that includes mermaid lore (some she got from research and some she invented.) One of my favorite parts of helping her edit was helping her keep track of this lore she’d woven throughout.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You know, if you can believe it, I’ve never read Harry Potter, so I can’t assess whether it’s a good example; ha ha. But Anne’s book sounds like it hits the mark for sure.

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  • avatar Bryan Hughes Says:

    Cool area! Do you have any photos of the rattlesnake? It’s a weird area to find a mojave! If it is what I think it is, I might bug you for more info.

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  • avatar Kerstin Peterson Says:

    I would like to read The Guest House because I am longing for a can’t-put-it-down good read. I have been disappointed or just meh about the last few books I’ve read.

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