Aug 17 2013

Wise Old Soul

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s that time of year in the Sonoran Desert: when we see lots of these guys wandering about. I spotted a small desert tortoise last week as I was running one of the dusty trails on our property, and also this larger fella a few days ago:

Our cat, Niña, alerted us to this guy as he ambled past our window. His shell was about the size of a basketball (if, of course, you added a crescent to each end, transforming it to an oval). Click to enlarge.

The body armor of this creature really is an engineering feat to behold (look under his belly). Click to enlarge.

... And the details on his regal face. Click to enlarge.

The first time I wrote about desert tortoises, I was reminded of the “slow and steady wins the race” mantra they conjure from Aesop’s fables. But this time, looking into the golden eyes of the Gopherus Agassizii, his gaze dismissive, his head nod slow, I was moved by the knowingness he exuded.

I’m not sure if it’s the deep crevices etched into his face, the hard set of his jaw, or his determined resolve to graze on the tender shoots of monsoon-fed grass (despite my intrusion) … But he exuded nobility to me and this sense that he was to be commended – revered – even. He’s earned every one of those wrinkles and wedges, and deserves praise for surviving in such an unforgiving environment.

For Readers, Writers: Fiction (and life) often brings us these wise souls – mentor archetypes – who impart wisdom. What books have you read that feature the notable “wise old soul” character? Do you think this archetype is integral to every story or just some stories? Does he or she have to be “old?” Writers – have you scribed these sages into your own works? Tell us about them.


19 Responses to “Wise Old Soul”

  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    Melissa you always share the most amazing pictures and get me thinking! Yes! That turtle has a commanding look that misses nothing, shows determination, and the wisdom of valuing the journey not the speed. In the environment of instantaneous gratification and narrow self-interests we would do better to go slower and look around more.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hear ye to the “instant gratification environment.” We really do need to slow down and take a look. Mr. Tortoise actually came back for a visit today.

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    Linda Anselmi Reply:

    Oops. Tortoise. Glad he came back. He knows a good neighbor when he sees one.

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I absolutely love tortoises! I know they live a long time, so I always imagine all they’ve seen. Remarkable to contemplate. As for wise souls who impart wisdom… in one of my WIPs I have a college professor who imparts ( I should say TRIES to impart) wisdom to a young woman. She really doesn’t listen though and ends up making some good (and bad) choices anyway!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, desert tortoises can live 30 to 50 years, which is such a long time compared to other desert fauna.

    I love that your college pro is the wise old tortoise, but that the young hare chooses to ignore him. Hmm… We know how that story ends, according to Aesop. I wonder …

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Melissa – I love your photographs! Tortoises and turtles are RIGHT UP THERE in my book. First are trees, followed by whales, then elephants, then turtles (water) / tortoises (land) – especially loggerhead turtles. The individual WISDOM in the aforementioned living creatures is amazing. Their collective wisdom is well and beyond our puny human comprehension.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha – I love that you have such enthusiasm for tortoises! You would have been excited to watch Mr. Tortoise, who returned today, to munch on grass. He put on quite a show for the cats, gobbling up the green stuff.

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    I love how your photos always reveal the hidden life of the desert. Your tortoise can disappear into the background, but when you look closely, there’s so much rich detail.

    I love reading older mentor characters and older main characters, too. Life experience and wisdom make for an interesting outlook which always enhances a story for me.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I really do feel blessed to live in the rural desert (it is nothing at all like living in downtown Phoenix; trust me!). These guys DO blend right in; amazing camouflage.

    I look for that same life experience from the characters I meet in the real world. People with experience under their belts have SO much to share with us, don’t they?

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Love the wise old soul character! Ida Mae in The Outcast is older, but more hurt than wise. She does impart what she’s learned through her mistakes, though. As always, such great pictures! 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ida Mae and I are going to get acquainted – beginning tomorrow! Finally, my greedy little hands are on your book :-).

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Aw, he’s so cute! Did you ask him his secrets? You can’t just let an opportunity like this go to waste, Melissa! =)~

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  • avatar Christi Craig Says:

    What great photos. I love the all-knowing look, too. I have a character in my WIP who I aim to be the “old wise one,” so this post is a great reminder of the part expressions play in making such a character authentic. It isn’t always in the words where we see truth.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I can’t wait to hear more about your “Old Wise One”! Yes – what a great reminder, indeed, of the non-verbals that illustrate a character’s knowingness and authenticity.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    I love that you caught these photos out in ‘the wild’. It’s so startling to be reminded these creatures are in there natural habitat in the desert, and amazing they can survive in those harsh conditions.
    Lovely photos, Melissa!

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    Melissa Reply:

    They just don’t seem to fit, do they? I am always so excited to see them and so appreciate their ability to thrive in such a difficult environment.

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  • avatar Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    Love that face. I don’t know if you need “the wise one” in a story, but I always like them. One of my favorites is Lee Chong, the servant in Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    This topic is so apropos for me. I just finished The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. I really loved it for the first 50%. By the 2nd half I was desperate for a wise old soul character to come give advice to the young protagonist who really needed some guidance. It was a piece of the plot that was really lacking actually.

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  • avatar Lori P Says:

    Just the antidote I needed to get over those creepy bats!! =)

    LOVE MR WISE TORTOISE!
    As for characters, I really loved Aibilleen in THE HELP and Atticus in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. But now that I think about it, it seems there aren’t a ton of these characters, though don’t we all wish for one in our real lives?

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