Oct 6 2014

Honey-Do Rescue

Melissa Crytzer Fry

For years, I have begged my husband to “help” with any number of honey-dos and ‘saves’ around the ranch:

Can you build me a kestrel box?… Please make sure the hummingbird feeder is full while I’m gone so that the nectar-eating bats have food… Can you build a platform for the nesting roadrunners?

Baby roadrunner, who left Mr. Honey-Do's platform nest a bit too soon. Click to enlarge.

Baby roadrunner, who left Mr. Honey-Do’s platform nest a bit too soon. Click to enlarge.

… There’s a lizard in the campground toilet. Save him! … Can you disconnect those lights so the oriole can build her nest? … A hummingbird cam would be great… Mama deer and baby deer keep missing one another under the tree (the trail camera time stamp says so!) They’re separated. Can’t we do something? …

Yeah, yeah… the list goes on. And with my most recent, rather-insane rescue recommendation hubby said, “I think I figured out a better name for your blog.” Saving the World One Honey-Do at a Time.

Yes, a great idea, except it’s too long for a url. And I’m not the one doing the honey-dos (but I sure am glad he is open to all my world-saving antics. He’s even stopped his vehicle – on his own – on a busy highway to rescue a desert tortoise crossing the road).

So…What prompted his recent renaming ruminations? This time it was this:

What’s the big deal, you ask? Looks like a battered, washed-up plant, you say. Whoopee. Click to enlarge. (We fixed the slow-to-open photo issue. I dare you to click!).

What’s the big deal, you ask? Looks like a battered, washed-up plant, you say. Whoopee, you think? Click to enlarge.

This is a saguaro … not just any plant. It was on its way to becoming a giant cactus – the equivalent of East Coast trees – one that takes hundreds of years to mature. They only grow here in the Sonoran desert. Nowhere else in the world. Many of you may recall my complete obsession with this towering giant that happens to wear a summer crown of white blossoms (Arizona’s state flower).

For all those reasons, I convinced Hubby — Mr. Honey-Do — to do this, despite the many ways we could have been impaled:

This saguaro was situated right in the middle of our wash, which, earlier this year, flowed with the ferocity of a large river. It uprooted her and took her a good quarter of a mile down the wash. Click to enlarge.

This saguaro was situated right in the middle of our wash, which, earlier this year, flowed with the ferocity of a large river. It uprooted her and took her a good quarter of a mile away. Click to enlarge.

Did I mention that saguaros are protected by law? As in: even if they are on your own property, you must get permission to move them. But in this case, this saguaro would have rotted and perished (about 50 years of growth gone), so moving her – or rescuing her – was imperative. You can imagine my freak-out when, after a trip to the East Coast, I came home and saw she was MISSING! (I’d had my eye on the slow creep of erosion that had exposed her roots on one side the year before).

Determined to find her, I went for a trek. Hubby was sure she went all the way down into the river, but I found her. I found her! And then the hard work began:

That cactus didn’t look so big out of context, did it? She’s about four-feet tall, and we estimate she weighs about 200 lbs. Click to enlarge.

That cactus didn’t look so big without context, did it? She’s about four-feet tall, and we estimate she weighs about 200 lbs. Click to enlarge.

Here she lies wrapped in shade cloth, up near the house, to avoid sunburn before transplant. Her roots needed to dry out, following a recommended trimming by the Cactus and Succulent Society. Click to enlarge.

Here she lies wrapped in shade cloth, up near the house, to avoid sunburn before transplant. Her roots needed to dry out, following a recommended trimming by the Cactus and Succulent Society (they were severely damaged). Click to enlarge.

I dug the hole. We chose a spot under an aging palo verde, for the shade. When the tree dies, she’ll hopefully be healthy and can stand on her own without the need for shade. Click to enlarge.

I dug the hole. We chose a spot under an aging palo verde, for the shade. When the tree dies, she’ll hopefully be healthy and can stand on her own without the need for shade. Click to enlarge.

Hubby built some padded braces. Click to enlarge.

Hubby built some padded braces. Click to enlarge.

We used this wooden horse to stabilize her and these purple straps to hoist her into her new home. Click to enlarge.

We used this wooden horse to stabilize her as we tugged on the purple straps to hoist her into her new home. Click to enlarge.

Hubby added the braces and some stakes with bungee cords to ensure she can re-root. You can see the scars and skin gashes she endured during her ride down the wash. Click to enlarge.

Hubby added the braces and some stakes with bungee cords to ensure she can re-root. You can see the scars and skin gashes she endured during her ride down the wash. Click to enlarge.

While we would love to high-five and call this a success, there are lots of things that can still go wrong… Like the rain that followed the next two weeks after we put her back in the ground (she needed to have DRY feet for at least two weeks to avoid rot. So I tarped and untarped her daily — worrying about too much moisture under the unbreathable tarp.)

Another possibility: her roots may not ‘take.’ And even if she appears to be green and still standing, she might do so for years before dying (that’s how much water they have stored inside). That’s why I did this:

I read that the only way to know if the cactus roots are taking in water in to do a baseline circumference measurement. I cut the string, then measured it: 28.25 inches. Next year, we’ll check during monsoon season to see if she’s expanded. Click to enlarge.

I read that the only way to know if the cactus roots are taking in water is to do a baseline circumference measurement. I cut the string, then measured it: 28.25 inches. Next year, we’ll check during monsoon season to see if she’s expanded. Click to enlarge.

And I did this:

To ensure I measure in the same spot next year, I painted her spines with polish. Click to enlarge.

To ensure I measure in the same spot next year, I painted her spines with polish. Click to enlarge.

So keep your fingers crossed that “Eileen” – as hubby named her (I Lean… Get it?) – makes it. She sure is worth saving to me: a probably 50-year-old gal even at that small stature (I think?). Worth the rescue. To me, at least. What say ye, Mr. Honey Do? Thank you for helping me save the world, one honey-do at a time!

For Readers, For Writers, Everyone: What’s worth saving to you? What have you rescued lately – a piece of writing? A friendship? A story idea? Do you want to save the world, too? Do you think little actions – tiny rescues – can make a difference?


Sep 15 2014

Lucking Out

Melissa Crytzer Fry

When hubby and I bought our ranch back in 2004, we knew only that we were fleeing big-city life for nearly 40 acres of desert wilds. Sure, we noticed the normally dry wash that crossed right over our new driveway. Couldn’t miss it. And we wondered how much fun we’d have keeping it passable when the wash decided to flow. But one look at the mountain views, and we were hooked.

With mountains and cloud formations like this, we couldn’t resist. Click to enlarge.

At the time, we didn’t know what it really meant to have a wash running through our property – dry or churning, intact or washed out. I can’t recall who said it, but I was told, “Oh yes, you’ve got an animal superhighway running through your place with that wash out there. It’s an animal corridor.”

Ding. Ding. Ding. Lucky jackpot! We had no clue that the kind of geography surrounding us was going to provide so many wildlife-viewing opportunities.

Case in point: This past weekend, this red-tailed hawk hit an updraft at just the right time, making him stationary, and easier to photograph. Click to enlarge.

Then, of course, there are those lucky breaks with my photography and my wildlife ‘subjects’ (though maybe it isn’t considered luck when you snap 50 photos and deem only two or three of decent quality). There’s also the luck of being in the right place at the right time: in our backyard, witnessing two pair of red-tailed hawks screeching, screaming, and calling to one another.

It took many tries to get the “landing gear-down” photo. Love the symmetry of their motions. I was in awe. Click to enlarge.

And then there’s the luck of moving a hair this way, a few steps that way, and gaining an entirely new perspective:

The remnants of the super moon were right there, waiting for artistic interpretation. Click to enlarge.

Finally, there are the accidents afforded simply by virtue of our proximity to the wash. This weekend, I was ridding our porches of copious amounts of bat guano from our endangered nectar-eating bats (who’d finally moved toward South America in anticipation of winter) when I heard a raspy chirping noise. I released the nozzle of the hose and listened, assuming I was hearing the bird I couldn’t identify earlier that morning.

But then my eye caught movement on the hill and I heard the methodic calling. Over and over. A bobcat. A meow-chirp. With urgency. I watched her trek up the hill and slip under the fence. That’s when I saw something in the arm of a nearby 20-foot tall saguaro. I looked again. Fur. What? The fur moved. The fur turned toward me and put its paws down the trunk of the spiny cactus, head first. It leapt like a flying squirrel into the spiked branches of a small palo verde tree below. I heard nothing for minutes. I saw nothing. And then it emerged … a smaller bobcat, hot on mama’s trail!

Click to enlarge.

I’d only ever seen photos of bobcats and mountain lions perched on saguaros. And I didn’t get any photos myself to prove that they really aren’t PhotoShopped. (I am thankful, by the way, for the opportunity to be present in the moment and not fumbling with a camera, which later inspired some 500 words of fiction). What incredible luck to be outside. That morning. At that moment. I still don’t know how big cats withstand that kind of puncturing on the paw pads, and I marvel.

I marvel at the role of the lucky breaks in our lives (like the times we did capture bobcat activity on video and on film). Like the luck of having my camera ready at the precise moment the sun was coming over the hills last week:

Click to enlarge.

… Like buying a property that had a glorious wash running through it.

For Writers, Readers, Everyone: Have you ever lucked out in your life? Have you ever lucked out in your writing or your literary career? Have plot points come to you from the blue? Did a single experience spur an entire novel concept? I am reminded of my friend, Natalia Sylvester’s recent post about the magic that is storytelling… or is it simply luck?