Oct 6 2013

Batty About Bats

Melissa Crytzer Fry

This is not an early Halloween post, though I suppose it is fitting since we’re into October and parents kids are already amped up on the Halloween candy that hit shelves two months earlier. No, this is an update.

As you may recall from my last bat post, I’m monitoring bat activity at my hummingbird feeder. The study encourages us to submit photos of our rare nectar-sipping visitors for identification, because two types of backyard bandits drain Arizona feeders from July-October: the endangered Lesser Long-Nosed and the threatened Mexican Long-Tongued. Here they are, in action:

And, yes, if you keep reading, you’ll find a writing lesson hidden between the backwards feet of these bats (True: a bat’s feet are rotated 180 degrees, meaning its knees face backwards. This rotation allows a bat to to hang by its feet and to navigate while flying).

But let me tell you: photographing these buggers in not an easy feat. Look at the way they swoop and skitter about (thanks, hubby, for setting up an infrared video camera).

My first solo photography attempt failed miserably — maybe because I had a flashlight, a camera, and a gun to juggle WHILE taking photos? The next time, hubby accompanied me. Again, no go. Zero shots.

But on the third try, we got lucky:

We realized you actually have to shoot before you SEE any bats at the feeder. If you wait until you see them, they’re gone. It’s all about anticipation. They are that fast. Click to enlarge.

Ted Fleming, the researcher heading the study, successfully identified our visitors from this single photo! We’ve got the Mexican Long-Tongued nectar eaters. When I indicated I was a little disappointed we didn’t have the Lesser Long-nosed, he had this to say:

I think you should celebrate having Mexican long-tongues at your place. They’re much less common than lesser long-noses. Arizona houses tens of thousands of lesser long-noses seasonally but only a few thousand long-tongues (nobody really knows).

OMG … music to my ears (and I had already begun to celebrate, happy just to know “who” was hanging around). But, of course, one photo was no longer enough. I dragged hubby outside again. I needed more, more, more! And he got these … Please click to enlarge so you can see the ‘horn’ on the nose, the tongue length, and the incredible skeletal systems:

Even if we hadn’t gotten any shots, I was reminded of the line in the novel, Glow, by Jessica Maria Tuccelli that states, “The agony of waiting brings the joy of fulfillment.”

This experience has really been a metaphor for the writing life, I realize. When you photograph fast-moving bats, here’s what you’ll experience:

  • A Need for Patience – Bat photography is an art. Like all art, it challenges you to resist the urge to get up and leave before something beautiful happens. Give up too soon and you might miss it.
  • Lots of time in the dark – You will spend lots of time wondering if you really know what the hell you’re doing.
  • Anticipation – You really do have to contemplate the bat’s next move if you want to be successful at capturing him in your lens at just the right time.
  • Exhilaration – The small victories – a wing-beat near your head, soft as a lullaby, or a bat nearly brushing your cheek – can lead up to the big reward: completing a task you deemed nearly impossible (In this case, the “money” shot. In your case …?)

For Readers, For Everyone: Do you think things that you’ve waited for offer a sweeter reward? What are some examples in your life?

For Writers: Do you recognize the roller coaster of patience-darkness-anticipation-exhilaration in your own writing? In your life? In what ways?

Stay tuned for next week’s update about the ghostly apparition in the historical society window. Hint: my cousin went back and took her own photos … Yes, I guess I am getting in the spirit of Halloween.

Sep 29 2013

Red with Envy

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Now that fall is here, I have a confession: I spent the summer with a bit of garden envy. You see, with Arizona’s summer temperatures in the scorching 100+ range, anything we grow during this season becomes brittle or baked, sizzled by the sun. Well – at least that’s been my gardening experience.

Who could blame me of this vegjealousy (yeah, I made that up…) – especially after a trek back home to Pennsylvania where my parents’ garden yielded such bounty?

In August, I had my share of fresh, delicious tomatoes right from Mom’s garden. Click to enlarge.

True, I am a novice potato-digger. Those are my skilled scalping – I mean shovel – marks. Click to enlarge.

Despite this envy – of not only the veggie abundance on the east coast, but also the gardener’s green thumb – you’d be surprised what the desert yields all on her own during the summer months … something I was sure to harvest before I left for Pennsylvania.

Meet the prickly pear cactus and its gorgeous magenta-colored fruit. Click to enlarge.

Appropriately named, this fruit is protected by the flat-paddled cactus and the dagger-sharp, prickly spines growing from it. Those spines, however, aren’t the biggest danger when harvesting prickly pear fruit.

You can, for instance, encounter this:

I belted out a pretty good scream when I pulled at a fruit that, unbeknownst to me, was hollowed out on the other side of my tinkling tongs. Inside: a lot of angry bees. Click to enlarge.

Or you might encounter this in the “prickly pear patch.”

Yep – that’s a rattlesnake slithering away, not quite awake at this early morning hour, except for my intrusion. I won’t tell you how close I came to stepping right on this fella who was coiled up and sleeping -- or how many snake ‘divots’ I counted. (I go out early to pick fruit before it’s … you guessed it … 100+ degrees).

Then there’s this:

What, you ask? No danger here. That’s some beautiful fruit, you say. But look closely at those tiny hairs piercing the delicate fruit flesh. (The goal when washing the fruit – armed with a small scrub brush and rubber gloves – is to remove these little buggers).

Those miniscule unassuming hairs are called glochids, and they sprout from the polka dots on each fruit, as well as on the paddles (nopales). In fact, when done with washing, this is always the sight in the sink:

BEWARE! Glochids are masters of disguise, lodging in fingers, arms – even the tummy, if you’re not careful. You may not even know they’re there, until you brush against one and see that your skin is an angry red. Owee! Then you’ll search and see nothing. You’ll wonder where this phantom pain is coming from. Tweezers will be your only hope – and provide your only proof.

So why do it? Why go through all the hassle of harvesting this fruit*? And why do gardeners labor the way they do, selecting the perfect seeds, cultivating to perfection?

This. This is why I do it. Prickly pear jelly is unlike any other flavor. In fact, I honestly can’t explain the taste. Not fruity. Not veggie like. Sweet but not too sweet. It’s untamed. It’s natural. It’s just … prickly pear. It’s just right. Click to enlarge.

I’ve also made a red onion-prickly pear relish, prickly pear margaritas, prickly pear syrup… Umm…

Yes, all that work is worth it in the end – just to see this shimmering quilted jar against blue skies, to taste the jelly’s sweetness on my lips, to see this beautiful thing that I played a role in harvesting and transforming.

Why else? Because sometimes we do things simply because we love them – despite the glochids that we didn’t even know were there, until one jabbed us, until one pierced our skin.

For Readers: What activities do you continue with, despite them feeling like labors of love? Why do you continue?

For Writers: What hidden glochids of the writing world have you faced? Have they been painful, rewarding, unexpected? Why do you carry on, even when faced with these hidden obstacles? How do you harvest and transform in your writing life?

*I accidentally discovered the lazy woman’s juice technique: freeze the fruits whole, then later defrost them, which yields incredible juice by simply squeezing the Ziploc. One must, however, strain the juice thoroughly through cheesecloth. Trust me: you don’t want rogue glochids piercing your tongue.