Jul 13 2013

Powerless (with pie)

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Monsoon season in the desert is a sight to behold: clouds mushrooming behind mountain ranges, normally placid skies sporting swollen cumulus columns, and dry washes transformed to churning rivers in a matter of minutes.

My husband, a US Weather Service SKYWARN Trained Spotter, loves nothing more than this sight during monsoon season. Click to enlarge.

It may not be every desert dweller’s favorite time of the year, but we relish the sustaining drops of water – even the humidity – and the transformation of the desert afterward. Of course, there are often prices to be paid when the storm season rolls in, and the transformation is not always beautiful:

Our poor paloverde lost a limb after 58 MPH winds roared past our home. Click to enlarge.

Below is a video of the hill behind hubby’s ham shack (my sometimes-writing office), transformed into a waterfall, with lots of water headed toward the septic clean-out and our house.

Almost always with these summer monsoon bursts, there is also power loss. In fact, the poor infrastructure supplying our electric guarantees it. So, we plan as best we can …

It was book club night on July 10 - storm night - and I knew I had to get my tarheel pie in the oven early ... before the electric went out. Click to enlarge.

Mother Nature, the jokester that she is, decided to wallop us with wind, rain, and sideways-falling hail exactly one hour before book club (see above paloverde and mountain river). She did, however, wait a few hours until after the pie was baked. Smart gal!

Like any group of serious book lovers, we decided: “the show must go on,” even as our homes’ electrical currents did not. On Laurel’s screened-in patio, we scrambled for slight breezes, even though they were wet with humidity. We drank wine, ate chile relleno, tostadas, fresh fruit and brownie pie (the food was cold and the drinks were warm, but we didn’t care).

Thanks to the flash of my iPhone camera, I got a photo of this delectable pie served in darkness. Thanks, Julia, for the crust recipe (my first homemade crust attempt). Do you see my flashlight in the background? That was our mood lighting.

As we discussed The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow on the silent screened porch, the desert was hushed, but somehow louder. Few cars traveled the main road a quarter-mile behind us, and the smattering of houses over distant hills were dark and silent. Coyote chirps sounded in the wash below, barn owls hissed from one tree to another, and as the night wore on, the nocturnal Sonoran Desert toads emerged – trapped beneath packed soil for much of the year, but now awakened by the rains. Their cries of rebirth punctured the darkness, a mewling-type croak: part ewe, part bullfrog.

It was magical.

Until the next morning when we still had no power, and our refrigerators and freezers were growing warmer, the threat of losing food quite real.

Flash forward to 20+ hours of no electric (and me, operating on 2.5 hours of sleep), indoor temperatures of 90, outdoor humidity at 55%, the sun blaring. Not much fun anymore.

To try to cool down, I built myself a nest in the bed of the Polaris under the breezeway. I have to be honest: the thought of doing anything other than breathing was painful at that point.

Finally, a magical breeze started up and lasted for two hours as I curled up in Rojo Diablo with Beth Hoffman’s Looking for Me. (See it there to the right?)

Unbeknownst to me, this little fella was has hiding right under Rojo's tire as I read for two hours. Aww! Click to enlarge.

By the time night fell again, we were at 28 hours of powerless living. Hubby, being the MacFryver that he is, rigged up some temporary solutions (before his wife went insane, and the cats’ spots melted into puddles).

A girl’s gotta have a way to charge her iPhone - even if she lives in the boonies (especially when her cars are so old they don’t have the fancy-pants charging adapters). Hubby somehow wired this up to the solar panels in the ham shack.

And a fan – a glorious fan blowing warm air in my face (also somehow wired up to the solar panels).

And a cheap-ass, old-school phone for emergencies since 1) AT&T thinks it’s fun to NOT put a generator on their cell site, meaning we lose all signal strength during emergencies and 2) the cordless phones and my desk phone were toast.

And then… ten minutes after Hubby MacFryver fixed it all up: the power came back on! Of course.

As the skies rumble outside at this very moment of writing, and the soft pitter-patter of rain hits the skylight, I wonder: were we really powerless – or were we, in some ways, empowered? Empowered to see how reliant we are on electric, how quickly the balance can change between man and nature? How beautiful silence can sometimes be and the things it allows us to hear (True confession: I’m not sure I could have gone more days in that kind of heat).

What I find most amusing, however, is that this power outage became a reading and writing adventure for me: an unforgettable book club evening, a reading retreat under a welcomed breeze, and writing about a storm during a storm.

For Readers: Have books ever come to your rescue? In what ways?

For Writers: Have difficult situations you’ve personally experienced ever inspired your fiction?


Jun 30 2013

Me & Peppermint P

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Despite my love of the Arizona desert, this arid land is not my native home. I’m a Pennsylvania transplant of 15 years, now far away from the blustery winter days that encouraged my southwestern retreat (I don’t miss having to crawl over the backseat to the driver’s seat – in a dress suit and heels – because the back door is the only one not frozen shut).

I’m excited today to share with you a small piece of my Pennsylvania past as part of The Echoes of Objects project dreamed up by my talented writer friend, Kim Samsin.

Yes. Peppermint Patty is the topic of discussion in my guest post.

The Echoes of Objects Collection – with the tagline “What we saved and why it matters” – aims to explore the ways in which we invest objects with meaning …  especially those of us who have moved far away from our birthplaces. As Kim says in her rationale about the Echoes project, “Mementos of home survive not because of any financial value (though they may be priceless on the open market) but because of our emotional attachments to them, the stories and people that blast back into our minds the minute we see them again.”

I hope you’ll stop by to read my short post, “A Peanut for Your Thoughts,” about an unassuming piece of plastic that has ‘stuck around’ from childhood to adulthood. (If you wish to comment, it’s easiest to come back here — or, on the post, to hover at the right of the article and look for the “+” sign or one of the numbered boxes,  which will allow you to log in via Twitter to comment).

P.S. Those of you who have moved far from home: Kim is looking for more contributors to the Collection. Contact her on Twitter or her blog, Kimperative, if you’re interested in participating.