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?


May 5 2013

Help Name the Hummie Twins

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s a good thing I didn’t have kids. Given the way I’ve carried on about these hummingbird babies (and driven my husband nuts), I’m pretty sure my own children would have been bubble-wrapped and wearing goggles and protective helmets as I sent them off to school each day (greeeaaatt for self-esteem).

Before I go back in time to show you the progression, first: today’s view of the nest. May 5. Click to enlarge.

Let me just start out by saying, sheesh. As truly wonderful as it has been to witness the evolution of eggs to miraculous tiny birds, I’ve been a bit of a basket case. (Scroll to the bottom of my first post to see the eggs being laid on April 3 and April 5)

At first, I was sure Egg No. 1 wasn’t going to hatch at all, since Egg No. 2 took the lead and busted loose first on April 19 (In the past, we’ve had luck with only one egg hatching, so I figured this was the case again).

Even so, I enjoyed the early videos of mama feeding this miniscule creature (when they hatch, they are bigger than a Tic-Tac but smaller than a Jelly Belly):

So imagine my surprise, when, on April 21, two days after the first egg hatched, I saw this:

I missed the first hatching, but actually caught this one in progress. Earlier in the day, I told hubby I thought I’d seen a crack in the shell (I figured this was wishful thinking, but I was right!). Click to enlarge.

This video captures the second baby trying to rid itself of the shell on its head and rear.

I was delighted by the second arrival, but the next day saw that it was trapped under the much larger sibling. For 45 minutes, I watched (in agony) as it struggled, kicking its eensy-weensy feet to free itself, but to no avail. By the time mama came to feed each time (when the larger would lift its head, finally freeing the smaller baby), it was too exhausted to attempt eating.

Can you see how much smaller the new baby is? And I swear its neck looks bent unnaturally (The neck was pinned under big sib). Click to enlarge.

But at long last, I witnessed mama feeding the tiny babe (after big sib):

Yay! Crisis averted. Right?

Not so fast. A few days later, mama disappeared amidst some 30 MPH winds. For four hours. This is unnatural, since the babies need her to help regulate their body temperature and need near-constant feeding. Alas, though, mama returned home around 4 p.m., and the babies were fine. (I don’t know if she was blown away and had to find her way home? I can think of no other explanation.) Another crisis averted.

Until April 24…I just happened to check the camera and saw this giant fly inching closer and closer to the nest.

For anyone wondering just how small baby hummingbirds are, this should provide some perspective. This fly reminds me (in size) of the horseflies of my youth in PA. Click to enlarge.

Not knowing what the giant fly was capable of (given it was two to three times larger than the babies), I ran outside and shooed it away. I later learned, from the wonderful local Arizona biologist, artist and blogger Margarethe Brummermann, Ph.D. that the Mexican Cactus Fly (Copestylum mexicanum) is a nectar forager and not harmful at all. Phew.

Finally relaxed, I began to monitor – and be amazed – by how quickly the nest filled up with growing baby bodies. Though I confess, I still worried about Munchkin, always the second to be fed, always smaller, always trying to ‘catch up.’

This night-cam photo on April 25 shows how featherless these little guys are, and how large and bulging their eyes are. Can you believe how much they’ve filled up the nest in a few short days? Click to enlarge.

This is the first hatchling, whom I started to call Big Mouth, because mama always went to its giant beak first. April 28. Click to enlarge.

This is the runt, whom I began to refer to as “Munchkin,” feeding. Can you tell the difference in size? April 28.

Of course my Nervous Nellie tendencies picked back up, right in sync with the strong wind gusts that returned days later (The babies are above a concrete floor. Eeks!) And I can’t begin to tell you how unnerving it is to see them push their feet around in the nest, the sides of the cylindrical construction expanding and morphing with their movements. This is a marvel of engineering; the nests are built with spider webs that allow for expansion (and “breathing”) as the babies move and grow.

Take a look at their early movements below. I think I captured the first faux flying-test by Big Mouth:

And, minutes later, Munchkin proves that he’s still quite the fighter, determined to catch up.

For Readers, for Writers: I think, as writers, its easy for us to become anxious about our progress and to compare ourselves and our journeys to other writers. Those of us who came to fiction later in life may feel we’re “catching up” to those younger writers who realized, early on, their fiction dreams. Or we may see other writers achieving success – signing contracts, selling books, advancing their careers – with greater speed. But I wonder … does it really matter? Does it matter who got there first? Do you really need to worry about catching up? We all work at our own pace, don’t we? And don’t things just sometimes have a way of working out when and how they should?

Consider Munchkin: Though he is still lagging behind in size, it looks as though he is going to make it. Maybe he’ll be that infamous underdog we love to root for in the books we read – the one who kept fighting and grew to be a successful young hummingbird, despite the odds.

Help Me Name the Babies

I’m not sure my nicknames are appropriate for this dynamic hummingbird duo. Help me choose official names:

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P.S. 1 If you read my last post about the bees: sadly, they left Ray’s bee boxes after one night, apparently driven out by the territorial local colonies.

P.S.2 Edit Palooza is ‘officially’ complete – well, this go-round, at least!