Oct 16 2011

Raven Rest Stop

Melissa Crytzer Fry

After encountering a half dozen ravens hopping along in the wash that runs through our driveway (these are big feathered friends, folks – think medium-sized dog), I decided to don my Nancy Drew hat. These black-cloaked birds had been squatting for two days already… What were they doing? Why had they taken over my permanent raven residents’ residence?

Slowly, slowy, I steered the quad to my stakeout position. I cut the engine immediately upon arrival so I didn’t disturb the hundreds more of these critters Velcroed to the nearby railroad trestle. I raised my camera, quietly unsnapping the lens cover.

These ravens have been calling our home their home. Click to enlarge.

The ravens scattered, decorating the sky, flecks of pepper against salt-colored clouds. I muttered under my breath. My photo op was gone, but I quickly realized that I was privy to an even greater treat: an aerial and auditory spectacle.

The scattering of ravens resulted in this view. Click to enlarge.

Why not enjoy the show, I thought? So I assumed the supine position (uncomfortably) on the quad seat, head pointed toward the sky, feet wrapped around handlebars. When I wasn’t snapping shots, I closed my eyes and listened. Ahh, the unmistakable whisk of air that occurs only when wings slap the sky. Methodic, mesmerizing, hypnotic.

Then I started to see that the ravens were forming beautiful patterns before my eyes. And often, two would cling side by side in synchronized pairs, their wings beating the same rhythm. And they’d talk, their throaty clicks a highly evolved form of communication.

A group of about 50 ravens (yes, I tried to count) flew right overhead, while another larger group dove and dipped in front of the Galiuro Mountains. Click to enlarge.

I was, indeed, enchanted. Given that ravens are one of the most frequently written-about birds in world literature, that makes sense, doesn’t it? The video below illustrates their aerodynamic acrobatics. Listen to them call out to one another (and watch them pair off).

Still playing the role of Nancy Drew, I uncovered another feathery fact: this giant grouping of ravens – traveling in massive flocks – was actually the Chihuahuan raven, on its way to Mexico for the winter. Our permanent residents are Common Ravens; they share the trestle with no one year-round and avoid flocks. They also generally stay put, using the same nest for years. Amazingly, they seemed to be gracious hosts, sharing their trestle with the Chihuahuans and staying behind when their cousins headed south.

Satisfied with the mystery I’d solved, I retired my Nancy Drew hat. Then I settled down to re-read Poe’s The Raven.

For Writers, Readers: An article by Rebekah Neelin indicates that, in literature, ravens often fall into three symbolic categories:

  1. Evil spirit/harbinger of death
  2. Trickster/thief
  3. Prophetic or wise spirit

How could you look at these wonderful birds and think they are anything less than inspired? This is one of the baby Common Ravens – our yearlong residents – posing for me last spring. Click to enlarge.

What do you think when you see a raven? Evil spirit? Thief? Genius? Do you think Halloween? Do you get a chill, or find them entertaining and social?

My Birds of Arizona Field Guide says that ravens are considered to be the smartest of all birds, which my blogger friend Julia Munroe Martin confirmed when she wrote a fascinating post about the intelligent crows (more cousins of the raven) that recognize her and her husband during their walks!

What stories have you read in which ravens – or other birds – set the tone in a particular scene? Have you thought of incorporating birds as symbols? Which birds might you choose? Why? How might they lend depth to you story?

Oct 9 2011

Glow in the Desert

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s not what you’d expect to see in the middle of a still, starless night in the Arizona desert …

Dimly lit turquoise and purple paper lanterns rocking in the wind. A family of four draped in six feet of neon yellow glow rope, moving as one like a snake among the outbuildings of a local ranch. A young woman in tights walking the dusty desert soil, an oversized blue-and-white lighted hula-hoop in her hands.

But that’s exactly what I saw a few weekends ago. And more.

GLOW – A Nighttime Art Experience, is held annually at a nearby ranch and features multimedia art displays scattered among dimly lit paths edged by prickly pear cacti, mesquite trees, agave and palo verdes. Click to enlarge.

“Be the glow you wish to see in the world,” the GLOW event advertisements read. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. And once hubby and I were there, I still didn’t know what to think, except: Wow.

What did I see, besides the multimedia art? I saw an adult woman in a fluffy, hoop-skirt pink prom gown and flip-flops, continually sneaking into a storage building to refill her wine glass. I saw glow bracelets dancing through the darkness, though I knew they were wrapped around ankles and wrists. I saw a real-life Urkel in skinny jeans cut off at the knees, Mork suspenders completing the ensemble. I saw lights peeking from creosote bushes and mesquite. I heard music floating on the thirsty desert air.

Your eyes are not deceiving you. You do see headless Barbies in this piece of artwork that depicts an umbrella of brains. Your interpretation? I’m not sure I have one. Click to enlarge.

I saw a plump woman in a Viking style gown with coins sewn to the thick maroon fabric at the small of her back. I listened to the haunting notes of a violinist, who played before the backdrop of a giant, dancing Windows 98 screensaver. I watched Dr. Seuss cartoons from an old reel-to-reel projector perched high atop a small storage shed and aimed at the ground, bringing the settled dirt to animated life.

More artwork on display in a wonderful old brick outbuilding on the ranch. Click to enlarge.

I saw metal barrels soldered and sculpted and lit from within, listened to a band singing about falling cats (really!), inhaled the aroma of Mexican and Italian food from local restaurants, and watched a man in a King Tut costume strut his stuff. I’m serious. I couldn’t possibly make this up.

But what I felt? What I felt was a peaceful calm. I relished the cool breeze, void of moths and mosquitoes, void of the rush of everyday life. I felt my imagination come to life.

We were seated at a small table when I took this photo; a man played tunes on an old player piano behind us, his dog sitting by the piano bench waiting patiently. The softness of this photo captures some of the ambiance I felt. Notice the glowing outfits. Click to enlarge.

As we headed home for the evening, I floated hypnotically down the dimly lit path, under the paper lanterns that greeted us when we first arrived. It felt as though I’d been transported to some eccentric magical land of make-believe – adults lit up like Christmas trees, children wearing Pippi Longstocking stockings, wizard hats and fairy costumes, wings pinned to their backs. It was Halloween meets art. Desert breeze meets artistic calm. Harry Potter meets Renaissance.

And it made me wonder, later: Did I really see the dozen or so snakes strewn all over the winding rural desert roads as I drove the pickup home? Was there really a great horned owl waiting at the horse stables at our house, greeting us with an impressive wing span, stilled, watching us just as curiously as we watched him?

For Writers: Do you find material for your stories in unexpected places? It wasn’t my intention to gather fiction fodder this evening, but you betcha’ that a scene from this night will be in my WIP. I’m not sure how this artistic event morphed into the potpourri of eclecticism that it has, but my mind was – is – spinning with ideas, just like that reel-to-reel movie projector.