Aug 8 2011

Beyond the Beach

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Yes, it’s been pretty wet in Arizona, but don’t be alarmed. We’re not beachfront property yet (as the photos below might suggest). This week, blogger and fellow Arizonan Shari Lopatin shares her love of the beach. Please give Shari a warm welcome and enjoy her prose and photos.

I once had a boyfriend who hated the beach. He thought it smelled like fish and garbage, and complained how the sand gets everywhere.

Thank God, he’s moved on, and so have I. Today, I can fall asleep on the beach with a like-minded partner, enveloped in the warmth of the fine sand, then submit myself to the ocean’s powerful waves. I would say I hope California really does fall into the ocean so we can get those beaches here in Arizona.

But then I’d miss California. So, I guess I’m screwed.

What is it about the beach?
I also love the Ponderosa Pine forest in Flagstaff. And the creek running through Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona (both of which are in Arizona, for those non-natives). But there’s just something extra special about the beach and the ocean.

After much contemplation, I’ve narrowed it down to this one reason: freedom.

The beach opens into the never-ending waters of the ocean. It’s unrestricted, it’s freeing, and it challenges you to wonder what’s beyond the horizon. Past explorers, such as Christopher Columbus and Cortés, couldn’t resist the beckoning of the ocean’s curiosity. They were not bound by the borders of the horizon. Instead, they dared to see what lived beyond it.

Yes, I think that’s why the beach earns first place on the list of Shari’s favorites. It’s the freedom to imagine.

For the writers …
I challenge you to be the Christopher Columbus of your own mind. Sail into the unknown waters and don’t be afraid to peek beyond the horizon. Picture the endless waves stretching into the distance and ask: “What might I find there?”

Will you confront your own fears about the depth of your own ocean? Sometimes that journey may lead to profound discoveries: we’re not happy with something in our lives, we recognize a hidden desire. But if you don’t explore those waters, what might you—and the world—be missing?

The great explorers of the literary world stretch from Jules Verne to Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley. Without their curiosity, we’d be at a loss today.

SO TELL ME: When you see the endless waters of the ocean, what do you imagine beyond the horizon?

(When you’re done responding to Shari’s thought-provoking questions, come visit me at Leah’s Thoughts, where I’m guesting on her blog this week.)

Shari Lopatin is a Phoenix-based professional writer, journalist, and media strategist who’s been published regionally, as well as nationally. She began her career as a newspaper reporter, earning two Associated Press awards as part of an investigative news team. She now works in the corporate world as a writer and media strategist, and continues writing for magazines on the side. Read more of Shari’s work on her blog, “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer,” where she posts every Thursday about writing tips, funny stories, industry news, and media strategies.

All photos in this post are the sole property of Shari Lopatin and cannot be reproduced or copied without permission.

Aug 1 2011

Barren to Bountiful

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Not even a month ago, this is how the desert looked: barren, brown, but still quite beautiful in its mocha-colored hues.

Train trestle view behind our house. Notice the vast amount of “tan” seen on the desert floor. Click to enlarge.

And this is how the desert looks now, aided by a few short weeks of desert monsoon rains.

Notice how much “green” is now on the desert floor. Click to enlarge.

Just weeks ago, you may recall how stressed I was about the stress of the desert vegetation. It had probably been a good six months since we’d had measurable rain. The prickly pears were wrinkly and hardened like leather, every hill around our house was painted in brown brushstrokes, and even the hardy saguaros were starting to show their limits with rippled trunks and squishy skin.

After one rain, though, things started to grow. And today – a few more storms under our belts – this is what the desert looks like:

Before these gorgeous Devil’s Claw flowers erupt, the first hint of their arrival is a trail of lily-pad-looking leaves formed into roving clusters. Click to enlarge.

This hill on the south end of our property was hot-cocoa colored not too long ago and studded with only an occasional glimmer of green: a creosote bush, a cholla cactus. Look at it now, as Arizona poppies enter the scene. Click to enlarge.

Close-up view of the Arizona poppy. This poppy almost always makes its appearance during summer – not springtime, like the brighter-orange Mexican poppies. Click to enlarge.

I’d been checking the area all spring and summer, looking for this desert four o’clock that I’d discovered last year. I figured it wasn’t going to bloom. Surprise! Flowers open fully when the sun comes up (I took this at 5:30 a.m.). Click to enlarge.

I love the furry globes that form on the whitethorn acacia. They're so geometric and such a great replica of a bursting sun. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: When I think of the Sonoran Desert’s monsoonal transformation, I think in layers. The first week after rain is the first layer: a few sprouts here. The second week, a few more sprouts. The third week, a few more. Then suddenly the green growth that seemed nothing more than pesky ugly duckling weeds transforms into a variety of flowers. Another layer!

And with each week comes another set of greens I don’t recognize. Another layer! And with that, more flowers, more color. More layers!

Our novels are the same as the metamorphosing desert. We start out with the “tan” base of our plot. Then we add our flora – our layers – characterization, subplots, setting, emotional arcs and collisions.

I think the most profound writing lesson that nature offers, however, is a reminder about the value of surprise. I love being surprised by the new things that pop up week after week, layer after layer. Sometimes the desert provides subtle hints as to what will emerge from the cracked earth. Other times, Mother Nature doesn’t provide a clue. I like my fiction the same way.

How do you feel about “surprises” in the works you read and write? Can an author overdo the surprises? Conversely, can he spell things out in too predictable a manner? What about red herrings? Like ‘em? Hate ‘em? And, finally, does “barren-to-bountifull” trigger any other reactions for you?