Sep 4 2011

Open Wings

Melissa Crytzer Fry

The first time I saw one of these critters during a jog, I thought it looked like something from a sci-fi movie with all its knobs and protrusions. But after some research, I learned that it is the precursor to something quite beautiful.

Aug. 6 -- This little guy slinked on over to the door and literally hung around, all day, despite our in-and-out-the-door activity. Click to enlarge.

When this fella crawled up on the side of the door, I figured it would inch away like the other 8 million caterpillars roaming our desert paradise. But it didn’t. It parked right there, next to the metal door frame.

So I watched it all day. And watched it some more. Then I gently poked it, watching it recoil ever so slightly, and I figured it was dying since it had stopped moving.

But behold, the very next day, it had transformed into this:

Aug. 7 -- What a difference a day makes! Commence the pupation and chrysalis stages. How insane is that tiny thread that he managed to lasso around himself so he wouldn’t fall from the wall? Click to enlarge.

Then just two days later, the chrysalis had transformed, again, into this:

Aug. 9 -- At this point, I was pretty sure this thing had stopped its metamorphosis due to the hardening and darkening of the chyrsalis (and the complete lack of movement). Click to enlarge.

For the next week, I kept telling hubby that our little science gift from Mother Nature had succumbed to the heat. “It’s all going on inside,” he said. “You have to be patient.” Me, patient? Does this man not know the woman he married?

But I have to confess: I thought I could see the ridges of eyes forming on top of the now-brown pod, the faint traces of patterned wings emerging under that armor that resembled a raised-relief map of ridges and horns. Nah. It was just my geeky wishful thinking. The critter was dead.

Or was it? A short nine days later, I just happened to rush out the door (hoping I hadn’t missed the garbage truck). Upon my return, I saw this:

Aug. 17 -- Boy was I ticked when I realized that this pipevine swallowtail butterfly was probably emerging from the chyrsalis the very second I slammed out the door. I could have videotaped the entire rebirth! Click to enlarge.

Even though I missed baby’s first steps (heh heh), I was awestruck – especially at how this butterfly, rightfully rumpled as it made its way into the world, could even fit in those cramped quarters. It seemed to defy logic – especially learning that only about 10 percent of caterpillars even make it to the pupating (resting) stage.

The first few attempts to shake out those wings were clumsy and actually landed him on the concrete, crawling toward me, crawling over my leg, up the camera strap, on my arm, over my shoulders, on my neck.

Only about 15 minutes after emerging, the butterfly flapped its wings and clung to the door. Click to enlarge.

I love the wonder of nature, and that I was privy to the unfolding of this little life, the light pressure of butterfly feet dancing on my skin.

Butterfly with floppy wings on my arm - minutes after emerging. Click to enlarge.

I was right! If you look closely at this now-empty shell, you can see the faint lines that marked the outlines of the butterfly's wings.

For Writers: The butterfly is a metaphorical wonderland. I could relate this creature – and this personal experience – to a writer’s metamorphosis (or to the stages of a story); to the cocoon some of us feel we live in as isolated writers; to opening our wings as writers; or even to life and death themes (of our ideas, of our characters), given the adult butterfly’s short lifespan of only about two weeks.

But I’m curious … what do you think when you read this post and view these photos? How does the butterfly relate to your writing journey, your writing process, to writing in general? What lessons does the pipevine swallowtail offer, if any?

Aug 28 2011

Ka-pow! Ker-plooey!

Melissa Crytzer Fry

How apropos that the sky is growling and grumbling as I begin this post … that the tink-tink of rain is creating a harmonic symphony on the skylights…

You see, two weekends ago, I wasn’t home when the weather literally blew – and rumbled, and rippled – across our desert homestead. I suspect the skies were doing much the same thing then as they are now: growling and thumping, flickering and hissing amid lightning bolts.

These saguaros stand guard on the hilltop behind our house, sentinels against the backdrop of cloudy skies. Click to enlarge.

Hubs and I were returning from town that day (not by covered wagon, folks – but by today’s Wild West version: our pickup). As we drove down one of the big hills that offers sweeping views of the San Pedro River Valley we call our home, we were privy to an incredible show of dancing lights.

Then we returned home to find:

1)    A fried subwoofer next to the television

2)    An inoperable weather station

3)    A wiped out video surveillance camera

The assessment, of course, was that lightning had struck nearby or even had possibly struck our home directly. The biggest perplexity, though, was the eerie calm of our cats when we walked through the door. Had they experienced a deafening crack from a lightning bolt (some of these fierce, ear-splitting bolts make my arm hairs stand on end), I’d have anticipated bushy tails the thickness of bottlebrushes and marble-sized eyes for a few hours. At least.

Yet they were calm.

And yet, we discovered this a few days later:

This saguaro, vibrant and healthy a week earlier, indicated that our hunches were correct. Click to enlarge.

Yes, to my dismay, one of my beloved saguaros had been hit by lightning, only 150 feet from our house. The craziest part is that the top of this once luscious green, healthy fellow was blown a good 50 feet down the hill (see below). Talk about the power of Mother Nature’s wrath (I know this is nothing compared to what folks on the East Coast faced this weekend … it’s a small example, though, of nature’s brute force).

This was the top of the saguaro. Limbs were scattered in every direction.Click to enlarge.

If you look down the hill, you can see different parts of the once-healthy cactus strewn about. Click to enlarge.

Looks like cinders from a regular old fire pit on the innards of this poor fella, doesn’t it? The saguaro’s glochids puffed up like popcorn under the heat (look at the fuzzy little balls). The whole hill smells like rotting pumpkins now… Click to enlarge.

For Writers: This event obviously got me to thinking about the things that happen when we’re not looking … the things that can go unknown or unnoticed if we don’t investigate, dig deeper (or if someone doesn’t clue us in).

I think this unknown lightning strike taught me to be even more alert as a writer, even more inquisitive … to always search out the story, even if, on the surface, it seems as though it might have only existed in my imagination.

Are those events in life – the things that happen when you’re not looking – important to you as a writer?

What about the characters in your fiction? How does a story change, a character grow or react, when she suddenly learns of an event that happened, or of a secret withheld when she wasn’t looking?