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?

Aug 21 2011

Desert Portrait

Melissa Crytzer Fry

The longer I live in the desert, the more convinced I am that Mother Nature is an artist – the raindrops her brushstrokes, the wind her muse, the sun her sculptor.

At no time is her artistry more apparent than summer monsoon season.

Take, for instance, her transformation of the powdery blanket of dirt draped across the desert floor. Once unsettled molecules aching for moisture, the free-floating dust particles transform into something altogether different with a single raindrop.

The tiny hairline cracks in this dirt remind me of canvas and cracked oil paint. Click to enlarge.

With the deluge of rain, the earth softens, often unable to absorb the onslaught of liquid. Then the sun wrestles its way through the clouds again, baking the dirt with a heat so intense that the earth twists, writhes and curls under pressure. And just as suddenly, the rains come, the process starts again … a blank canvas once again awaits the hands of a great artist.

The artwork of these puddles is distinctively different at various stages of drying and deposition – a series of different artistic interpretations of the desert’s harshness, its potential lushness. Mother Nature’s artistry at work.

I loved the geometric pattern and curling edges of this part of our driveway so much that I didn’t want to drive over it! Click to enlarge.

I know what others see: dried, cracked, brown dirt. But I see so much more. I see earth transformed into the malleable clay of a pot maker. I see the hardened veneer of cement. I see tiny fissures radiating like lifesaving arteries and veins. I see shaved flakes of milk chocolate (perhaps more a reflection of my sweet tooth than Mother Nature’s intended portrait).

This earth, smooth as dried clay (or a good cement pour), reflects the early morning sunlight along the San Pedro River. Click to enlarge.

I think “chocolate shavings sprinkled over lava cake” when I look at this. Perhaps part of my love affair with chocolate? Do you see it? Click to enlarge.

For Writers: When do your ideas solidify? What makes them break down, pull away and splinter like the dried desert earth? Do you find you experience periods of deep saturation where you just can’t keep up? Or are you plagued with painful dry spells? How do you cope?