Apr 11 2011

Majestic Crested Saguaro

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Saguaro Series – II

I’ve been on a bit of a scavenger hunt lately.

It all started about a year ago when I realized that the misshapen form I saw on a distant hill (from my kitchen window) was a rare crested saguaro. From my vantage point, it resembled an ogre with thick, uneven limbs. What’s more, its giant Medusa-like, bulbous head teemed with little snaky arms.

My first crested sighting, visible from my kitchen window, has deteriorated rapidly since last year. The great news, however, is my discovery of another specimen some 300 feet downhill (next photo). Click to enlarge. Click arrow button to view all photos. Photo by Kathy Becraft.

At the time, I had only briefly heard the term “crested” saguaro. I did not know that only one in every 150,000 saguaros sports this fan-like hairdo. Or that biologists continue to disagree about the cause of this gnarled anomaly that occurs at the plant’s apex (growing tip). Some suggest lightning strikes are the culprit; others blame genetic mutation, and still other theories point to freeze damage. No one’s really sure.

So, when I finally trekked over to this fascinating “tree of the desert” with my hiking buddies and learned of its rarity, I became a bit obsessed. On every subsequent hiking trip, my eyes scanned until they burned. I was going to find more crested saguaros.

I call this saguaro the Catcher’s Mitt. Standing below my first discovery, this beauty did a good job of hiding its southeast-facing arm, despite me having been past it dozens of times. Click to enlarge.

Turns out, I do have a knack for spotting these rarities. Perhaps I am the Crested Saguaro Whisperer (though I’ve never had such luck finding four-leaf clovers, arrowheads, artifacts … But I’ll definitely settle for this gift luck!).

Big Betty is probably one of my favorites, due to the number of crested arms coming from all directions. She must be 20-30 feet tall, also, and was discovered only because of the sun’s reflection on the concentration of white needles found in the peaks and valleys of the crested fingers. Click to enlarge.

Please enjoy additional saguaro sightings below, all within a 20-mile radius of my home. And if you missed it, read my Saguaro Series I post about the “End of Mighty Saguaro.” Stay tuned for the next Saguaro Series installment.

For Writers &  Readers: When you begin a new work in progress, how do you go about your search for unique ideas – the rare – so that your story stands out as that 1 in 150,000? Do you conduct your own kind of scavenger hunt for fresh ideas, bizarre characters and unusual plotlines? Where and how do you begin?

And how do you go about creating something fresh, even if you’re using tried-and-true themes splayed across pages for centuries? Conversely, if you venture too far from common themes (boy meets girl, woman battles internal demons, who-done-it), do you run the risk of being too far “out there,” too unique?

And what about reading … are you turned off by seemingly standard plots? Is there even such a thing as a “unique” theme, a new story? Or has it all been done before? Should you even bother looking for your crested saguaro? Please scroll below photos to comment.

Our friend and neighbor, Mark, introduced us to Medusa, perched on a bluff and overlooking the Galiuro Mountains. Click to enlarge.

Hidden among short-statured mesquite trees along the San Pedro Riverbed, this plant popped up and demanded attention, even with his small crest. Click to enlarge.

Also spotted by Mark (okay – maybe I’m not the Crested Saguaro Whisperer. Maybe Mark is …), this is the Dudleyville Specimen, visible right off the highway.

One more thing! When you get a chance, please visit V.V. Denman’s wonderful writing blog, where I guest this week with my post, “A Girl & A Snake.”

Apr 4 2011

Sonoran Liberty Bell

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I will never stop being amazed at the hidden treasures so near to my home in southern Arizona. Take, for instance, this interesting geologic formation that rests near an ancient Native American Indian site.

My scant geologic knowledge tells me it’s nothing more than brittle, sandy earth, trying to become sandstone, but eroding too rapidly to achieve such permanence. But what I saw was a desert version of the Liberty Bell, crack and all.

This mound of earth is adjacent to Copper Creek in southern Arizona. Rumor says that the University of Arizona once completed archaeological digs in this area. Click to enlarge.

Friend-neighbor-tour guide extraordinaire, Mark*, saw something else entirely. In the next photo, you can understand why he envisioned a medicine man, perched atop this silo of earth, summoning the spirits for rain, food, good health, shelter.

The azure sky behind this outcropping includes a glimpse of the Galiuro Mountains. Can’t you envision a medicine man at this outlook? Click to enlarge.

When we shared our visions, it struck me that, as humans, we so often see the same things, but see them so differently. We also have the lightning-quick ability to drawn upon our own personal experiences and instantaneously weave them together with our imagination. The end result: one-of-a-kind hypotheses, tall-tales, stories … So, in a way, I believe we are all natural-born storytellers – especially when given the liberty to stretch our creative muscles and let our minds wander.

For Writers: Liberty. It’s really a key component in all writing, when you think about it. Consider, for instance, the liberties you let your characters take (or don’t). Do you rein them in or cut them loose? Do you allow them to say things in your novel that you’d never say yourself?

And what liberties do you take, as an author, in borrowing from real-life? Is your real-life Aunt Ethel really the driving force behind your crazy antagonist? Were you really the one who drove your car across your college campus quad and nearly got arrested – not your protag (I have no idea who might have done something this foolish in real life)? Ah, liberty … it’s such a good thing. So lucky to have it! So grateful.

Many thanks to Mark. If not for his generosity, hubby and I might not even know that these local gems exist.