When I think of the remote desert southwest, which is my back yard, I think of these things, to name a few (and I smile):
As you can likely tell, the desert makes me happy. In fact, it keeps me creatively motivated and gives me a sense of peace I’ve never before experienced – even knowing that I risk chance encounters with rattlesnakes, coyotes and big cats. For whatever reason, I have always felt naturally at ease in this outdoor wonderland.
But last Friday, some of that tranquility was stolen from me. And, to put it mildly, I am pissed.
I was jogging my regular route, past the neighbor’s goat hill (you may recall my goat post) when I heard a couple of loud bangs. It registered, at first, as heavy objects falling upon one another up near Goat Hill House. I assumed the neighbors were doing some construction work, but in the back of my mind, a “gunfire” warning also sounded.
So, instead of running past the clearing along the railroad tracks that opened on to Goat Hill, I yelled, “Hello!” to make whomever know that I was passing by (in case they were shooting at some invisible animals/target that I couldn’t see). I obviously didn’t want to put myself in the direct path of potential gunfire.
I made it through the clearing without incident, and the banging sounds stopped.
But the story doesn’t end here.
As I reached a stout palo verde tree, the gunfire (yes, it was gunfire – likely a .22) started again. And this time, three shots were aimed in my direction. The whole time, I am screaming, “Stop! You’re shooting at me! Stop!” (I was still thinking this was a hunter or target shooter who didn’t see me, perhaps). After two bullets literally whizzed past my head – I could hear them go by, they were SO CLOSE – my instinct kicked in and told me to get the hell out of there as fast as I could.
I sprinted to the next bluff, which meant running in wide-open, unprotected spaces once more. And then, that was it. No more shots. I made it the quarter mile back home in record time, adrenaline as my aid.
I can’t even say fear pushed me forward during that last open stretch along the tracks. It was this crazy survivalist mentality that I’ve never experienced before (I know I sound melodramatic, but unless you’ve had bullets come that close to vital body parts, you simply can’t understand the ‘what if’ possibilities that present themselves to you once you feel ‘safe’ and begin to process the situation).
I think I was still in shock when I told my husband to call the sheriff’s office, the whistle-like buzz of bullets still rattling in my head. It’s a sound I will never forget.
(In case you’re wondering, Goat Hill neighbors told the sheriff that they, too, heard shooting toward the railroad tracks and denied playing any role – and that they’d had problems with someone shooting at their goats. This incident will always remain a mystery to me, I suppose. I don’t like to think that I was an intended target, though I also can’t justify why someone would shoot into a palo verde tree if they weren’t aiming for something behind it: in this case, me. Plus, I was wearing a bright royal blue tank that could be seen for miles against the desert’s drab earth-tone hues).
For Writers, For Everyone. So why am I pissed rather than scared? Because for months, I associated Goat Hill with fond memories. In fact, every time I ran by and a goat baah’ed at me, I’d smile. Goat Hill had become a positive symbol for me, a morning ritual. The elderly neighbors even waved emphatically as I jogged by.
And in much the same way, the desert and all its critters, hills and cacti had become a symbol to me. Of creativity. Of harsh reality, but stunning beauty. Of wonder. Of relaxation.
Now I feel like someone ruined that for me. I do not want to feel unsafe in an environment that has given me so much. I don’t want to be fearful instead of unencumbered and in sync with my surroundings. I don’t want to look over my shoulder and wonder if some lunatic goat and human sniper is wandering the desert.
So, yeah. I’m pissed.
But, you know what? I’m not going to let some a-hole take this from me. Maybe the first few weeks, I’ll avoid that route. But I’ll go back. I will run our acreage and enjoy it. What I won’t do is live in fear. I simply cannot let someone steal the gift I’ve been given by living in this rural-but-terrifically-inspiring part of Arizona.
Do you think I’m nuts? You might when I tell you that I did manage to find a writing lesson in all of this craziness… In hindsight, perhaps it’s my therapy; writing about it is helping me process the uncertainty and to take a stand.
The writing lesson? It all goes back to symbolism. What happens to your characters when you take something symbolically significant to them and turn it on its head? What if something with once-positive connotations suddenly turns into something painful (like my situation?) or, conversely, something once terrifying becomes electrifying? Consider: a piece of beloved jewelry becomes a weapon used against your character, a once-tranquil home becomes a crime site where your protagonist’s spouse is killed, or – on the flip side – a fear of heights is transformed into a love of skydiving ? Does that transformation, and grappling with it, not add a tremendous amount of emotional wallop to your storyline, to your characters’ trajectories, to their growth, to the plot?