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?


Aug 14 2011

Which Came First?

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I’ll spare you the age-old ‘chicken or egg’ question. Well, kind of.

My own version of the chicken-egg debate literally sprang up during the past few weeks of desert rains, which brought with them something else. Hornworms. And lots of them.

This close up shows the various colors and intricate design of the white-lined sphinx hornworm. The horn confuses predators as to which side is the front or back. Click to enlarge.

How many hornworms, you wonder? So many that when I’m running each morning, I have to gingerly hop over them so that they don’t end up stuck to my shins. So many that you can hear them scraping their bellies over the gravelly dirt. Heck, I bet if you put your ear into a patch of them (eww!), you’d probably hear them munching away.

Welcome to SE Arizona – the land of hornworms. This is just one tiny section of overgrowth where more than a half-dozen wormies were feeding. Click to enlarge.

These hornworms actually turn into the stunning white-lined sphinx moth. It’s been compared to a nocturnal hummingbird, because it can hover to suck the nectar of plants and because it’s big. This photo, unfortunately, doesn’t capture the grapefruit-pink underwings of this stunning moth. (You can check him out here.)

White-lined sphinx moth resting on the ground. Click to enlarge.

So, you guessed it. My question is the same as the chicken and egg conundrum – but also different: “Which came first? The caterpillar or the moth?”

In my personal course of discovery this year, the moth actually preceded the proliferation of hornworms. I found it about two weeks before these buggers started popping up. I have no idea why…

One more picture for those of you squirmy about wormies... Click to enlarge.

For Writers: This timeless question of the chicken or egg – or in my case, the caterpillar or the moth – really relates to how the universe begins. But I think it also applies to how our novels begin. Which comes first? The plot or the characters? The setting or the subplot? What works for you, writers? How do your stories develop? The same way each time, or differently?