Jul 3 2011

Idiosyncratic Saguaro

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Saguaro Series III

Those of us who feasted on a diet of Looney Tunes and Doritos each Saturday morning as children probably grew up thinking that those funny desert plants zipping past the roadrunner and coyote were all pretty much the same: deep green, trident-looking in their shape, with three equidistant arms.

If you’re like me, you also grew up associating that shape with the word cactus (even though there are thousands of species). And you probably had no idea that what you were looking at was called a saguaro. Unless you lived in the desert or visited it, you also probably had no sense of scale since the roadrunner and coyote often seemed to be only slightly smaller than those three-pronged prickly green cacti.

These saguaros stand in stark contrast against Arizona’s azure skies, taking root in some of the most difficult and rocky of terrains. Click to enlarge.

Now that I’ve lived in the Sonoran Desert for 13 years (transplanted from Pennsylvania where nary a cactus grew of its own accord), I’m here to tell you that those cartoon assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Saguaros are all different – as different as you and me.

Some aren’t as thick in the middle. Some are very small, while others are very, very tall.

This image provides a wonderful sense of scale. Given that hiking partner Kathy (in this photo) is 5’3", we’re guessing this monster is at least 30 ft tall, proving that the saguaro has more than earned its nickname as the “tree of the desert.” Click to enlarge.

Some saguaros even have arms that curl and wrap around a mountain vista in picture-perfect balance. Click to enlarge.

Some saguaros have two main trunks. Most have one. Some have three. Some have dozens of arms, while others have none. (Hey – that was kind of Dr. Seuss-equse, wasn’t it?) And some even resemble the Coyote and Roadrunner’s counterpart, Bugs Bunny.

Need I say more? This guy looked like a rabbit with the button nose and ears. Click to enlarge.

And this cactus near Neighbor Mark and Roxanne’s house has a lot of heart. Does this newly growing double arm not say thump, thump to you? Click to enlarge.

And finally … some saguaros even cultivate different species of cacti on their own arms. The assumption is that birds dropped the prickly pear seeds, and there was just enough moisture/dirt on the saguaro’s arms to support growth.

This wonderful specimen is in the wash behind my house. What a beauty! Photo by Kathy Becraft.

For Writers: As novelists, we run the risk of writing one-dimensional “everyone looks and sounds the same” characters. You know the kind: flat characters like the incorrectly portrayed saguaros in our cartoon-laden childhoods. Cardboard replicas. Characters without personality. But what if we approached our characters the same way that nature approaches its creation of the saguaro: with lots of little variances, some big differences and all kinds of diversity?

I’m personally a big fan of an MC’s emotional baggage and even his or her occupational choices when I develop my characters; just these simple details can differentiate your characters and the choices they make from story to story. What are some of the techniques you use to develop one-of-a-kind characters from novel to novel and story to story? Dialogue and colloquialisms? The surrounding environment and your character’s reaction to it? Your character’s hopes and dreams? Can you think of others?

NOTE: MORE PHOTOS AT RIGHT- I couldn’t fit all of my favorite saguaro shots onto this post (without making you scroll even more). If you’re interested in seeing more, click the Twitpic box at right for additional saguaro images.

P.S. My love for the spectacular saguaro abounds – especially as I’ve seen them struggle through the recent drought. If you missed the other posts in my Saguaro Series, feel free to take a look now: End of Mighty Saguaro, and Majestic Crested Saguaro. And stay tuned for Series IV, V and VI.


Jun 27 2011

Inspiration in Nature

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I’m honored to welcome Leah Singer to What I Saw this week. I hope you’ll enjoy her guest post and the visual and metaphorical tale she’s spun below.


I live in Southern California where the weather is nice about 90 percent of the year (tough life; I know). During the months of March and April, however, we were hit with rain and some hail, followed by beautiful, bright sunny mornings. It was on one of these days that I made a discovery in the sky that also led to a discovery about my writing.

Like every typical morning weekday, I was driving to work sipping my coffee and listening to NPR. I looked up in the sky and immediately pulled my car safely to the side of the road. There above me was a gorgeous rainbow stretched across the sky. I’d never seen a rainbow this close before and never one as large as this one appeared. I grabbed my camera (which I just happened to bring with me that day), hopped out of the car and snapped a few shots of this incredible sight.

What struck me about this experience is that you never really know what unexpected, beautiful aspect of nature you will see on a given day. To me, this started as an ordinary day, driving to work as usual. But then – what I saw – was amazing, beautiful, inspiring. I was glad I had my camera with me to capture (as best I could) the moment.

I then thought about how this experience directly relates to how I come up with writing topics. My writing process is not formal. Nearly all the pieces I write are inspired by some random thought or observation, and just come to me out of nowhere, and when I’m least expecting it – like the rainbow in the sky.

An example: I wrote a post on my blog titled A Coke Girl in a Pepsi World where I talk about my feelings of being an outsider and different among a world of “sames.” What I love about this piece, however, is how the idea came to me. I was opening the office refrigerator at work to chill my Diet Coke when I noticed the fridge was full of Pepsi cans. I placed my soda in the fridge and walked back to my office, when I thought to myself: I’m the only Coke among all the Pepsi; kind of like my life story. And THAT’S when the writing moment struck me. The blog title quickly appeared in my mind and I immediately had to jot down my thoughts. (Given I was at work, the actual post writing came at home that night.)

But that process – that discovery of something completely out of the blue – is what fuels my writing. I love that something in nature, such as a rainbow, can be such a great metaphor for my writing process.

What inspires you to write? Have you ever encountered something in nature that triggered words on a page?


By day, Leah Singer is a freelance writer, as well as a speechwriter and communications professional for the largest university in San Diego, Calif. By night, Leah blogs about family, motherhood, traditions, cooking, photography, her crazy animal family, and other such topics at Leah’s Thoughts. Blogging is a way for Leah to journal, share ideas, essays, musings, frustrations, recipes, funny stories, and – most importantly – exercise her lifelong passion for writing.