Jul 7 2010

Going to the Birds

Melissa Crytzer Fry

One of the biggest misconceptions about the desert – especially in June and July – is that “everything is dead.” Sure, that’s when the 100-degree days become standard, and riding a motorcycle or four-wheeler is like having a hot hairdryer blasting into your face. But it’s also when lots of baby birds are born.

This baby barn owl is one of three living in a hillside behind our house.

This fur ball – a baby barn owl – was just one bluff away from the location where I photographed a great horned owl and its two owlets. He is one of three babies, but the only one curious enough to peek out from his front door this day (June 3).

A month later, I’m sure he’s looking nearly full-grown, like the neighboring great horned owlets. I am concerned about all these owls living in such close proximity, though. The great horned owl is known to prey upon barn owls when food is scarce. I hope the desert is bountiful enough and big enough for all these predatory birds to live in harmony.

But as Anatole France said, “Nature has no principles. She makes no distinction between good and evil.” I guess we’ll hope for the best!

Consider this, writers: Ever had predatory/unscrupulous neighbors? Or neighbors who live too close (like our more aggressive great-horned owl)? Have you secretly used their mannerisms and your own real-life interactions with them in your fiction?

Jul 5 2010

Scent of Skunk

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Okay. So the image below doesn’t appear to “match” my headline.  But really … it does have relevance. This is the setting for my experience this morning. Because, let’s be honest: who wants to get close enough to photograph a skunk? Not me.

Jogging trails/view from our mountaintop. Deep green in background is San Pedro River. Click to enlarge.

I was jogging along at 5:30 a.m., quite happy that the air was actually cool. It was the first time in weeks, since Arizona’s Monsoon Season began, that it didn’t feel like the air was draped with sticky cotton candy. (Yes, after nearly 12 years, I’ve forgotten what it was like growing up in Pennsylvania, where summertime humidity is the norm… where towels never dry and carpet is damp).

So I’m jogging along, taking deep breaths of the crisp air. Then it hit me. Hard. A big ol’ gulp of skunk. Woo wee. I am not exaggerating when I say that when I licked my lips, I tasted the bitterness of skunk. Over and over.

And the odd thing is that it didn’t matter where I was along the 5-mile radius jog I take every morning … it seemed to permeate the air. Stronger in some areas than others, but always present. When I neared the train trestle, the smell was so strong that I started to look over my shoulder, sure that the stinky fellow was going to show up.

I scanned the dirt for tiny skunk paw prints. Scanned for the infamous black and white. Because, to be honest, if I were ever to be sprayed by a skunk, I’m pretty sure I’d toss my cookies over and over. I was growing a bit nervous.

The good news is that I never did see the stinky mammal. As cute as they can be (yes, I even think skunks are cute), I guess they are just doing what nature has hardwired them to do: defend when threatened. We humans are just as defensive, I guess. We just have different mechanisms.

For Writers:

Have you ever had close contact with a skunk? Ever think of using one in your novel – as a get-even tool against your antagonist, a symbol, or even a pet? How would you describe the foul mist of a skunk? To me it’s kind of antiseptic and very gag-inspiring. How do you describe a smell that is unique only to itself?