Sep 15 2014

Lucking Out

Melissa Crytzer Fry

When hubby and I bought our ranch back in 2004, we knew only that we were fleeing big-city life for nearly 40 acres of desert wilds. Sure, we noticed the normally dry wash that crossed right over our new driveway. Couldn’t miss it. And we wondered how much fun we’d have keeping it passable when the wash decided to flow. But one look at the mountain views, and we were hooked.

With mountains and cloud formations like this, we couldn’t resist. Click to enlarge.

At the time, we didn’t know what it really meant to have a wash running through our property – dry or churning, intact or washed out. I can’t recall who said it, but I was told, “Oh yes, you’ve got an animal superhighway running through your place with that wash out there. It’s an animal corridor.”

Ding. Ding. Ding. Lucky jackpot! We had no clue that the kind of geography surrounding us was going to provide so many wildlife-viewing opportunities.

Case in point: This past weekend, this red-tailed hawk hit an updraft at just the right time, making him stationary, and easier to photograph. Click to enlarge.

Then, of course, there are those lucky breaks with my photography and my wildlife ‘subjects’ (though maybe it isn’t considered luck when you snap 50 photos and deem only two or three of decent quality). There’s also the luck of being in the right place at the right time: in our backyard, witnessing two pair of red-tailed hawks screeching, screaming, and calling to one another.

It took many tries to get the “landing gear-down” photo. Love the symmetry of their motions. I was in awe. Click to enlarge.

And then there’s the luck of moving a hair this way, a few steps that way, and gaining an entirely new perspective:

The remnants of the super moon were right there, waiting for artistic interpretation. Click to enlarge.

Finally, there are the accidents afforded simply by virtue of our proximity to the wash. This weekend, I was ridding our porches of copious amounts of bat guano from our endangered nectar-eating bats (who’d finally moved toward South America in anticipation of winter) when I heard a raspy chirping noise. I released the nozzle of the hose and listened, assuming I was hearing the bird I couldn’t identify earlier that morning.

But then my eye caught movement on the hill and I heard the methodic calling. Over and over. A bobcat. A meow-chirp. With urgency. I watched her trek up the hill and slip under the fence. That’s when I saw something in the arm of a nearby 20-foot tall saguaro. I looked again. Fur. What? The fur moved. The fur turned toward me and put its paws down the trunk of the spiny cactus, head first. It leapt like a flying squirrel into the spiked branches of a small palo verde tree below. I heard nothing for minutes. I saw nothing. And then it emerged … a smaller bobcat, hot on mama’s trail!

Click to enlarge.

I’d only ever seen photos of bobcats and mountain lions perched on saguaros. And I didn’t get any photos myself to prove that they really aren’t PhotoShopped. (I am thankful, by the way, for the opportunity to be present in the moment and not fumbling with a camera, which later inspired some 500 words of fiction). What incredible luck to be outside. That morning. At that moment. I still don’t know how big cats withstand that kind of puncturing on the paw pads, and I marvel.

I marvel at the role of the lucky breaks in our lives (like the times we did capture bobcat activity on video and on film). Like the luck of having my camera ready at the precise moment the sun was coming over the hills last week:

Click to enlarge.

… Like buying a property that had a glorious wash running through it.

For Writers, Readers, Everyone: Have you ever lucked out in your life? Have you ever lucked out in your writing or your literary career? Have plot points come to you from the blue? Did a single experience spur an entire novel concept? I am reminded of my friend, Natalia Sylvester’s recent post about the magic that is storytelling… or is it simply luck?

Sep 1 2014


Melissa Crytzer Fry

Desert dwellers are accustomed to the monsoon season and the rain it ushers in, a glass of water raised to cracked, thirsty lips.

We also know that with rain, the normally dry riverbed near our home begins to ebb and flow, its banks rising with churned-chocolate liquid. And while we understand that this sudden arrival of water attracts animals who’ve yearned for the wet stuff – suffered without it – rarely do we have the opportunity to see them dipping their toes (and hooves) into the water, dropping their heads gently to lap the cool sustenance.

Water in the riverbed. Click to enlarge.

But don’t let the wild’s cloak of invisibility fool you. This time of year more than ever, the existence of the wild becomes tangible, immortalized – if only for a short time – in the riverbed floor.

Enjoy the evidence hubby and I discovered during our recent visit to the now-receded riverbed (water actually flows underground throughout the year, making this part of Arizona home to one of the largest mesquite bosques in the world. That band of deep green beyond the river in the above photo is the mesquite bosque).

This is, unarguably, THE largest mountain lion print we've ever encountered. Consider that my size 13-shoe-wearing, six-foot+, large-handed hubby is the "hand model." Four of my thumb prints didn't even fill one toe pad indent! Click to enlarge.

These are 'big kitty' scratch marks, covering urine. And let me tell you: we could still smell it, so these were fresh tracks. If you look closely, you can also see a raccoon track in there. Click to enlarge.

Speaking of raccoons... Fresh imprints (which I had HOPED were coati tracks, but I don't believe they were). Click to enlarge.

Roadrunner tracks. Meep! Meep! Click to enlarge.

Lizard trails (I think). Click to enlarge.

We even saw these: barefoot human prints (ironically, RIGHT next to the giant mountain lion tracks). Click to enlarge.

While we understand that footprints may be invisible throughout the remainder of the year, we will be reminded, these photos as evidence, of what walks among us. We’re happy they share their desert home with us.

Other sightings around the ranch:

I admit to complete euphoria when I saw this American badger shoot over the hill behind my house while I was doing some rooftop reading and research. This butt shot was the best I could manage before he loped away. Click to enlarge.

My first-ever glimpse of a Vermillion Flycatcher near the river. Click to enlarge.

And on a sad note, an update about my last post regarding Mama Oriole and babies… One egg fell to the concrete before hatching, and then both babies suffered the same falling fate. We’ve only seen mama twice since then. I hope, next year, she’ll make a deeper nest for her young ones. It was heartbreaking to discover them, so small and featherless.


For Readers, For Writers: Animals in the wild offer a case study on subtlety, on magic, on fortitude. For the most part, they don’t want to draw attention, their movements subtle and often cautious. When we consider their ability to camouflage – we often walk right past them without seeing them – they offer a sort of magic (never mind the soul-awakening, magical effect they can exude on humans). And then there’s their ability to persevere, often against all odds. When you read, what parts of a story engage you the most – subtlety, magic, strong characters? Are you attracted to writing that includes nature as a character? When you write, which of these “wild” areas challenge you the most – subtlety, magic, fortitude?