May 13 2012

The Bird Has Landed

Melissa Crytzer Fry

My front yard has been an aviary wonderland the past several weeks: hummingbirds building nests; hooded and bullock’s orioles playing hide ’n seek in the paloverdes, their plumage the perfect camouflage against pale yellow blooms; and fuzzy Say’s Phoebe chicks taking flight on wobbly wings.

So, you can imagine my surprise when a bird of a different sort landed in my front yard, right next to two saguaros. The bird’s shadow can be seen (below) among the green of cottonwoods and ash, next to the Gila River.

This is not my front yard. It is among the many bird’s-eye views I was treated to of southeastern Arizona this past weekend. Click to enlarge.

“Your ride is here,” hubby announced with a grin, amid the thwack thwack of chopper blades that sent billowing dust clouds into the sky. “Happy birthday.”

Of course, this wasn’t just any birthday; this was a big surprise for a big milestone-kind-of-birthday. Let’s just say that I’ve now been around for four decades. Ahem.

The first few minutes of the ride, my heart was in my throat. You see, this bird had no doors, so only a seatbelt stood between me and the cracked desert soil some 500 to 1,000 feet below. When I finally re-learned how to breathe and was comfortable removing my hand from the oh-shit grip (hubby’s affectionate name for the strap above the door), I started to snap photos. Yeah… and I never stopped – until 181 images later.

Please join me for the flight of a lifetime over this rugged Arizona desert I love so passionately – past nearby canyons and rivers – and as seen through the breathtaking lens of a bird’s eyes:

This is an overhead view of the road that took me and my Jeep, Betty, to my first writing session in the desert. Click to enlarge.

The above photo gives you a sense of just how far out into the mountains I had driven for my writing solace. The fourth bump in the road is actually where I stopped and wrote this post about my “Office Space.”

Next stop, Aravaipa Canyon: How different things look from the sky! This is the same canyon I hiked with friends back in 2010. Those tiny specks of green below are actually giant cottonwood trees, some 50 feet tall.

What a geologic wonder this canyon is! From the sky, the deformation of the rocks in this once-volcanic area is so prominent. A giant river carved this beautiful canyon. I fell in love all over again. Click to enlarge.

When visitors see these stacks from the smelter, they know they’re in mining country. We flew right over the massive tailings (seen in bottom left of photo). Click to enlarge.

Hubby and I visited the small mining town (above) last summer to photograph the area’s historic buildings. See the close-up views in my post.

This was THE highlight of my flight. Hubby spotted desert bighorn sheep running along a mountain ridge, so the pilot circled back around, allowing me to see them from my side of the chopper. They were SO camouflaged, that I basically pointed the camera and shot toward the tree he said they were under and crossed my fingers that I'd gotten something in the frame. I have been salivating to SEE bighorns for years (they were spotted in our hometown a few months ago). Score! Click to enlarge.

Another spectacular canyon view not far from the Gila River. Click to enlarge.

It’s no surprise that I was just as awed by the desert’s saguaro cacti from the air as I am when I see them on the ground. Click to enlarge.

This train bridge spanning the Gila River was stunning from the air. I saw several great blue herons along the water’s edge. Click to enlarge

This is me on the way back from our trip, SO happy to have the wind whipping my hair around my face, experiencing the desert in a way that few people have the opportunity to do. BEST birthday present EVER, hubby. Thank you. Click to enlarge.

Our homestead from the air (two structures to the left: white roof, and building with gray/white roof). Train trestle behind the house. Green at the bottom of the mountains is the riparian area along the San Pedro River. See – we really DO live in the boonies (and I LOVE it). Click to enlarge.

For readers, writers: I knew hubby was preparing some kind of surprise for me the week leading up to my birthday. Though I specifically told him “No party, under any circumstances,” I was sure he had planned a big bash (due to his cryptic behavior and cloudy, contradictory responses throughout the week).

So I spent a few days cleaning the house from top to bottom – just in case. I had myself in a tizzy worrying, wondering, being mad that he hadn’t honored my wishes of a calm fortieth.

The fascinating thing is that I was so obsessed about the surprise that something interesting happened with my fiction writing. Scenes came easily, and in a rush (during a time I thought I was totally distracted). Is it possible that, because I took the pressure off the WRITING and was focused on something else, it helped with creativity?

Would you have chosen the birthday bash or the chopper ride? Do you like surprises when you read? Do you get a tingle when a character surprises you with his or her actions?

The chopper flies away, over the hill behind the house. If this is what a 40th birthday brings, sign me up for one each year. Click to enlarge.

END NOTE:  This was THE best surprise hubby ever could have given me and was an illustration of how much this man knows and loves me: he orchestrated the ultimate nature ride, offering me a view of the local area – a perspective of the desert – I’ve never experienced. I got to be one of the birds I’ve been admiring so much from my perch on the ground.

Apr 28 2012

Power of Words

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I’m not going to lie. I took one look at the shotgun and its giant shells, and I quickly questioned just who I thought I was and what I thought I was doing slipping into the passenger seat of the patrol car.

This is the bad boy to which I refer. Click to enlarge.

My eyes swept over the barrel, and a thousand stories sprung to life – you know, all the scenarios in which officer, detective and sex crimes specialist Suzie Ivy might operate that firearm while I sat alongside her cowered beneath the dashboard during my citizen ride-along.

Is this glass bulletproof? I thought as I snapped my seatbelt in place. Then I looked at the space beneath my feet. Could I even fit under the dashboard if necessary? And then, Really… I met this woman on Twitter, and now I’m seated in her police cruiser? Voluntarily.

I’m actually familiar with guns. I have a .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun within arm’s reach under my desk. I grew up shooting my dad’s Beretta, and we have a 20-gauge shotgun that packs a nice punch against my shoulder blade (okay … admittedly, the punch comes more from the ammo choice than the gun, but it’s still a little kick).

So maybe it was less my writer’s imagination and more the stories Suzie had already told me: about the serial killer she’d nabbed, the sex offenders she monitored, the victims of sex crimes for whom she still has so much compassion. Maybe it was because I knew the pivotal role she played as lead detective on a nationally known homicide case a few years back (yes, her first day on the job). Maybe I was in awe that this woman, at 5’ 3″, was such a badass.

Suzie Ivy (code name) works in Small Town, AZ (not tellin’ where). At age 45, she decided she wanted to switch careers and attend the police academy. She became the first female officer in her small town and two years later a detective. Now she’s a supervisor. Oh yeah … and a writer.

As it turns out, my ride-along wasn’t a high-action homicide kind of day (though I learned, the next day, a car exploded into flames in a field, and two neighbors decided to settle their differences by shooting at one another during Suzie’s shift).

My introduction to the officer’s life included patrolling within the city limits and driving past places known as Pee Pee Lane (use your imagination), Drug Alley and Little Mexico. I heard stories of the female resident in town who, scantily clad, walks her sheep down the road (Yes, I said sheep); about the man who once lived with so many goats in his house that boots were a necessity upon entry. (Yes, I said goats. And, yes, use your imagination about just what was piled on the floor).

We drove past sex offender houses and trailer parks known for their drug activity; and I eavesdropped while Suzie dealt with vehicle towing issues, stolen property and heartbreaking domestic situations*.

Suzie shared with me how she packages evidence to be sent to the crime lab after a case. I saw, from a distance, the stack of folders belonging to known sex offenders (gulp) in this small town. Click to enlarge.

We surveyed an abandoned house that officers use for building-clearing training. When a man walked through the doorway (the only escape route, mind you) and yelled, “Hey, what are you doing?” I nearly jumped out of my skin. Suzie later said, “I’m glad I didn’t give you a gun.” Yes, I’m jumpy. And yes, I’d have blown the friendly (and known to Suzie) man’s kneecap off in fear. His greeting was meant as a joke. Click to enlarge.

But of all of the components of this surreal (but exciting) experience, what really amazed me was Suzie’s skill. With people. With words.

During patrol, a young man walked right up to the cruiser, poked his head in the passenger’s window (a bit too close to my face … I could see his scraggly teeth…), and said, “You didn’t hear this from me, but 28 over there …” he pointed to a trailer, “I’ve heard they’ve been drying their weed in the morning. Thought you should know.”

Apparently Suzie has a knack for getting people to talk. Like this situation – unsolicited. During confessions and not during confessions. And about nearly everything. When I asked her how she did it, she said, “It’s all about talking, not acting like you’re better than anyone else.” The power of words.

Me… Um … I’ll stick to writing my words on paper… (Though Suzie has me beat there, too. She’s written a few books about her adventures on the police force: Bad Luck Officer and Bad Luck Cadet Suzie Ivy).

Some patrol, some play. The weekend wasn’t all work. We took a hike through a gorgeous canyon on Suzie’s mother’s property. It will not surprise you that the apple did not fall far from the tree. Mama is pretty hardcore!

Mom Ivy bought a remote parcel of 100 acres, the only thing on it a garage. She renovated it into a loft home by herself (electrical wiring, plumbing, built her own walls). It’s not on the grid, either. She powers it with solar and wind. She’s also seen a resident mountain lion that Suzie and I hoped to catch a glimpse of. All we saw was scat (and I found some petrified wood!). Click to enlarge.

Margaritas may or may not have played a role in the taking of this photo & the hat wearing. Me (left) & Suzie (right). Click to enlarge.

This corral, outside of Small Town, AZ, captures Arizona’s spirit. Look at those blue skies! Click to enlarge.

For Readers & Writers: As readers and writers, we understand the power of words to transport. I was reminded, however, during my ride-along last weekend of the power of spoken words to move people to action – the power of those words to heal.

Do you think written words and spoken words hold the same weight? Is one more significant than the other? How do you hope the words in the books you read will affect you? In what ways do you want to influence those who read your words?

*Update: Suzie helped find a solution for a homeless young mother of three who had ME in tears while Suzie talked with her in the squad room. She is GOOD.

** Read about the first time Suzie and I met in person on her blog, BadLuckDetective. Her Twitter handle: @SuzieIvy.

And, when you get a chance, read Suzie’s humorous account of our visit!