Oct 23 2011

Dazzling Spider

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Are you the kind of person who carries spiders and bugs outside so that they’ll avoid the sole of a shoe, the vortex of a swirling toilet bowl – or in our house – the fast and furious paws of predatory cats? I am. I know … Big surprise. But I’ve always been that way – not just during Halloween when spiders get a bad rap.

This lucky spider was the center of my attention for weeks. Click to enlarge so you can see the faint lines of the web that are suspending him in the air.

I am so passionate about all life, in fact, that I scare some people – including my Little Sister (Big Brothers Big Sisters). She once grabbed a lightning bug from the lawn and proceeded to pluck off its wings. I naturally screamed in horror, stopping her before she yanked off wing no. 2. I think she might have been 11 then – and with the biggest doe eyes I’ve ever seen.

“But, we wear them as rings,” she said. “See.” She plucked off the other wing.

I screamed. Again.

I asked her how she could possibly kill something just for the fun of it. I couldn’t fathom it – me, the gal who stopped spraying outdoors for scorpions because I realized less-sinister insects were suffering (and dying) as a result of my actions: geckos, tarantulas, walking sticks.

You can probably guess that my Lil’ Sis never removed the wings from a lighting bug again. And you can guess that I’m STILL saving arachnids and insects any chance I get.

This may LOOK like the same western spotted orb weaver pictured above, but this is actually spidey no. 2 (of the same variety). And yes, that IS the writing studio on wheels in the background. Click to enlarge and see the gorgeous marbled designs on this spider.

There is more to this story than these dazzling spider shots. And it all revolves around weeding – and how well Hubby knows me.

“Do you want to keep his web?” he asked as we cleaned up the back yard of our house-under-construction.

Of course I told him, “Yes,” and, “Leave that patch of weeds.” And also: “Don’t forget his brother over there. Leave that patch of weeds, too.”

Different view of Neoscona oaxacensis, the western spotted orbweaver. They love grassy areas, and with the rain we had this summer, the barren backyard turned grassy. Look at those sexy striped legs! Click to enlarge.

Despite our best efforts, however, the spider brothers were displaced in the end. No. 2 was inadvertently removed from his home when hubby drove the four-wheeler right over his web on his way to pick up weed piles. Fortunately, I found him a day later, crawling up  the side of the house.

No. 1’s web was also destroyed – shaken lose from the quad tire hitting the weeds to which the web was affixed. I later found this spider hanging out on another plant on the rock wall. Phew. No spider deaths! And they both began to rebuild immediately.

For Writers, For Everyone: There is something to learn from every living creature – whether we’re afraid of it or not, whether it’s fluffy or scaly, cute or scary. And, since Halloween is coming up, I figured a spider tribute was in order. Look what I would have missed if I had not crawled around on the desert floor to capture these shots.

This is the underside of the orbweaver. What wonderful details! As pretty as a painting! Click to enlarge.

If you can muster the courage to look at the spider through an artistic lens, go back and click through the photos in close-up view. Look at the gorgeous marble patterning on this spider’s back. Look at the microscopic hairs on its legs. Look how your perspective of this spider changes based on the light that either makes him dark or illuminates him.

Look how he seems to be floating on nothing but air – but how if you look more closely, you’ll see an intricate web tethering him to the earth. Isn’t this how we should look at ALL things – especially the things that scare us – with analytical, open, observant eyes?

Oct 16 2011

Raven Rest Stop

Melissa Crytzer Fry

After encountering a half dozen ravens hopping along in the wash that runs through our driveway (these are big feathered friends, folks – think medium-sized dog), I decided to don my Nancy Drew hat. These black-cloaked birds had been squatting for two days already… What were they doing? Why had they taken over my permanent raven residents’ residence?

Slowly, slowy, I steered the quad to my stakeout position. I cut the engine immediately upon arrival so I didn’t disturb the hundreds more of these critters Velcroed to the nearby railroad trestle. I raised my camera, quietly unsnapping the lens cover.

These ravens have been calling our home their home. Click to enlarge.

The ravens scattered, decorating the sky, flecks of pepper against salt-colored clouds. I muttered under my breath. My photo op was gone, but I quickly realized that I was privy to an even greater treat: an aerial and auditory spectacle.

The scattering of ravens resulted in this view. Click to enlarge.

Why not enjoy the show, I thought? So I assumed the supine position (uncomfortably) on the quad seat, head pointed toward the sky, feet wrapped around handlebars. When I wasn’t snapping shots, I closed my eyes and listened. Ahh, the unmistakable whisk of air that occurs only when wings slap the sky. Methodic, mesmerizing, hypnotic.

Then I started to see that the ravens were forming beautiful patterns before my eyes. And often, two would cling side by side in synchronized pairs, their wings beating the same rhythm. And they’d talk, their throaty clicks a highly evolved form of communication.

A group of about 50 ravens (yes, I tried to count) flew right overhead, while another larger group dove and dipped in front of the Galiuro Mountains. Click to enlarge.

I was, indeed, enchanted. Given that ravens are one of the most frequently written-about birds in world literature, that makes sense, doesn’t it? The video below illustrates their aerodynamic acrobatics. Listen to them call out to one another (and watch them pair off).

Still playing the role of Nancy Drew, I uncovered another feathery fact: this giant grouping of ravens – traveling in massive flocks – was actually the Chihuahuan raven, on its way to Mexico for the winter. Our permanent residents are Common Ravens; they share the trestle with no one year-round and avoid flocks. They also generally stay put, using the same nest for years. Amazingly, they seemed to be gracious hosts, sharing their trestle with the Chihuahuans and staying behind when their cousins headed south.

Satisfied with the mystery I’d solved, I retired my Nancy Drew hat. Then I settled down to re-read Poe’s The Raven.

For Writers, Readers: An article by Rebekah Neelin indicates that, in literature, ravens often fall into three symbolic categories:

  1. Evil spirit/harbinger of death
  2. Trickster/thief
  3. Prophetic or wise spirit

How could you look at these wonderful birds and think they are anything less than inspired? This is one of the baby Common Ravens – our yearlong residents – posing for me last spring. Click to enlarge.

What do you think when you see a raven? Evil spirit? Thief? Genius? Do you think Halloween? Do you get a chill, or find them entertaining and social?

My Birds of Arizona Field Guide says that ravens are considered to be the smartest of all birds, which my blogger friend Julia Munroe Martin confirmed when she wrote a fascinating post about the intelligent crows (more cousins of the raven) that recognize her and her husband during their walks!

What stories have you read in which ravens – or other birds – set the tone in a particular scene? Have you thought of incorporating birds as symbols? Which birds might you choose? Why? How might they lend depth to you story?