Jun 6 2011

Desolate Desert Digs

Melissa Crytzer Fry

To the untrained eye, a pile of rocks in the desert might appear to be just that: a pile of rocks. In fact, most untrained eyes probably wouldn’t even see that pile of rocks during the height of summer, when the sun glares angrily off the scorched desert floor.

The chiseled pieces of feldspar, granite, sandstone and limestone would likely melt into the thirsty landscape. That is, unless you’re Neighbor Mark on his Polaris Ranger (think Superhero sporting a logo with NM in the middle, bionic vision enabled). He is the one who found this discovery and shared it with hubby and me:

Mark’s Magellan-like skills, which allow him to read mounds of earth and patches of prickly pear and saguaro like road signs, led us to this old shelter. Click to enlarge.

It turns out that this pile of rocks that Mark had recognized as a building foundation (about a year earlier) is being renovated. By someone. For some reason. In the middle of nowhere.

Fresh ocotillo stalks and dried century plants now provide shelter over the structure that long ago shed its original roof. Bags of cement now wait inside for their transformation into globs of mortar that will be splattered haphazardly among the rocks, meant to stabilize this old relic.

Refurbishments include a paper-towel dispenser, a table, and a bucket-chair to go along with the existing fireplace. The renovators also collected and placed geodes and other minerals along the face of the fireplace. Click to enlarge.

Finishing touches include roll-up blinds made of dried ocotillo stems and 2x2 framing around the windows. The haphazard cement is very visible here. Click to enlarge.

To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what we were looking at. What was this building’s story before the renovators came along? Who stayed in it? For how many years? Alone? What wild animals did the inhabitants come across in this remote location?

Mark thinks it’s likely that the shelter was originally built by cowboys of the Old West. But my mind was still firing off all kinds of questions, conjuring all kinds of scenarios. Who was renovating it now? How on earth did they get the supplies way back into the desert? WHY would they? What is their intended use for this structure in 2011? A hunting shack? An isolated but rudimentary get-away?

I still don’t know. And I could probably never find the place again if I tried. Which I won’t. Unless Neighbor Mark drives.

What more does one need in the middle of the remote desert than a shovel and some Jagermeister? We found these items set back into a crevice in the wall. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: The unknown renovators of the rock pile shelter appear to be doing their best to build upon something that already existed – despite the remote setting, the failing condition of the foundation, the harsh sun. They’re simply trying to improve it, add to it, refresh it to suit today’s needs.

Is novel writing much different? Aren’t we really just writing renovators, building upon the existing themes and work of authors who have gone before us? Do writers naturally draw from other works – consciously, subconsciously – simply adding their own finishing touches and “refreshers” to what already exists?

Or do you think your ideas are completely your own, completely unique?

NOTE: If you have a chance, please visit Shari Lopatin’s “Rogue Writer” blog where I guest this week.

May 30 2011

Captured on Cudde

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Things look a bit more sinister at night, don’t you think? For me at least, living in the true desert where things go bump – or growl – in the night, the veil of darkness seems to heighten my senses and engage my overactive imagination.

Some nights, the movie camera of my mind is really rolling. For instance, if I have to go outside to pull clothes from the line (that I forgot), I can make it back into the house faster than an Olympic sprinter, shirtsleeves and pant legs trailing behind me like finish line tape.

Talk about eerie. This band of javelina is bigger than those captured on film. Take a look at the glowing eyes in the background. I count at least seven. Click to enlarge.

Even with that healthy dose of apprehension, my animal-loving fanaticism wins out more often than not; I am always curious to see just what, exactly (or who), is rustling around among the creosote bushes, cat’s claw and brittlebush around our desert ranch while we sleep comfortably in our bed. That’s why hubby and I purchased a Cuddeback scouting camera (trail camera) a few years back.

As this outdoor photography gadget will attest (and to my absolute delight), lots of somebodies roam around under the star-studded skies – and even in the glow of the rising sun. In fact, lots of critters use the wash on our property as their own animal super highway. Take a look:

Although they are generally camera shy, this coyote, captured under the darkness of night, was very close to the scouting camera. Click to enlarge.

The morning sunrise colored the entire desert a soft pink as this coyote stood in our driveway. Click to enlarge.

A frequent visitor around our property, this very large bobcat is photographed at 4:45 a.m. near our woodpile. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: As you see from the day and night photos that the camera snaps, each evokes a different emotional feel, doesn’t it?

Do you think the bobcat looks less threatening in daylight? The same cat is pictured here at 4:05 p.m. near a mining tube directly behind our gate. Click to enlarge.

As an author, do you strategically plan nighttime or daytime settings/scenes in your novels, or do the days and nights just happen naturally, like a domino effect? What if you were more calculated about the way you planned sunrises and sunsets?

Here’s how I see it: a field – or in my case, a rocky desert hill – lit by an early morning sunrise offers a much different perspective and “tone” than the same hill colored with the glow of sunset or the reflection of the moon. Paying close attention to day or night can evoke different sensations, result in richer visual descriptions, and spur unique emotional reactions in your characters and also your readers.

The sun and the stars offer a goldmine of sensory opportunity to the writer! Why not pluck one from the sky and place it in your WIP?