Jun 30 2010

Rhythm of the Cicada

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to photograph a cicada? I’ve been chasing these noisy insects around for weeks, and to no avail. How quickly I felt outsmarted! Each time I’d approach a bush or tree – abuzz with the distinctive cicada cacophony – I’d get very close, scanning and scanning, yet seeing nothing.

One of thousands of cicadas along the San Pedro riverbed in southern Arizona. Click photo to enlarge.

They’d toy with me. A sharp “buzz,” then silence. Another “buzz,” then silence. One even flew into my ear when I was on the four-wheeler, heading to my “Cicada Rendezvous” by the river. Talk about taunting (and did I mention, Ouch? They’re pretty darn big when they bounce off an ear hole!). And one day, during a jog, one of them let off this offensive screeching noise low to the ground as I ran by. Let’s just say that it startled me so much, I did an in-the-air-cartoon dust cloud. I think I was levitating.

So, yes … I wanted to photograph these elusive, ornery bugs. My fascination was also influenced by the fact that I appreciate their ‘wit.’ Plus, it’s pretty impressive that they can live underground for most of the year, feeding on roots – only to emerge from holes in May or June in droves, filling the desert days and nights with song. The first trill of a cicada – to me, at least – means that Arizona’s overbearing summer heat has arrived. And the trees that get a natural pruning each year, as a result, seem none the worse for wear (the females cut slits into branches to deposit eggs; then the branches fall off – at the outer tips of a limb – the eggs falling to the ground. Repeat the cycle.).

So while I jest about the cicada’s elusive qualities and wit, the reality is that when the end of August nears and the cicadas crawl back into the ground, the desert will be a bit less noisy. And, admittedly, I’ll miss those ornery insects.

Listen to the sounds of Arizona’s cicadas on the video below, then, writers, scroll for tips.

For Writers:

How would you describe what you hear in the above video? Is the sound reminiscent of the rattle of a rattlesnake? The vigorous shaking of maracas? My description: the sound was so intense, so nearly deafening, that when I spoke, I was sure I was slurring my speech. It felt like my S’es were coming out all wrong, blended in so perfectly with the hiss of the cicadas that even I couldn’t tell if I’d spoken them … Really, it was that loud. The audio doesn’t really do the scenario justice, unfortunately. But use your imagination!

Jun 28 2010

Saguaro Flower Power

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I admit it. I’m in love with the saguaro cactus – from its stately arms, behemoth size and prickly spines to its exquisite white flowers. And did you know that the saguaro is only found in Arizona’s Sonoran desert … nowhere else in the world? How great is that?

This curved-bill thrasher enjoys picking ants (pollinators of the flowers) and bugs from the newly opened saguaro flowers.

There’s something magical about late spring when the saguaros bloom. As they begin to bud, flowers crop up on the very tops, looking like unruly dreadlocks (The saguaro wears the hairstyle well. I love it).

When the flowers finally open, from a distance they look somewhat mechanical, with crisp edges, perfectly formed spheres and a ramrod-straight tube poking out of each. They kind of remind me of Claymation (those of you not old enough to know what that is, think of Mr. Bill. Or even the California raisins.). So, yes, they kind of look like perfectly formed clay, soft and pliable.

Nature’s ability to engineer something so flawless and streamlined, so delicate and so functional is quite breathtaking.

For Writers: What inspires you to write? Obviously nature ignites my creativity, even though the fiction I write is character-focused and dramatic – not focused solely on nature. There’s just something about sitting among trees, open fields, skies – letting the natural world happen around you as you observe. Even taking in the sights and sounds in a park for 10 minutes can inspire. You should try it if you haven’t already.