Welcome to my neighborhood. I live in a city, but I like to hike in the surrounding mountains in the Sonoran Desert.
Will you walk with me?
Before we go, I recommend packing the following things:
- A small journal and two pens for writing simple notes that can be tidied later. One fast pen. And one slow pen. Just in case.
- A phone and a pocket-size camera for taking photos of things to remember, including plants, lizards, insects, and birds that need identifying. And occasionally rattlesnakes.
- Water. Plenty of water.
- A snack. Writing and walking is always better with something delicious. I recommend a bagel with cream cheese, an orange, and a package of fruit snacks. Shaped like dinosaurs.
I like to leave early in the morning for a hike in South Mountain. We will walk until we find a flat rock with an unobstructed view in the middle of a cholla forest. We wait here for the dawning.
What sentences will you use to describe the horizon? What colors do you see? Orange? Yellow? How can you write about those colors without using those words?
I scribble in my journal:
I look for the planets that are visible this month in the pre-rising light, but only a fingernail moon shines down. The eastern sky is anthemed by the birds as peach caresses the low layer of clouds, veiling the sun until it bursts in a single golden shot.
A nearby ant hill is a scurry of activity, the residents in a hurry to harvest food before the rising of the molten heat.
A lime green bandaid emblazoned with super heroes lies in the dust.
What is blooming? What is distinct about this season? How will your reader know it is spring without you having to tell them?
The hillside flowers are monochromatic in hue. Lemon-gold poppies. The ditzy-blonde brittlebush that arrives early and stays late. The five-petaled blossoms on the creosote bush are no larger than a penny. No buds adorn the head of the gentleman saguaro, the giant cactus that waits to bloom last every year.
Who shares the morning? What do you hear?
A pack of coyotes join the morning bird song with yips and howls. I smile at the Sonoran Desert chorus but my rust-colored mutt unfurls her tail as she listens, warily, close to my legs.
A dad with three young sons shuffle by.
“How far are ya goin’?” we ask.
“As far as we can get,” the dad answers. They pass us full of adventure and youth-filled zeal, a single water bottle between them.
What do you touch?
A layer of dust coats my shoes. My hands. My khakis. My dog is a four-legged dust mop as she flops at my feet.
To our left is a vein of pink quartz that juts up from time to time throughout the mountain like the backbone of a dinosaur skeleton.
The fruit snacks!! Would you like a red one?
As I pull out the fruit snacks, I place my foot on a medium-sized boulder. A six-inch black tail disappears under the stone below my shoe. I jump back. A lizard? A snake? I feel no need to investigate.
What would I see in your neighborhood? What is unique about the place where you live? How would you set the scene with a strong sense of place?
Can I walk with you?
Lynne Hartke is under contract with Revell for a 2017 release of a nonfiction book about her experience with cancer. The Sonoran Desert in Arizona serves as a background for much of her writing.