Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Paying Attention

On a recent flight to Los Angeles, I noticed a strange phenomenon on the ground below. Flying somewhere between Dallas and Arizona, there were large circles of bright green on the otherwise rectangular plots of ground. I pointed them out to Henry who didn't know what they were either. During our stay in L.A., we talked to a lot of different people from the area. We were in town for a wedding of a close friend and I brought up the topic a few times. I knew several of the people we visited with over the four days were fairly frequent travelers and would automatically say, "Oh, yes, that's ..." But even they didn't have any idea what they were or had even noticed them. It continued to be a mystery until I Googled it today. They are, as we suspected, a form of field crop, wheat or corn probably, based on a circular irrigation system that is used in the southeastern and mideastern US and also in the Middle East.
I know you're thinking, big deal, crop circles, but it does make me wonder just how much of life passes us by without our noticing and the types of things that people attend to. I've had to restrain myself when riding in the car with Henry driving. I have a tendency to get excited when I see wildlife along the roadside or anything unusual that I think he might enjoy seeing. Not speaking in a normal tone or shooting my arm out to point out the deer or hawk, I've more than once scared him into thinking we were about to have a wreck. And after all, he's often more interested in the particular riff being played on the Porcupine Tree CD than on the hawk flying overhead.
So maybe no one else has the interests that I do. Maybe the other flight attendees have their noses in a great novel or movie they've brought along. Maybe they're just tired and are sleeping across the aisle. As a writer, though, especially as a children's writer, I'm delighted that everyday sightings and especially unusual ones catch my eyes and hold onto them with wonder and appreciation. I find it hard to sleep on a trip unless really exhausted. There is too much going on outside the windows of life.
We flew back home on July 4th amid the fireworks festivities below. There isn't much to see when you're 30,000 feet in the air, except color bursts. I did notice that certain townships had fireworks and certain ones didn't have but a few. Here's a writer's detail: some towns have fireworks displays early; some on the 4th. Some, due to the economy, skip the displays altogether. I may not have known this to even question it if I'd been asleep or watching a movie. So, say you're writing a novel about a small town in the summer months. Would your characters stage their own impromptu fireworks (maybe illegally?) or would they have to travel to a larger city to see them? Details like this could play into your plot, making it richer and giving you opportunities to play a little more.
What if your characters are farming in the Midwest? Would their fields be rectangular or circular? Again, just looking out the window of an airplane could offer a detail which could solve your murder mystery or crime plot. You might want to add a foreign character who is in the Midwest studying farming techniques to take back home. Do you sense a long-distance romance developing?
As writers, we can utilize the most common details of our surroundings, mixed with just a little imagination, and move in directions no one else has considered. Start today and allow yourself to be infatuated with something you've never noticed before.

For more information on the field circles: (And by the way, the best one was the Pacman-shaped field that opened onto a large group of houses.)



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