I was working on a priest's prayer in Swallowing the Sun and needed several synonyms for mist. The thesaurus gave me a brand new word: brume. Not only does brume mean mist or fog, but it also relates to a specific season. So I have steam for summer, brume for winter, and mist and fog for spring and fall. That's not quite enough seasons for the Arizona desert, which has foresummer, marked by haze.
My research efforts don't always yield what I was hoping for. Take jojoba, for example.
Jojoba, Simmondsia chinensis, is a drought-tolerant plant found in the foothills mainly to the north and east of the low-desert Hohokam country. Jojoba seeds are known to have been used by peoples of the Southwest for shampoo and in medicinal preparations and may have been consumed as a food or beverage (in limited quantities) when roasted.
I thought I could have jojoba oil serve as a fuel for portable lamps inside the massive greathouses and interior rooms of house compounds of my People of Two Rivers. Jojoba seeds are about 50 percent liquid oil, and even though extracting that oil is difficult, the Hohokam would have had the technological capability to do it. If the lamps were limited to the religious enclaves (the workrooms of the rain priests and the priestesses), the effort might have been deemed worthwhile.
But gathering the jojoba seeds would have involved either going long distances or trading with people of the uplands, followed by the physically taxing labor of grinding or pounding the seeds to a paste, pressing the paste between flat, weighted stones, pouring off the oil, and straining it through cloth (and possibly melting it) to separate the oil from the meal.
That seems like a lot of effort when tallow from deer is easier to produce and would have been readily available locally. To make candles, deer tallow can be rendered down through boiling and then poured into ceramic vessels with braided cotton or yucca-fiber wicks suspended in it while still liquid.
In my mind, the ease and availability of tallow and the safety aspect of carrying a candle rather than a liquid in a lamp combine to make my original notion of jojoba oil lamps unlikely. It's still appealing as a luxury good reserved for the Smoke Mothers, perhaps, to show their elite status.
Cholla Blossom gets a lot of grief: betrayed by everyone in her life, foiled at every turn, and foreseeing her own death in visions. Plus, several of my beta readers say her name is too hard to pronounce (CHOY-a), and they don't see why I'm unwilling to return to her original name, White Dove the bland. No, just kidding—the name I gave her initially as a placeholder isn't bland, just stereotypical. Here are some of the reasons I chose this difficult name for this angsty teen.
The segmented jointed stems of these species of "jumping cholla" have barbed spines that embed themselves in your skin if you're not careful moving through the desert. Experienced hikers often carry a comb to flick away any joints that hitch a ride. Grabbing onto a stem with your fingers is a mistake you're unlikely to repeat.
So this plant is lovely but prickly and hard to get rid of, just like Cholla Blossom. And it is literally picked in the bud, just as she fears will happen to her; the mature fruits of most species of cholla are not eaten, except in times of starvation.
I watched an amazing supermoon rising over the Superstition Mountains, in 1984. This photo reminds me of that experience.
At my rain house, the puddles all spread,
From under it, short streams run.
I stand atop the Temple of Mist;
About me, the mist wreaths my head.
Cupbearers bring me the liquor of life;
The blood-red drink I swallow.
Cast up on the earth as the milk of my making,
The shining road draws the sun.
No more the fields be dry and hollow,
Green shoots no more a-burning.
Swift come the clouds to the Rainsinger’s call;
The spadefoots start their singing.
At the rim of the world the storm it waits,
With thunder and lightning a-borning.
I intend to make this a personal journey, a diary of sorts, as I embark on the next stage of my writing. As my dear husband, Matt, describes it, I am faced with the choice of writing novels as a hobby or actually striving to become a professional novelist.
That will require a whole new level of commitment of time and energy, as I work to increase my skills as a writer and also learn to promote myself as a writer.
I had my mother teach me to read when I was four, and I've never stopped. Now I can play with words all day long... it's the best job in the world.
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