October 18, 2011

Of Wind and Tumbleweeds

This post is going to be short, because I want to ask for YOUR input. Get ready to share!

If you have ever watched an old western movie or even a TV show set in the Old West, you are quite familiar with a nuisance known as the tumbleweed. Even I remarked about seeing them when I first moved to Colorado, saying, "I am in the West." :)

For the most part, tumbleweeds are shown in deserted or ghost towns, empty and dusty streets, or out on the prairie where no building impede their path. But, in reality, tumbleweeds are found everywhere people are, if the conditions are right.

Tumbleweed is a phrase used to describe various varieties of bushes that break off when very dry, and roll with the wind.

These thick matted bushes sometimes stick to each other to resemble a giant Tumbleweed, and single Tumbleweeds six or eight feet in diameter, are not uncommon in the Southwest at times. They have been seen in many Western movies, but far from being "quaint" they can be both a nuisance and a fire hazard.  Sage brush creates one of the more common kinds of tumbleweed.

Where I live in Colorado, when the wind blows across town, tumbleweeds inevitably follow. And it's amazing how those buggers can get stuck under your car, then dragged for miles. People avoid them like they do an animal or debris in the road. One of the most ironic facts is knowing the actual tumbleweed is a plant brought over from Russia.

Scientific descriptions with good photos!

History and Description: http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/tumbleweed.htm
Nice site and has bibliographical links.

Russian Thistle: Desert USA—the Ultimate Desert Resource has a very good history article, and the photo of blossoms to the right is theirs. It's beautiful. It's also larger than life. The blossoms are teensy, and when seen through a microscope, are nearly transparent at one point.

So...what trademarks or icons of the "west" come to mind when you think of a western setting? When you read a western story or novel, or when you watch a movie or TV show, what items are required in order for the western setting to be believable to you?


ann said...

No tumbleweed here in northern Canada, but the wind howls constantly and the dust (or snow) blows.

What's required for a western setting to be believable? Good horses. Authentic animal handling.

Jennifer said...

I'm from Colorado too! We lived not too far from a rawhide plant so the smell of leather reminds me of the west. My picture of the west are mountains, rodeos, horses,cows, tumbleweeds, old general storefronts, silver mines and prospector tools, prairie dogs, mountain streams, copperhead tails,saddles, cowboy hats, arrowheads,and tourqoise beads.

For His Glory said...

thinking @ "western" bring numerous thoughts to mind - horses, saloons, card games, cowboy attire (boots, hats, chaps,kerchiefs, guns & gunbelts, etc); horses & their "attire": (saddles, harnesses, feed,blankets,etc) and as the first comment mentioned "authentic animal handling".

including jobs of the west in their true setting is important. (branding, wrangling, rodeoing (is that a word?), driving cattle,or the day to day operations of a ranch with it's blessings as well as challenges (like needing a new well, rustlers, etc) whether it's a store owner, a stagecoach driver or a librarian job descriptiveness is good with narrative on what their duties are, etc.

this is prob way "tmi", and deal more with historical westerns, but westerns intrigue me. as for modern day settings, accuracy is important and a lot of the previous thoughts would also apply. settings like montana, yellowstone, wyoming, arizona come to mind.

an important aspect for me is a cowboy with values,integrity and a willingness to "get the job done" whether it be as a peace officer, a cow-poke, the cook, or whatever other job he may have; and it's always nice when he's a hero and a gentleman.

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

Ann, I'm with you. Authenticity in handling horses is a must, especially if a cowboy on a ranch is featured as opposed to a town setting with a passing mention of cowboys.

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

Oooh, Jennifer, I hadn't thought of the smell of leather. That's an excellent one. Of course, you don't get that smell when you read or watch a movie, but stepping into a leather store will certainly trigger some great imagery. :)

And glad to share this beautiful western state of Colorado with you!

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

FHG, I like your remark about a cowboy with integrity and being a hero. There is something to be said for that strong man with values who also gets out there and rescues the girl. :) I actually had a man like that in my first novel, even though it was set in 1740 and Colonial times. But that one would easily transport to a western with my hero.

kimdtaylor said...

I love to see wagon rut roads with grass/weeds running down the middle. I write Mountain Fiction and weeds are part of the setting for me. I also like straw mixed in the dirt.