Tag Archives: cactus

It is Someone’s birthday today.

Someone important. A good day for strolling among the cacti.

And the art.

The community of Carefree is a good place to be carefree on a birthday. The botanical garden is small and sweet.

Unusual plantings. The miracle of water in the desert.

Back east we have tree protection, and I’ve done a lot of it. Here there is cactus protection, on a small scale.

And a larger scale.

Maybe they use ladders or a long handled tool, says my mother. And an even larger scale.

Seems like the folks here do a lot for their green things.

Sometimes they need some help I guess, says my mother. She’s helped me a lot from time to time.

The birds handle their own protection, thank you very much.

A barrel cactus flower before spring is a gift. A birthday gift.

It’s a little aloe blooming, says my mother, looking beyond our shadows.

She has always known all about green things, all her life.

Don’t get me started on the famous Carefree sundial. Why does the shadow fall at 1:30 when it’s actually 2? Is this a metaphor for life, aging, whatever?

It’s got to be right, it’s been here for a long time, says my mother, and if you look at the fine print you see that “local solar time is 27.7 minutes behind mountain standard time.” Correct again. Got to read that fine print.

We stroll by the shops. The nonagenarian by my side can tell Springsteen from the Allman Brothers in the vinyl bin, and knows that we’ve recently lost Jeff Beck.

We eschew the unhealthy treats.

Treasures of a somewhat cheesy kind in Ortega’s.

Everything’s 40 percent off, Sue, behind the counter, calls out. You’re going to have some fun. Or you can get into mischief anyway.


Maybe I need one of those. My mother doesn’t, though. She doesn’t need anything.

Some objects are rather nice here though. Owl pottery crafted by a Mexican artisan, Mata Ortiz.

91 years young. Outside, pavement footprint imprints. My mother observes, They do that in Mexico.

About owls. My mother likes them a lot. A pair sometimes roost outside her balcony. We heard they were hiding elsewhere today and adventured out to find them, unsuccessfully. Oh well. We did find an owl at a somewhat cheesy art gallery, Wild Holly.

We come upon the gallery mascot.

He’s so still he looks like a sculpture, says my mother.

Mysterious western boot display in the window of an ordinary shoe repair shop.

Free birthday advice on a sandwich sign outside a store.

Along with a friendly admonition in front of another shop.

Some of this stuff needs dusting, mom says, looking in the window.

Correct, as always.

Zimbabwean sculpture. Title: “Proud Women.”

Indeed. They got us right.

An artist is painting in the window of his gallery.

Using a cell phone. You’d think he’d use a bigger picture to work from.

Then, tea for two at a cheesy faux-Brit place near the cactus garden.

 You know someone’s hands after 65 years. Their jewelry.

That ring was my father’s. He wore it on his pinky finger. It was his mother’s, and her mother’s before that. Her name was Brown, Brown Coats. An eight-prong setting that was not raised, the original Tiffany setting. That’s what I was told. So it’s really old.

We go to dinner near The Boulders, early, to get home early. Uncle Louie’s.

Pizza and pasta. Finally, some real cheese. Tira misu with a candle. After Motown and current R& B hits, an old-time blues singer starts belting it out.

We’re leaving just as the good music comes on, says my mother. Spring chicken.


Filed under Jean Zimmerman

On the cusp of spring

the Arizona desert moves itself to sprout.

The ocatillo puts forth its first miniature green leaves.

Fairy Duster joins the party.

Pima Dynamite trails may be full of mountain bikes and power lines, but they go on and on despite humankind’s interference.

This preserve was saved from development by a champion named Arthur W. Decabooter. A successful doctor, he opened doors to which “cactus huggers” had previously been denied and served as chair of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve starting in 1994.

In our party of six, photographers go clicking, trying to capture everything that is beautiful beyond measure. Shrubby Deervetch looks eager.

The saguaro braces itself against the sky, eternally photogenic.

The ones with peepholes fascinate me.

The cause of the decay is bacterial necrosis. The amazing thing is it goes on and up, at least for some time, as beefy and strong as its hole-less neighbors.

The bark of the Palo Verde pops, grasshopper-chartreuse in the sharp sunlight.

Teddy-bear chollas swell, show off, display themselves, muscular arms on blackened stalks.

Fishhooks have retained their fruit but are so ready to bud out.

Quartz sparkles, scattered like treasure on either side of the trail.

Another first flower – does anyone know its name? No. Does it matter? The desert is so far beyond names. Let’s call this one purple-bloom and be done with it.

Close up, cacti are so severe.  The thorns are actually modified leaves, and help the reduce water evaporation. It is also  a fierce sort of armor, so different from the more gentle deciduous trees back east.

All saguaros are the same, yet different.

Kind of like those who hike the trails, appreciating the grandeur of the desert, and Dr. Arthur W. Decabooter, who dedicated himself to saving it. Thank you, Dr. Decabooter.

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Does it make you think of your own mortality?

asked my brother as we scaled Pinnacle Peak in the late afternoon, among throngs of pleasure-hikers and trail-runners who didn’t seem to have a care about possibly spraining their ankles in the grit.

He didn’t mean the cactus, which had an interesting appearance.

Some of the saguaros appeared charred, girdled, as if they had been torched by lightning.

Peter was referring to our visit to the Valley of the Sun, to sit by our father’s hospice bed as he faded in and out, in and out. He had always been a rock, along with our mother.

Well, no, I said, I’ve mostly thought of my mortality when I’ve struggled with my writing and wondered how many books the future would be generous enough to offer me. We climbed among the ocotillos and the globe mallows, the wolfberry and the bedstraw, wondering where the sun-basking chuckwallas went in winter.

Jojoba had berries.

We saw no flowers beside from the penstemon. It’s winter, a cold snap.

You’ve got to think about how much they’ve given you over the years, Peter said, referencing our parents. How much they’ve stood by you.

Pinnacle Peak Park can be a nurturing place.

We saw a metal guard snugged around a young crucifiction plant  to coax it to maturity. Even so young it was all slim green spines, but the higher ups had decided that that level of protection wasn’t enough.

A cactus wren had built her nest on a palo verde branch, and we admired her handiwork as we made our way down.

By the water fountains, a dish of water to help thirsty bees along.

Wayne opened the window at the visitor center to answer my question about the blackened saguaros.

He didn’t know the name of the disease they had had. Only that it had started a long time ago and that it was a normal part of the life cycle. When they get old, he said, it’s natural to die. Other ones grow in their place.

Or maybe I’m putting my own words in his mouth.


Filed under Jean Zimmerman

I’m not much for views.

I’d rather look up to the peaks than down to the valleys. So I’m fortunate that any number of stupendous trails wind around the base of the mountains at Brown’s Ranch in Phoenix.

Desert vistas abound at this former cattle ranch, which dates back to 1917.

But first you must pay attention. A warning.

I find I like the living desert, with features like this fishhook cactus.

But I equally like everything that is dead or dying.

It’s like the memento mori of the Renaissance, artwork that has ancient roots. Latin for “remember that you will have to die.” Or as I would put it, embrace death and you will live. In some accounts of ye olde Rome, a companion or public slave would stand behind some triumphant general during a procession to remind him from time to time of his own mortality or prompt him to “look behind”.

Especially meaningful to me as I watch my father wend his way toward the end. And I would like to see a death-whisperer behind some of our more insensitive politicians today.

The saguaros here are ginormous, as they say. I think the largest ones I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.

Carnegiea gigantean counts itself a member of the cactus family, not a tree (but you knew that) and takes up to 75 years to develop a side arm. It only grows about one inch per year. This one’s a small fry.

The arms are grown to increase the plant’s reproductive capacity, bearing more flowers and fruit.

Near Scottsdale, one known as the Grand One is 46 feet tall, measured by a representative of the National Register of Big Trees in 2005 (though, note, not a tree!), burned in the Cave Creek Complex fire and might not have  survived if not for treatment of bacterial infections and the creation of waddles, small structures made of straw that help channel streams of water towards the thirsty saguaro. I think some of the specimens I’ve seen today could reach grand status one day.

Their skeletons are amazing.

We were standing underneath a palo verde, a tree whose name translates to “green stick”, remarking upon its stature and probable age, when we heard bird noises and looked up to see a pair of Harris’s hawks tearing apart a mouse. They noticed us and fled the nest, of course, and we saw the unmistakable white color at the base of their tails.

Harris’s hawks are only one of two hawk species that hunt in pairs, like wolves. I was glad not to be descended upon!

A morning in the desert is like any morning in the desert and no other morning, all at once. It’ll weary your legs as it restores your spirit, hawks or no hawks. But they were pretty superb.


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