Tag Archives: cactus

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.

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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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