Tag Archives: desert

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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The zig zag trail leads…where?

First you have to see it. Can you see it?

Maybe you can’t go all the way. Maybe the rocks underfoot prove too much for you, even if the saguaro forest at Spur Cross Ranch tempts you.

Beefy, odd, some more masculine than others.

A well placed bench welcomes us. Behind is a mature mesquite, shaggy and fissured.

A plaque on the back of the seat has a few words from

Walking in Beauty, the closing prayer from the Navajo Way blessing ceremony:
In beauty I walk
With beauty before me I walk
With beauty behind me I walk
With beauty above me I walk
With beauty around me I walk
It has become beauty again

The lines are supposed to bring peace and calm, and I’m beginning to feel iit, surrounded by an intense aroma that floats on the hot air, herbal and intoxicating, combined with the smell of horse. So many ride these Cave Creek trails.

My father would always find a bench. I don’t like to walk, he always said. I never understood. You’d find him seated, whether on the side of a trail, say, or on a bench at one end of a museum exhibit even when the greatest Jackson Pollack canvas in the world could be found at the other end. He wouldn’t move.

This trail has ancient rocks that have never moved, hot to the touch.

My mother says it’s strange because when my father hit the tennis court he was a demon, with a killer serve.

I think now he was just at home in his skin. He didn’t need art, or a view from a hiking trail.

Sometimes you find a tableau in the desert. Frozen, totally stationary, looking as if were posed by a mighty hand. My mother found one today.

Sometimes you see a saguaro that took protection as it grew under a larger plant, one quite different from itself.

My father never blinked when I said I wanted to go to grad school for an MFA in poetry. What a useless endeavor! He bankrolled the whole thing, and launched me as a writer.

Am I growing up yet? Like the saguaro, I’m taking a long time to be in my skin. I’m trying to be patient. “Patience is also a form of action,” said Auguste Rodin.

There might be birds here, sometime, if you wait patiently.

Two century plants side by side, one quite dead, one obviously alive.

Sometimes the llve and the dead grasses grow together.

In one of his most acute descriptions, Walt Whitman praised “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.”

Today, down a hill, Cave Creek.

Little more than a trickle now. In another season the rains will come and the creek will rise.

All we can do is observe and be patient.

Wendell Berry writes:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do 
we have come our real work, 

and that when we no longer know which way to go 
we have come to our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Not a long trail today, but one just the right length.

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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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A few corny sentiments

are in order when you’re sprung from your Covid cell, told you’ve tested negative and are free to storm the world again.

I walked in the miraculous Arizona desert landscape, among plants that are ancient yet fresh, survivors on only a few drops of rainfall a year.

The oft-quoted lines from a Mary Oliver poem seemed relevant, as sentimental as they sometimes seem: “what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?” Well, I thought about it as I walked.

What in fact do I want to do?

Pacing the perimeter of my parents’ development, I thought I might want to take some inspiration.

To kiss and to hug. That’s something that you think of first when you’ve been told not to come up close to anybody, even wearing a mask.

To hydrate.

The city of  Scottsdale actually goes out and dribbles water on individual plants. That’s responsible.

Allow my book to germinate.

Toughen my hide.

Bloom.

Stretch out.

Plant.

Pay attention to what’s above.

Be thornier.

Burst forth.

If I can do any of these things with a microcosmic bit of the spirit of the sage inhabitants of the desert, it will be awesome.

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