Greetings from the Cactus Forest!
The desert has my admiration.
I arrived in West Texas about six months into this life of vagabonding about way back in 2008. That was the beginning of an infatuation with the way nature can survive in the harshest climes available in the Continental US, where rain falls rarely and humans are always trying to divert what liquid does tend to show up.
With spines and venom it fights back. Animals come out at night, followed by the stars. The sun beats down every day it’s challenge, “survive the day, and I’ll reward you with a splendor every set and rise”.
And so I remained largely in this southwestern arid for most of my first two years of traveling. The Big Bend, New Mexico, and almost every square inch of Arizona.
The saguaros standing tall in Tucson’s cactus forest stand out above all else. The national park named for these towering cacti, split in two by the city itself, are an other worldly experience.
The first time I arrived here, my Lady and I fresh in our togetherness, high on life and smokeables, showed up thick with happenstance at the eastern unit of Saguaro National Park, known as the Rincon Mountains. We were told we had just enough time to drive the Cactus Forest Loop before they closed the gate at sunset. We fired up the VW Bus and were on our way.
I don’t toss that word around lightly. These days we plan ahead, children a-plenty and always looking for the right situation, our traveling life has changed significantly from back then. But at the time, it was just two travelers, wandering upon a park, and immersing ourselves in the luck of it all.
Certainly the Saguaros were impressive. Some 40 feet high, with arms stretching up to the sky, splitting the sun’s setting purple or occasionally reaching toward the earth as to say, “come hither, this is the way to good fortune and good times.”
But between them, every teddy bear cholla, every mesquite and palo verde tree, the prickly pears abundant, they filled the gaps and made it clear that this was as Martian a landscape as one will find in these United States.
Five years later, with three kids and my Lady’s mom in tow, we’ve returned. Exploring the western unit, Tucson Mountain, the impressiveness is even mightier given the vastness of this side’s forest.
It’s difficult to grasp that this is a desert. Yes, it’s hot and there is little rain. Yes, the spines of cacti have stabbed us in the ankles and knees, we’ve seen lizards lifting their legs one at a time to both bask in the heat of a sunny rock and avoid sticking to the skillet of the desert. But there is life everywhere. Ocotillos between fishhook barrel cacti, sage between ironwood trees, and all of it looking so different from what any sane person imagines when they think “forest”.
The stars poke holes through the sky at night. The Lady sees a shooting star, her first in a long, long time, and though I see them three or four times a week, I’m jealous. It’s dark and clear skies that make the fire bans here bearable, and though studying Orion and the Dippers, Taurus, Draco, Cancer and Jupiter and their fellows is television enough for me, seeing a shooter is the big reward.
And then I get to see mine. And then we both catch one, together, the first time that’s happened in our five year relationship. It feels good, exceptional actually in a way I wouldn’t want to try and describe.
Tucson glows over the mountains to the east. The saguaros silhouette against the outer space of tonight. I’m in love with a place, and don’t have to be anywhere other than this, the Sonoran Desert, anytime soon.
So I let my shoulders bake in the afternoon, let the dirt ride up my jeans for days and weeks at a time. So I begin to feel like I’m a part of this hot and rock, this blue sky squint eye walk around and love the surreal way of life. The desert and I say goodnight, and both make a promise to be here again in the morning, for as many mornings as time permits.