How Do You Hug a Cactus?

Buckhorn cholla grows next to prickly pear on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 26, 2020. Original: _RAC8826.arw

In my mind’s eye I saw the picture I wanted to take, the cholla next to the prickly pear, almost hugging. The cacti were a ways off the trail and even with my longest telephoto I knew I’d have to crop the image a bit, which was fine, I grabbed a quick shot before heading off as I had a little hike yet to reach the exit by closing. It’s not quite the shot I wanted, a better angle was a few steps down, literally down, as the trail descended a small hill. At that spot though too many plants obscured the view, I would have needed to be 50 feet tall to get the camera high enough. It’s a frequent issue but at this stage I doubt I’ll develop Late Onset Extraordinary Gigantism. I haven’t given up hope, I bet Godzilla wasn’t expecting it either.

In Death, Supporting Life

A lesser nighthawk perches on a dead buckhorn cholla on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Nighthawks were a new species for me when we moved to Arizona. I see them relatively often near the break of day, zooming about low to the ground in erratic flight like massive swallows. When sitting still they can be pretty hard to spot and usually I only manage it if see them land, as in this case when a dead cholla lended its support on a spring morning.

The Cholla Calls

A cactus wren perches in a buckhorn cholla along Powerline Road No. 2 in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Have I wandered too long in the desert heat? The cholla is talking to me. Not in quiet whispers but in bold boisterous calls, raising my spirits and quickening my pace, pulling me closer. So far I have not been drawn into its warm embrace, so far, so far.

Lines & Circles

Rain drops collect at the ends of horizontal spines on a teddy bear cholla on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

Water drops collect on the horizontal spines of a teddy bear cholla. It’s rained off and on the past couple of weeks but sadly it’s been off on the days I have been too. On Christmas morning however I woke to the sound of raindrops on the rooftops so I grabbed my rain gear and a new lens and spent a lovely morning in the desert.

Omnipotence

A curve-billed thrasher looks down as it perches atop a chain fruit cholla on the Rock Knob Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizon in November 2019

On Sunday a heavy cloud bank in the east snuffed out the sunrise but as I made my way back up the trail I was delighted when the sun poked through with such soft, diffuse light that it revealed every detail in the feathers of the birds and the spines of the cholla. I turned around and commanded the sun and clouds to hold their position for the next hour, just in case I had been granted the power of omnipotence without my knowing. Sadly I had not, though there’s always tomorrow. I was able to watch as the thrashers chased each other through the cholla, the black-throated sparrows chittered about, three cottontails poked in and out of the desert scrub, and sight unseen Gambel’s quail and Gila woodpeckers sang the Sonoran song. Just another magical morning in the desert.