I took this picture one year ago on my first foray into the Sonoran Desert. I had interviewed the morning before on my first to Arizona and they called a few hours later to let me know they were going to make an offer. I already knew I was likely to accept so I wanted to make sure I’d enjoy hiking in the Sonoran Desert, although I didn’t have much time before visiting some neighborhoods and then flying back to Portland. I headed up to Pinnacle Peak Park for an hour or so to get a taste of the desert.
The last note in my hiking journal is simply this: “Can’t wait to hike more here, will always miss the Northwest of course, but the desert will be amazing to explore.”
I accepted when the offer arrived early the next week, setting in motion a frantic month getting ready to move. A year later we are getting ready to move again, this time from our rental house to our new home. It’s been a busy month but nothing compared to last year, a cross-city move is so much simpler than a cross-country move, especially since then I was also starting a new job, we were finding a rental house, all while getting ready to sell the old house.
I’m excited and nervous and happy and tired and above all, grateful. I loved my 21 years in the Pacific Northwest and I’ve loved my year in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s to many more.
I knew even before setting foot in Arizona that my pictures in the desert would draw heavily from a palette of browns rather than the green of the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t know that there would occasionally b red in the desert too, such as the red racer, the house finch, and the northern cardinal. However, for a month or so at the end of spring and the start of summer red explodes across the desert in the fruit of the saguaro.
Here near The Amphitheater in McDowell Sonoran Preserve a ripe fruit bursts open, exposing the pulp and seeds inside. The fruit is chockfull of seeds, according to the National Park Service there are about 2000 seeds per fruit. Few will develop into a seedling and fewer into an adult saguaro in the harsh desert climate but its not for lack of trying. I noticed multiple birds eating the fruit but mostly it was white-winged doves, who apparently digest the seeds rather than passing them in their waste like some other birds. They end up with so much juice and pulp and seeds on their faces that I imagine some of the seeds will fall to the ground as they preen, so perhaps all is not lost.
As the fruit continues to ripen on the saguaro, even the outside turns red. The dried stalk above them is all that remains of the flowers that grew atop them, the ripened fruit results from flowers that were pollinated. Most of the fruit grows at the top of the saguaro or the ends of its arms but some grows on the sides like the one below that has been cleaned of most of its contents by the denizens of the desert, only a few of the tiny black seeds remain inside.
Fractures split a large granite boulder along the Pinnacle Peak Trail. The message could be that you don’t have to be perfect to be strong. To stand true and resist. Or it could be that those from whom you draw strength are wounded in their own way from the stress of the world and need support as well. Or maybe that nothing lasts forever, whether these rocks will outlast me depends on how many millions of years I live, but we are here now, together, and I am thankful for it.
The old saguaros are warriors. It’s remarkable they can survive in this climate at all, astounding they can do it while sustaining heavy damage. I don’t know how recent the damage to the base of this cactus is but as you can tell from its long shadow it is still growing at a great height with a couple of the iconic arms near the top (the arms usually don’t start growing for 50 to 100 years, depending on the amount of rain). I saw one saguaro that had fallen over and little remained except a short stump, but enough of the internal plumbing and root system survived that a new arm was growing. I hope they prove a metaphor for my country, for all the damage it has sustained and with more to come, I hope the promise of America overcomes its reality.