Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beauty and Destruction

We took a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum (BTA) 3 miles outside Superior, Arizona.  Superior is one of those sad, deserted towns in Arizona that evolved from the boom/bust, truck economy of copper mining.  
The BTA, however, is a colorful jewel in the Spring when cacti bloom...the prickly pear, 
the buckhorn cholla,
the staghorn cholla
and all the color varieties that make these cacti a beautiful Spring surprise.  
Maybe the beauty of the BTA was focused a bit because of the waste of the strip mining in the surrounding region or, maybe, just because we had an innate desire for a spectacular afternoon...and wanted to escape a little of the destruction. 

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Death in the Desert

Death, as the expression goes, is a part of living.  As we wander the desert, death often goes unnoticed because of the activity that surrounds us.   The irony is, however, that death in the desert is always accompanied by a component of life.
That bee in the image below is dead, impaled on the spines of the prickly pear bud.  It was in the vicinity, most likely, to collect pollen from the adjoining prickly pear flower, driven onto the spines by the strong, gusty winds we've had recently.  Its pollen sacs are empty so maybe it was driven by  necessity, maybe it didn't sense the danger, maybe it was careless. 
A small life, a small loss.  
But...amid this loss, the prickly pear is still trying...its petals are out saying, "Hey, look at me..."  One bee down, hundreds to come.
Plants, from a human perspective, have a hard time without arms, legs, eyes, speech/hearing.  Lacking all the "fun" things, however, they seem to do OK.  
The giants of the desert play this game of life and death right along with the diminutive players.  That giant agave, below, is signaling with the presence of its seed stalk that it will die in 6 - 12 months.  It, like the prickly pear, is trying to reproduce.  
Where's the drama?   Note the "skeleton" saguaro to the left.  It may have served as a "nurse plant" to the agave but, more likely, the agave's root system was more aggressive, dominating the available moisture.  
But, years later, the agave is dieing, as well.  That saguaro, hell, it's saying, "My skeleton is still here to watch you die."
We all accident, by competition, by old age.  It's always there and we, the living, might as well get used to it...the plants and bees have a head start.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Magic

It's kind of reassuring...they're always there...flowering on an annual basis.  Usually one of the first cacti to bloom, on a schedule of its own, Echinocereus engelmannii and some of its close cousins brighten the drab desert surroundings in the Spring. 
The bloom schedule has been variously attributed to temperature, the winter rains, sometimes to magic.
The contrast between this otherwise unremarkable cactus and the grasses that often surround it is brought to life when it flowers...kinda like waving a magenta flag while shouting, "Hey, look at me."
As they invariably do, bees and other insects will look and struggle through the stamens and anthers spreading pollen throughout the blossom and carry it to the next blossom, as well.
We all have a stake in this process...sometimes only to let us know that Summer is near...that there is something regular and timely in our lives.  A constant.

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