The lovely, lovely images from Goodyear feature, as a background to all its glorious baseball,  palm trees.

I was surprised the first time I saw them. I’m a desert girl myself. You can have palm trees in Arizona, but you should have at least one cactus.

I’m partial to cacti; I am one. I could say that the rejection of my childhood peers has made this so, but I was spiky as a zygote. I kicked at the world from the inside, instantly and at all times. Cacti grow together in tight clutches and yet stand alone. I am tempted to pet them but something tells me they are not huggers. The spines protect their tender innards. It was excellent preparation for a life born into a post- Big Red Machine era.

In the Midwest, in February, everything is dead. In the desert, where there is always green, you can trust that it stays. It has won. It’s eternal. It isn’t going anywhere. Ohioans are used to green that shows up for a while, but it always goes away. A cactus starts green and stays green. You can trust it. We can trust baseball to return, but not who’s going to live up to stellar OBP from the last five minutes of last season.

In the West, the barbed wire takes its cue from the cactus. Barbed wire cuts off one piece of land from another—we don’t see this in the Midwest, where we cut our divides with curlicued gates and well-mended wide mesh shaped like diamonds. These diamonds are false gems:  We’re shoving each other apart, but we pretend to be polite about it. Midwestern fences are thin hexagons, sometimes painted green to blend into the grass, in a vain effort to pretend the division isn’t there at all. Cacti and barbed wire, on the other hand, don’t care at all. They’ll tell you what they think of you and expect you to deal with it. You’ll meet a cactus only on its own terms.

Cephalocereus-senilis-3There are fuzzy cacti in Arizona, too, and even though these seem to announce themselves a safer companion, upon closer inspection they reveal themselves to be no more touchable than their spiked counterparts. Fuzzy cacti have more spines, closer together—if you’re careful, if you make a dedicated effort of it, you can rest a couple fingertips against the cool exterior of a spiky saguaro by choosing your spot. The fuzzy ones—no way. They’re not to be touched, anywhere, at all, and they’re frantic about it, their hair blocking the green inside. I looked up the name of one of these:  “Old Man Cactus.” Get off its lawn of sand and rattlesnakes. That’s how it lives, season to season, year to year, no matter the temperature or the rainfall. Respect.

Some of my fellow Midwesterners have no desire to see the desert even in this season, thinking of it as a place of death and desolation. Ridiculous; the desert is where life is at its most predominant. Sand and rocks and tangled brush spread out for miles and miles and then look, here’s this giant cactus.  Here’s this tiny frantic hummingbird. Here’s life where the Earth seems most determined to impose a death sentence.

That is spring training in a rebuilding year:  Life where others see death, an insistence upon survival.

3 Responses

  1. Scott Carter

    Beautiful imagery. I love the last line. I have never experienced it but I am told that after a rare rainfall in the desert everything comes to life and is one of the most spectacular views on earth.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thank you 🙂 June in Arizona is spectacular.

  2. Mary Beth Ellis

    Lost Valley Ranch in Colorado here ❤️, a “heart home” my whole life long. My great uncle lived in Tucson for 20 years to make his dream of never mowing a lawn again come to pass.