My mom used to drag me on hikes, but now I accompany her voluntarily. I’m still not a hiking fanatic, necessarily, but I appreciate a little fresh air now and again. Mom (Hiker Betty) and I go at our own pace - mine a bit faster than hers - but even at 71, she’s got a lot more endurance than me. It’s probably just the fact that she knows what she’s talking about. “We’re going on a 5-mile hike today” means nothing to me. Should I pack a tent, I wonder, or just a granola bar?
If you know the path you’re treading, you’re less likely to be surprised by the outcome, but even my mother, author of the “Tucson Hiking Guide” was caught off guard by a 14-mile hike which turned out to last into the night instead of taking half a day. Just goes to show you never know what you might be getting into when you embark on a journey.
As we were hiking one of these trails last week, I paid special attention to the plant life around me, which seemed to be particularly diverse. Still, there’s nothing quite like a Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea). Maybe it’s because I’m a native of Tucson, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert -- the only place on Earth where these magnificent cacti grow. And maybe it’s because I’m an egotistical opera singer on a hike in the desert that made it possible for me to make an analogy between my own career path and the maturation of a succulent.
|A grown Saguaro hugged by its "nurse" tree|
The saguaros line the hiking trails in various stages of development and decay. The younger specimens thrive in the shade of a mesquite or Palo Verde tree, so-called “nurse” trees. The cactus then grows older, taller and stronger, stealing resources away from the nurse tree, thereby killing it. Others cohabit peacefully alongside their caretakers, and then grow old and just die. I was surprised at the grief I felt when I saw one of these magnificent plants lying dead on the ground.
|Its time had come|
People are more complicated. We see other people thriving who may be younger or less worthy in our minds, and we get jealous. We see equals surpassing, and we try to destroy. It is impossible to determine how tall or strong we will become, or even if we will be lucky enough to grow old - the cactus don’t seem to worry about this.
Saguaros have no qualms about living amongst chollas, barrel cactus, ocotillos or prickly pears. They are abundant in their natural habitat and scarce if not non-existent elsewhere - just the way nature intended.