Thursday, October 28, 2010

Career vs. Cactus

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.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

Ever notice that rowboats are constructed in such a way that the rower has his back to the destination? In the picture above, I'm rowing a boat with a couple of friends. The person  who took the picture was quite impressed with my dexterous maneuvering abilities. I explained that I had had a lot of experience on my grandparents' pond as a kid.

On this little pond, however, there were many more obstacles that at Grandma and Grandpa's place -- other boats, for example, as well as an island, a fountain, ducks, geese and turtles (bunches of them!). Compared to the pond of my childhood, maneuvering the grown-up pond is not so easy.

Okay, so now how can I maneuver out of this "life is a big, scary pond" metaphor?

The point is, with your back to your goal, you just have to have a little faith that you're not going to crash too badly. No icebergs in small ponds, luckily. And speaking of luck, if you have people you know and trust with you to help navigate, you're in really good shape. Having the wrong people in your boat could steer you in the wrong direction. Take for example the Pondman Family  (it's a total coincidence that their name is Pond-man). The father seems to have taught these children a singing technique that will take years to unlearn before they will have any chance of being taken seriously in opera, or any other singing style for that matter.

So before you set out on your journey, make sure you've got the right people in your boat; anyone whose intentions are detrimental to your goals should be tipped overboard.