It has now become a new tradition for my Mama and I to go to the Gem and Mineral show in Tucson, Arizona. Our drive is always filled with an immensity and repetitiveness, the saguaros hypnotic. I have always found myself attracted to these sort of isotropic landscapes, the uniformity calms me and the large expansive feeling of the desert is always filled with this sense of possibility.
This year after the show we unexpectedly discovered that Chihuly had a running show at the Desert Botanical Garden. The Desert Botanical Garden is Phoenix is a magical place where a frame is put around the desert and the local fauna is dissected and showcased while still keeping with the purity of the desert landscape. It is here that Chihuly’s glasswork seamlessly blends in the environment while simultaneously creating fantastic explosions of color and rigid lines in the horizons. The experience is amazing – the plants, the glass, the plant diversity, and the man made combining with the natural shapes – but the end, the real show stopper for me were the gorgeous Saguaros.
Saguaros can be found in a small swath that covers the Southwest from Arizona to Sonora Mexico and Eastern California. Some specimens have been known to live over 150 years and thought they are not in danger of extinction when disasters have destroyed them, it can take decades for them to re-establish. Their accordion like nature is easier to conceptualize once you imagine the rainwater soaking through them and stretching their engorged ribs. It is even more interesting to think how slowly they consume and conserve their water to withstand the harsh desert landscape. They do this all white surrounding a wooden skeletal form.
I have never seen a Saguaro Flower but have heard of their beauty and I am such a sucker for night blooming scented flowers. The night blooming white and yellow flowers have an underwater anenome-like flare to them, but what makes them astounding is how they have slowly moved through the passage of time to perfectly align with pollination. The flowers nocturnal habits have evolved because of their main pollinators, bats. The rich nectar, the high positions of the flowers, the durable blooms and the night blooming scent are all signs between the essential connection between pollinator and flower. (Though I wouldn’t want to forget the doves and bees who help and are the main daytime pollinators.)
The uncanny connection between plants and animals of the desert is always so incredible to me. At the Botanical garden some of the Saguaros can often look ragged and chipped, and our garden centric minds always move towards the emotion of pity, but really the raggedness is just a sign of the desert life and the wrinkles of passages of time. Small animals or coyotes in a thirsty year may chew on the bottom of the Saguaros to get moisture. Gila woodpeckers as well as house finches and a variety of other birds create holes that are deep cavities into the cactus which then become “saguaro boots” and were used as storage by the natives. Elf owls then use the cavities after their former inhabitants have long gone as their own homes. It is this interconnectedness between the levels of natural systems that constantly strikes me, how different levels intermingle, working together and fighting for a bit of landscape or food.