Monday, April 2, 2012

A Desert Pilgrimage

It's not often that one thinks of the desert in general as a worthy destination for a great pilgrimage. At least I never had. But the more I get to know what actually goes on in the desert the more I come to appreciate it. Our first visit was just that- some prospecting, some riding, some looking around. Our curiosity was peaked, so we came back again, stayed longer and started to get to know the ins and outs of life in the desert. We developed a particular interest in the cactus and the cactus blooms, which are most surprisingly spectacular and seemingly come out of nowhere. It is somewhat miraculous that the cactus can live out here, let along produce some of the flowers that they do. So when we came back yet again to the desert, we set about landscaping our surroundings with as many interesting and varied species of cactus as we could find that would do well in this area. We had begun a pattern of annual pilgrimages to the desert and found it hard to believe even for us how anxious we would get to return every time we pulled out for parts unknown. We had a degree of success to be sure with creating our "Gundyville West" space, but never imagined for a second that we might in fact be creating a focal point of a desert pilgrimage for others.

Basically, what happened is that the more we planted and built, the more other people began to contribute to the effort. It is not unusual for us to return from a day's adventure to find cactus or cactus cuttings or saguaro ribs laying in the driveway for our use. Others stop by and say they have this or that that they no longer want and could we please stop and dig it out and take it out of their way. No problem! And so it was that one camper had a small lot with a single small cactus that was in the way, if memory serves me correctly, of her putting in a wash line. We dug it up, carted it back to our place, and because of its upright structure, found just the place for it on the corner of our lot- perhaps the single most visible intersection in the whole campground. We had no idea what it was (other than a cactus) and no idea what it would produce over tine, if anything ever. When we arrived back here early December of last year, it had added a couple "pups" that were peaking out of the hard dry desert ground, but nothing more exciting than that. But about a month ago, it began to put up two flower buds that kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It began to attract the attention of anyone walking or even driving by, and as time progressed, more and more people came and then returned to check on the progress of the cactus on the corner. We did the same.

Soon it became apparent that this was a species of night blooming cereus cactus- the flowering of which occurs only once a year, and only one day of the year, and fully opens only at night, and then lasts only about 24 hours. This specimen was, it seemed, a real gem. Long story short: On March 31 at 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon, it signaled that it was about to perform. A knowledgeable passerby told us to expect it to bloom that night, starting as soon as the sun went off of it for the day. He was right on the money. A few minutes after four the location where it resides fell into the shade of a nearby shed and the dilation and manifestation began. Word spread throughout the park and beyond that the cactus was ready, that tonight was the night. And so it was. By dark it was nearly fully open and spectacular. By morning it was just about perfect and then as the light of April 1 touched it, the decline and reversal of the development began to take its slow toll. By day's end, the flower was exhausted and the process was pretty much complete.

I should have, but didn't, count the number of people that made the pilgrimage to see the flower. Perhaps more that a hundred packed themselves into the tiny arena in which this drama played out- you will note one small group among many doing some observation in the slide show. Photos? Certainly hundreds, maybe many more were taken and sent to friends and relatives back home or posted to a web page or printed for hanging on the wall. We were not expecting all this, and we chuckled and marveled a bit through the whole event and enjoyed sharing the beauty of the cactus with all those who came by. And the really wonderful part is....God willing, it will all happen again next year. I'm thinking about setting up a lemonade stand!

A couple notes: Note the photos begin and end in daylight but were taking continuously well into the night. And also, other photos that appear in this post are of some of the other species we have that are also blooming this week. There is much more to come. Already attention is shifting to what will seemingly be some additionally spectacular bloom events to follow. Oh, yes- even the chuck-wallas made the pilgrimage to the grand event, as they began emerging into the 90 plus degree weather of the daytime. And while this is essential an April 1 Fools Day edition of the blog- it's all for real, no photo-shopping going on at all- just desert doing its thing.

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