Category Archives: Desert

Desert Memory Garden

When I visited the desert earlier this year, I fell in love with the landscape and the plants and the wildlife that was so vastly different from anything I’d experienced in upstate New York, or any of the Northeast for that matter. It was almost surreal, like landing on another planet with an array of unknown plant life. Yes, I’d seen things in greenhouses and in photographs, but it doesn’t compare with visiting in real life, and immersing oneself entirely in the atmosphere of the desert. It is a spiritual experience, one that haunts far long after the visit is done.

In order to bring some of that desert life back with me, I eyed the succulent gardens on sale at the airport, but wisely decided against carrying a platter of prickly cacti onto various connecting flights. (Strange how one can wield a column of needles but not a bottle of water through security check-points.) Instead, I waited until I was back home, then made a trip to the local greenhouse to find a few specimens for a desert garden.

It’s weird the way life returns us to our origins. One of the very first houseplants I ever had was a spiky little Haworthia. Soon after it arrived on my windowsill, it sent up a flower spike five times its original height which soon bloomed with delicate white flowers not unlike the airy blossoms of a spider plant. All that glory sapped the plant’s energy and it never recovered, but by then I’d moved onto other plants. Since then, succulents and cacti haven’t been on my growing list – until my desert visit. In seeing all the varied forms and architectural aspects of those hardy survivors, I was once again enamored of their breadth and variety.

Here, a small collection loosely recreates the desert landscape. A bit of Sonoran magic in an upstate New York window.

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The Saguaro are Coming

Standing at every step of my Arizona adventure, the saguaro signify the desert, and the purpose of this entire trip. Up until this point, I’ve been pointing out the prickly pear (such as the purple one you see here) or the palo verde or thorny ocotillo. Even the decidedly unflashy creosote shrub has gotten better billing than the saguaro. Tomorrow morning that all changes, when the most dramatic and impressive of Arizona plants rises and takes its rightful pride of place in the climax of this series of desert posts.

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Wet Spikes, Damp Beards

We resume our desert journey with a last look at the rain that fell during my time there. I could never be really mad at such a thing, not when it brought so much into relief and bloom. I loved the thought of the cacti and succulents storing up their water reserves in preparation for the sun and heat. The thought of a heatwave made me giddy, so the rain could only make me smile.

Besides, it was fun to pretend that an old guy got his beard wet. See below.

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Desert Dreaming

The idea sprouted in the pages of a Spiegel catalog. I was but a kid, and already had the rather adult concerns of interior design on my mind, when I opened the bedding section to a Southwestern-themed scene of colorful bedspreads and desert-inspired accents. As hokey as a themed-bedroom might be, it’s sometimes the easiest way to deal with the dilemma of how to create a coherent look. I didn’t realize that then – for me, the idea of the desert called to me from a deeper place. It was as if I knew then that only in such a barren and beautiful and mystical place might I find a sense of peace. I set about to conjuring that.

The bedspread I’d found was predominantly a bright shade of turquoise. Dotted with brushes of black that framed it like an abstract painting, it held vaguely geometric shapes in shades of paprika, terra-cotta, rose, and mustard – all conspiring to pleasantly convey the earthy but vibrant palette of the Southwest. Around this, I played with various accents, including a potted cactus in the window and a wall-hanging in the bathroom of a saguaro and barrel cactus. A wooden mass-produced sculpture of another saguaro, the moon, and a howling wolf stood sentry by the door. It was the closest way I could find of approximating desert peace. Looking back, it likely didn’t work in the upstate New York bedroom of a Georgian-style home, but in my mind it was perfect, and that’s all that mattered. I couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve years old, and already I was seeking solace somewhere else.

In the ensuing years, the desert would call to me like the sea, but it was much farther away than the Atlantic, and never quite practical to visit. Still, I felt its pull, and voices whispered to me time and time again that I would find myself there. When it came time to plot out my very last tour, and its very last leg, I knew the desert had to play a part in it. I booked a trip to Tucson, where the Sonoran Desert blew kisses from across the country. There was a puzzle I’d been trying to solve for three decades, and maybe this was where I’d find the final missing piece.

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