Strictly Prickly

The title of this post takes its name from a saying that my friend Chris and I first heard from a server in San Juan. We asked her if she was into women (hey, it’s the conversation you have in Puerto Rico when you rack up a $300 bar tab between two people) and she replied very matter-of-factly that she was “strictly dickly”. Well, me too. That brief nonsensical aside over, this is the prickly pear cactus – one of the rare cacti that is hardy in the Zone 5 winters of upstate New York.

This small patch is located on a Southern-slanted hill that I rarely visit, so it’s always a surprise when I hear word from Andy that it’s in bloom. It’s largely left to fend for itself on a rather barren piece of sandy soil, its only shelter the thinning limbs of a struggling pine tree. Yet each spring it rises miraculously from a pool of withered, desiccated paddles, and each year it has steadily expanded, happy in its dry environs.

The ‘prickly’ aspect of its segmented ‘leaves’ keeps me from getting too close for weeding, but I’ll risk the proximity to capture some of the blooms, as they are exceptional. The texture of the petals is almost like velvet, and of the clearest yellow, set off by a throat of flaming orange. Like a rose, these pretty things come armed, and that’s something I can appreciate. Prickly and pretty. I can only hope to aspire.

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