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Fallen Saguaro

17deserttrail07

I wander further along the sandy path in the desert. It is quiet here, and mostly unpeopled. I pass a few smiling folks at the start of the trail, and every once in a while I’ll cross paths with a friendly hiker (it seems to be customary to say hello and smile, so I follow suit). Mostly though, there is an eerie, if pleasant, silence.

The towering saguaro spread out in every direction, and they make for peaceful company. We could learn a lot from them, especially about how to exist in each other’s company without noise or distraction or conversation. A true test of good companionship is whether or not you can be quiet and happy simply by being in someone’s presence. The easy camaraderie of friendship, unburdened by the pressure of making small-talk or filling pockets of silence with empty clatter, has been replaced by cel phones and other substitutes. We don’t know how to simply walk silently beside someone without being awkward about it. There is no such worry in the desert. I look up at a saguaro that has not spoken to its nearest mate in at least fifty years, and both are perfectly content.

I walk further along, and to my right a felled saguaro rests near the path, cracked into several sections. Looking like some immense beached sea creature, jaws slightly agape, it makes a mighty carcass. Its little arms lie detached beside the main body, and I crouch down to get a better view.

I don’t know how long it will take for the outer skin to dry out or decay, or when the rigid ribs will be left as the sole reminder that once there was a fallen saguaro here. Much remains mysterious about the desert, much remains unanswered and unsaid. Only my sneakers scraping along the dry earth make an attempt at communication, and I already know they have nothing important to say.

I peer into the cracked saguaro. There is water inside, little pools of collected rain that has gathered in any cup-like crags. Insects hover around the thing, insisting on confirming the parallels to a beached whale. Even in death there is life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. The saguaro is in the process of returning to the earth that gave it rise. It is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Standing up, I look out at the landscape again. Every step I’d taken in Arizona had been imbued with the unreasonable concern of snakes. I wanted to find one as much as I dreaded finding one. The rain and comfortably cool few days we’d had left them hidden from view, and most of me was thankful for that. Still, I didn’t want to leave the desert with just a fleeting encounter with jackrabbits or well-trained raptor flights. I wanted a little taste of wilderness.

When you stand still and let the world continue on around you, something is bound to catch your eye. I was lucky at that moment to have paused long enough to spy a desert fox silently slinking through the treacherous landscape, its fluffy tail hanging limply behind it. It was too far away and obscured by thorny cacti to get a photo, and it’s better that way. Some things are for the desert alone. I follow it with my gaze until it scurries beyond my sight. I do not have its survival skills, not even close, and so I make my way back from where I came.

The desert dream I’ve had since I was a child has come true. The mystical pull of a spell cast decades ago has summoned me to this moment at last. I stop and survey the saguaro one last time as they march up the red mountains, and I am happy. The desert has kissed me and imparted a bit of its magic, and I’ll bring it wherever I go, no matter how far this place and this memory recede.

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