Sunday, January 16, 2011
The Death of a Giant
We spot her from a distance, entangled with a stranglehold on an equally dissected desert tree. Even from this distance we can tell she is dying.
Now stooped and twisted like the very old, she was once a mighty giant, aged; a matriarch in her time. We note her lifeblood, black, oozing down her thick wooden trunk; and at her feet, her former arms are slung askew on the desert floor as though chopped off by the Terminator. The death of a saguaro takes a long, drawn out route.
Saguaros begin life usually beneath a nurse tree or shrub which provides a moister, shadier environment. Perhaps this matriarch spent her lifetime growing in this tree’s clutches. Growing only an inch a year, they may take 30 years to grow an arm and sometimes last up to 200 years before they topple. Their shiny skin expands like an accordion to drink up moisture when it’s available in the desert and thus they can add up to a ton of weight. They flower every year due to this hidden reserve of water, but the white flowers are fleeting (usually in May and June) and their opening occurs at night. By the next mid-morning they again close up forever, either pollinated or not.
They are majestic sentinels of the Arizona Sonoran desert; Arizona’s state flower, and highly protected by law. Their various shapes enthrall us as we travel the back dirt roads taking our pictures.