has written several books, teaches writing workshops and lives in Oro Valley


If you've spent years around manicured lawns in Southern California or lush Florida, you believe gorgeous green grass is part of the Bill of Rights.

Maintaining the American dream of luxuriant front and back yards requires fertilizing, mowing, pulling weeds and watching out for any bugs that might destroy your flower beds.

In California, the fanatic homeowner plants rye grass in the winter to maintain the pristine landscape. Folks there believe it is worth every dollar and every hour spent making sure their cropped lawns continue to flourish. They don't care that their water bills sometimes compete with the national debt.

When I moved to the desert, it looked like folks had thrown a bunch of rocks on the front yard and called it landscaping. Instead of mowing their lawns, they moved the rocks around. I didn't understand why they spent time digging gullies they filled with rocks to give the impression of a dry stream crossing their property.

After the initial shock I began to observe unfamiliar plants. In the spring, flowers appeared in remarkable parts of those plants. One day I saw huge white flowers sprouting from a cactus. In two days the flowers were gone. Intrigued, I began to become aware of the peaceful splendor of the Tucson landscape.

Along with learning to admire the beauty of the desert, I experienced lessons in survival. Never pull weeds in a cactus garden unless you are wearing a spacesuit. The other day I spotted a few weeds. Naïve and as unaware as a school girl on her first date, I pulled those weeds out of the ground. Big mistake! Teeny-tiny stickers attached themselves to my blouse, my pants and my ungloved hands.

I've also learned to avoid unpaved paths. One time when walking my dog Charlie, we ventured off the cement roadway, careful not to get close to any cactus. For all I knew some of them were flesh-eating. As we neared home, I realized little stickers were all over my clothes, and when I undressed, they were on my underwear!

They are impossible to pull out of my skin. You have to wait and scratch while they work themselves out.

Most natives and long-time Tucsonans know to be aware of beautiful, colorful oleander bushes. How could I know that eating the flowers and leaves might kill you? Fortunately I never had the urge to run outside, pick the flowers and bake an oleander pie.

How do the birds know not to eat those delicious-looking flowers? Can the birds be smarter than we think?

Since I'm a big-city girl, I am not accustomed to seeing miles and miles of uninhabited acreage. Driving south from Los Angeles to San Diego provides an endless background of homes, strip malls, car dealerships and unsightly litter. On a drive in Tucson, I get the impression that there are vast uninhabited vistas. Buildings are kept to a minimum height so the blue sky is easy to see. Sometimes those great big white puffy clouds come out. They take my breath away.

Life presents options. We can complain about the lack of green grass, the oppressive heat and the sameness of the weather. Or we can focus on the tranquility of our surroundings, be grateful that we don't shovel snow and marvel at the thousands of stars visible in the night sky.

Meet the writer

Columnist Alexis Powers will be among three authors featured at an art walk from 5 to 9 p.m. tonight at Ventana Plaza, 5425 N. Kolb Road.

The event will feature poetry readings and live music by Thomas Ingerick and Friends in addition to book signings by Powers, William Ascarza and Jane McCutchen.

Email Alexis Powers at northwest@azstarnet.com