The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
“Where do you go to escape the madness, captain crazy shorts?” a friend on Zoom asked. “Where do you find refuge, Mr. Looney Toons?”
“Some rely on opium dens, some flee to Mar-a-Lago, some channel surf themselves into a fantasy world. Not me. ‘Beam me off this troubled world, Scotty!’ Out to my desert garden. Even in blistering triple-digit heat my water-smart Eden remains cool and lush.”
“Twenty years of honest labor.”
My neighbor’s rooster reveilles, the radio clucks “the hottest on record” and I’m up, gardening. I went native years ago when I noticed my water bill was higher than the Bellagio’s. Trial and error taught me what thrives here, here on “Tatooine with Saguaros.”
This morning the sky above me is blue yet I smell water. When Tucsonans sniff rain we follow the scent like a pointer after a duck. A storm drapes a cool gray veil of rain across the Tucson mountains in the distance. A cloudless Groundhog Day awaits my forsaken acre.
I tend my rock figs, my heat-loving, rock-consuming giant bonsais, found in northern Mexico in the harshest volcanic moonscape.
In case it rains I set out the buckets to catch the precious water.
I take cuttings from the massive euphorbias of Morocco. They resemble giant olive-green sea anemones. Models of thrift and adaptation to mirror. By 2050 we’ll need to possess the genes of a saguaro.
I collect seeds from the brittle bushes that in spring yielded daisy-like flowers.
Gethsemane is in every garden. Suffering and reassignment. I remove a shed and expose three tarantula burrows. Three furious tarantulas emerge, 24 eyes see each other and a three-way duel-to-the-death unfolds.
On the side of a barrel cactus I find a bird’s skeleton, wings outstretched, a crucified cactus wren, ensnared, a totem, a reminder to be careful when approaching a desert fruit.
I stir mulch.
A deer skull hangs over our hacienda’s back door, emblematic of the cycle that rules out here. Fixing the fence, I watch ants disintegrate a deceased kangaroo rat. We’re all just jackrabbits waiting to be pancaked into the asphalt. Vulture vittles.
Fence fixed, I look up to see red-faced vultures floating in the blue, patiently waiting for death to serve up their Daily Bread.
Over the kitchen window hangs this cartoonist’s favorite cartoon prop, an old scythe, an ode to the Grim Reaper. And to my uncle’s farm, where boyhood summers taught me to love turning earth. Beneath shade sails and shade trees, water conserved, the seasons and I have turned this earth, where drought-resistant life thrives, producing the weird beauty desert dwellers savor.
My prized fat-bottomed karoo roses, from Africa, spawn rose-like blooms. My drought-resistant divas from the deserts of Mexico, Peru, Morocco, South Africa, Arabia and Australia flower defiantly in this brutal summer heat. Some are aromatic.
A desert garden is a sensuous place. I insist visitors smell the minty leaves of the Mexican oregano. Smell the sage, Artemisia tridentata, burned in rituals as old as the pueblos. Remember Taos.
Chew on a Mormon tea stalk, catch the caffeine-like buzz. Recall a river trip.
Nibble soft Palo Verde beans. Suck the nectar from our ocotillo blossoms. Taste their honey-like sweetness. Crush the ancient creosote’s leaves to unleash the perfume of rain. In the Mojave Desert there’s a creosote that’s 12,000 years old, dating back to when ancients hunted woolly mammoths.
Feels like it hasn’t rained here in 12,000 years. Hasn’t it been 12,000 years since life was normal?
A regal Gila woodpecker chastises competitors. Hummingbirds hover, hum, and thrum, a blur of prismatic jewels jousting in midair, spinning and buzzing from blossom to blossom, feeder to feeder, duel to duel.
Perched on their telephone poles a family of three Harris’s hawks triangulates another aerial kill as I refresh the feeders. Doves coo the blues.
Seventeen years ago I was pushing my 1-year-old in a stroller in our neighborhood when a hawk, wings outstretched, talons out, silently swooped down — was my baby boy it’s prey? — right in front of us, and past us, into a nearby creosote where it subdued its intended target, lifting a writhing, rattling rattler aloft, back up to its telephone perch where the day’s sushi was hammered and devoured.
I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Weary from the honest labor of digging, planting, “potting up,” weeding, propagating, grafting and pruning I sway on my hammock in the cool shade of my favorite tree, serenaded by a choir of gently jangling wind chimes, a tinkling composition deftly conducted by a summer breeze. A miserly breeze that bears no scent of rain.
A faded saint in a weathered shrine, votive candles melted, smiles down on me and my empty rain buckets.
Time to return inside, refreshed, to the daily task of reacting to the lunacy of my species, at peace, knowing refuge is always just beyond my door.
David Fitzsimmons: email@example.com.
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