Thursday, January 24, 2008


Somer and I spent the MLK weekend at the Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona with one of Somer’s friends and her mom. We went hiking and horseback riding on the 640-acre ranch and in the adjacent Saguaro National Park every day. What a fabulous place!

Our picture was taken Sunday morning as we were riding to an outdoor cowboy breakfast at the old homestead on the ranch. I thought Somer was riding right behind me, but I was so busy enjoying the beautiful desert landscape and trying to keep my trusty horse, Zephyr, from getting a mouthful of low-growing brittle brush that I wasn’t really paying much attention to where she and Hondo ended up in the line.

Guide: There is a photographer up ahead who will take your picture individually, or in a group, if you would like.
Me, calling over my shoulder: Come up next to me and we can have our picture taken together.
Lady behind me, who was not Somer: Well, ……all right……but I’ve never even met you.

Fortunately, Somer was only two horses behind the mystery lady, so she managed to catch up to me before the picture was taken. Not so fortunately, Zephyr decided to position himself in such a way that I have saguaro branches growing out of my shoulders. It is probably no surprise that the lady behind me disappeared completely as the picture was being taken, without ever asking to make my acquaintance.

It isn’t obvious in the photo, but we were surrounded by majestic saguaro (suh-WORE-oh) cacti wherever we went on the ranch and in the park. Native only to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, California and Mexico, they are prolific and incredibly beautiful in Saguaro National Park.

The saguaroes are not only cacti, but trees, because they have woody skeletons (somewhat visible in the photo of the decaying saguaro above), which resemble a bunch of broom handles approximately 1-2” in diameter standing together, with bunches of curved broom handles reaching skyward here and there along the sides to form the branches. We passed a few of the still-standing skeletons on some of our hiking trails, and we also saw them overhead, as the ribs have been fashioned into amazing pole-like ceiling “planks” in the Tanque Verde guest rooms. I wanted to take our entire ceiling home with me. The last time I felt that way, I was in the Sistine Chapel.

The first time I encountered the word “saguaro,” it had the alternate spelling “sahuaro,” and I pronounced it “saw who arrow.” Sahuaro Hall was my freshman dormitory at Arizona State University. I was very interested in the fact that I would be living in a co-ed dorm, meaning that one of the wings housed men and one of the wings housed women. The only thing we actually shared was a dining hall, but this was still considered a rather risqué living arrangement for a St. Margaret’s Academy girl at the time.

As an eighteen-year old, I was very excited to be headed to Sahuaro Hall and anxious to meet my roommate, but not so interested in the word “sahuaro.” I left for college without learning how to pronounce it or finding out what it meant. I was going to Arizona to get away from home and out of the cold, and I didn’t give the unfamiliar name of my new living quarters a second thought.

Family who picked me up at the Phoenix airport: “Where will you be living?”
Me: “Saw who arrow Hall.”
Silence. Exchange of puzzled looks.
Mother in family: “Is that one of the dorms?”
Me, trying to be shocking: “Yeah. It’s the co-ed dorm.”
Mother in family, trying not to be shocked: “Oh. That’s nice. How is the name spelled?”
Me: “S-A-H-U-A-R-O.”
Mother: “Oh, Sahuaro! That’s the name of our biggest cactus and our state flower.”
Me: “Oh.”
Five-year old boy in family: “You’ve never heard of a Sahuaro Cactus?”

I spent the next nine years in Arizona and one by one learned to love, and to pronounce the names of, the desert trees and desert cacti there. I can smile about my comeuppance with the word sahuaro now, but I was mortified then. Though I was raised in Minnesota, the desert became an important part of me in the time that I was there. Today the saguaro cactus feels as much mine as the sugar maple that grows in my front yard.

1 comment:

pete said...

I also love the Sonoran Desert. To me it is one of the most peaceful and contemplative places on Earth.