Saguaro Sentinels

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At sundown, they stand in silhouette

Silent in the fading orange light, ultimate icons of the great West

How many parched cowboys, with sweat stained bandanas drooped about their necks, have lead weary, spavined horses through the Sonoran Desert, weaving under and around the massive arms and prickly spines of the Saguaro cactus; all three with their own story of survival?

–No one can look at a Saguaro cactus for the first time and look away.

Saguaros are viewed as much more than a plant.  People see in them what they want to see.  Some loan these desert giants giant John Wayne personalities and loads of Wile E. Coyote animation!  We put Santa outfits on them at Christmas time.  Other seasons find them standing guard in subdivisions, sporting clown-sized sunglasses with a ten gallon hat and a shiny gold star pinned to their chest.  Woodpeckers peck bullet holes in them.  They accept these insults with a wink.  Saguaros steal our hearts because we feel empathy for them, stoic in their thirst against a blinding blue sky.

Saguaro Cactus are part legend, part song, and can be found everywhere–not just growing in portions of southern and central Arizona and northwestern Mexico!   A forth grade classroom in Wisconsin in February has Saguaros pictured and plastered across a cork board in the hall.  These sentinels stand in our living rooms while we watch Clint Eastwood “Hang ‘Em High” all over again.  Saguaros live in everyone who has experienced them (and they are an experience!)  Their arms hold our awe.

I am a changed person after having seen, felt and “knowing” them for the first time at age 54.  They are patient.  They are still.  They are funny. They are real.  They are strange.  They are heroes of the southwest.  They are inspiring and beautiful.  They are survivors.  They are miracles.   They stole my heart.

Facts About Saguaro (pronounced “suh-wha-ro”)

  • Bigger ones are 25-35 feet tall, some reaching 50′
  • The average Saguaro is 125 to 175 years old
  • They don’t grow “arms” until they are at least 50 years old
  • A mature 35′ cactus can weight 7.5 tons or 14,000 lbs.
  • They are 95 percent water
  • Of all U.S. states, only Arizona and California (with only 100 of them) have Saguaros
  • They started to grow in Arizona only 10,000 years ago
  • They produce 40 million seeds in a lifetime and only one seed might survive
  • In full sun, a Saguaro seed will die so they find “nurses”…thriving only under rocks or plants to hide under for protection
  • Cactus spines are finally tough enough at 12″ tall to deter predators such as birds and caterpillars
  • Average annual growth is 8″ to 9″ because they are busy growing a massive root system
  • A mature Saguaro can drink one ton of water after a heavy rain
  • It breathes at night, when air is coolest
  • The spines or spikes can provide as much as 70% shade for the plant
  • Reproduction starts at about 50-60 years of age
  • Their flowers blossom at midnight and die by next day’s noon sun
  • Once pollinated, the flowers become fruit and a source of nutrition for desert animals and insects such as bats, birds, bees, desert tortoises, javelinas, rabbits, squirrels, wood rats coyotes, and foxes.
  • Winged white doves eat the fruit and the seeds are pooped out and spread this way
  • They are reluctant bird houses for gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers as these long beaked birds dig out cavities to raise their young
  • Saguaros, enjoying celebrity status, bring in the most scientific research dollars to the desert habitat

 A Western Legend about the Saguaro (a tall tale) that is worthy!

Joe Mulhatton was a man living on Arizona’s frontier.  He wears a big hat, boots that go jingle-jangle, and a fringed jacket that’s too clean and well-kept to be anything but decoration.  He is sitting behind a glass of really horrible whiskey in a shack-like saloon telling a story that shouldn’t, by any reasonable standard, attract a single believer.

He lived in Florence, southeast of Phoenix, an area where saguaros grow as thick as the tales, and in 1899 (true story) he told the following tale that was picked up and printed by several newspapers around the Territory.

Joe claimed that giant saguaros around Florence exerted an extraordinary magnetic force, probably , he theorized, from vast beds of copper running beneath the earth.  Because of this great power, each plant could attract or repel any object that drew close.  In his story, Mulhatton told of two unsuspecting tramps who took refuge underneath some of these monsters and of the grisly disaster that ensued.  He swore:

“One of the men was at once drawn up to and impaled on the sharp blades of the cactus, while the octopus-like arms folded around him crushing him through and into the cactus, where his blood, flesh and bones turned into a pulp very much like ordinary mucilage, which trickled out slowly from the aperture made by the passing in of the man’s body.

He went on to tell how the cactus loses its magnetic power while it is digesting its victim.  “So we were enabled to look at this wonderful yet gruesome sight and report about these particulars.”  A negative cactus repelled the second tramp and heaved his body about 100 feet against a positive one, whereupon he met the same fate.

Mulhatton’s story originally ran in the Florence Tribune, and it so impressed the editors of the Tombstone Epitaph that they printed a subsequent version with added details. 

It seems Mulhatton himself approached to within 100 feet of one of the man-eating cacti, but it was “all he could do to resist its influence to draw him in.”  He then returned to the town to fetch a rope, planning to tie it around his waist while four of his friends wrapped their arms around him and held on.  Mulhatton wanted to “approach near enough to minutely examine the wonder without danger.”

A traveling salesman in his work life, brave Joe, we can assume, was accustomed to approaching thorny customers.  In telling his story, however, there is something more going on than a prankster creating nonsense for kerosene-lamp entertainment. At the bottom of the Tribune version, Mulhatton concluded:  “There is very little travel through this wild section of Arizona, or this species of cactus would have been written about sooner.”  (Note the implicit danger in that statement, the romance and the mystery.  What’s out there?   Will I survive it?  Am I tough enough?)

Everyone who ever braved the Western frontier has asked those questions.  The man-eating cactus was less a story than an invitation–a dare to test ourselves against “wild Arizona,” using the saguaro as the lure.  Joe Mulhatton was an early practitioner of the art of promotion, a pioneer in more ways than one, and his legend lives on.

 

Trump Card

This little five year old boy did not “fight a battle with cancer” –  he trumped it with a full house thanks to Marvel Comics.  Nobody who is so brave and fights so hard loses a battle with cancer.  They win because they don’t give up.

 

At first glance one may think these men

In their colorful suits

Did something special for the boy

–But quite the opposite is true.

Five year old Brayden Denton belongs to all of us.  Our little Super Hero brought out the best in humanity and the gift is real.  He held on to faith in the good guys.  He inspired us to aspire.

He accomplished something in five years that takes many of us a lifetime–he transformed us into something bigger than ourselves.  He mattered.

Today, Brayden is skimming stones across blue water ponds and collecting lightning bugs in a jar.  He is righting wrongs and playing cards with the biggest SUPERHERO of all time.  Through HIS Superpowers, Brayden is sitting on his Mom and Dad’s shoulders–an innocent angel, living life in full color.

 

~Dedicated to Rick Carmichael who lives two lives.  One for himself, and one for his little boy angel.

 

You Don’t Know Nothin’ About Machinery

Colloquialisms or expressions/slang that our parents abused used on us while we were busy growing up on the south side of Chicago in the 1960′s and 1970′s have scarred us for life.   These sayings were meant to show us how little we knew of life.

No matter the project or the explanation, Uncle Ted Laszczewski would come back with, “Ahhh, youse guys don’t know nothin’ about machinery.”   But, on the outside chance we did know a little something about nothing, he would remark, “Chihauhua,”  –his one size fits all acknowledgement.

Bad words were only used by kids who wanted to end up at St. Charles or “CharlieTown”,  the juvenile detention center.  We were always being sent there.  Parents posted the phone number to the North Pole next to the rotary phone and threatened to call the Abominable Snowman on us if Santa was busy.  Yeah, Richie Cunningham never experienced “The Chicago Way.”

Economics dictated a lot of what we got in trouble for.  “Turn off the lights!  We don’t have stock in Edison.”

  • Get off the phone–it’s long distance!
  • Close the front door, you’re letting out the heat.
  • Close the refrigerator, you’re letting out the cold.

Then there was the ‘ol collect call trick used when we reached our final destination.  Our parents would tell us, “When you get there, call home collect and then hang up when I don’t accept the call.”

Things told to a ten year old:

Quit your dilly-dallying.   I don’t care if everybody is doing it, you’re not everybody.  I’m not going to tell you twice.  When you are big enough and tough enough, we’ll talk.   What was that?  It sounded like a bomb went off.   I thought I told you not to do that.   Go disappear.    Yeah, well people in Hell want ice water.  Don’t make me take off my shoe.  I’ve seen better heads on lettuce.   You have two legs, walk!    That’s enough from the peanut gallery.  I have eyes in the back of my head.  Stop it or I will give you something to cry about.   Keep your hat on so your head won’t fall off.  Wipe that smile off of your face!  If you had brains, you would be dangerous. You’ve got more excuses than Carter’s has pills. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you.   Use your noggin.  Don’t make me come up there.  I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.    Stop it or you’ll poke your eye out.  Because I said so. Do that and you’re headed to Hell in a hand basket.  Get out of my hair. If your friend jumped off of a cliff, would you?  Don’t call your Mother a “she”.  Oh for cry-eye!  Close the door; you weren’t born in a barn.  Mind your P’s and Q’s.

Things told to a seventeen year old:

“E” does not stand for Enough…if you run out of gas, don’t call home.  Aint isn’t a word.    They’ll never buy the cow if they get the milk for free.  I asked for a reason, you gave me an excuse.   This is not a popularity contest.  You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground.   Money doesn’t grow on trees.  “Hey” is for horses, grass is cheaper.  Keep your knees together if you don’t want to get pregnant.  Who do you think you are…The Queen of Sheba? or King Farouk?  Make sure your underwear is clean.  See, there’s the problem…you were thinking again.  Don’t let that change burn a hole in your pocket.  Guess what…the world doesn’t revolve around you.  If bullshit was music, you’d be a brass band.  You’re going to break that mirror if you keep looking in it.  This is not a flop house.  That outfit leaves nothing to the imagination. You don’t know shit from apple butter.  Here’s a nickel, go call someone who cares.  This job needs a bigger hammer;  or, get me a left-handed screwdriver.   “You smell like a French whore”  (if we wore too much perfume).  If you think I’m going to say yes, you have another thing coming. “I don’t know” is not an answer!

The Theory of Relativity:

  • Lose a game?  We could count on being cheered up with, “Well, when it rains, it pours” or “Cry me a river” or my favorite, “Go play in traffic.”
  • Confused?  Then you don’t know whether to shit or go blind.
  • Want your dad to get moving?  He says,   “I can’t.  I have a bone in my leg.”
  • Want a dog?  “Go pet your brother, Pete.”
  • Need stitches?  “Time to get the chainsaw out.”
  • Blocking the view of the only TV?  “Your dad wasn’t a glass maker, Move!”
  • Bullied?  Go kick ‘em where it counts.
  • Making faces?  “Cut it out or your face is going to stay like that.”
  • Need to use the restroom?  Go bomb Tokyo or go see a man about a horse.

Moms had their own mafia.  One mom would catch you up to no good and cuff you for it.  Then, when you got home, your own mom would double down.  After that, you’d have to explain it to your father when he gets home.  We went to bed without supper.  We were made to fix what we broke and return what we stole.  By the time our parents got done with us, we knew just enough about machinery to not be dangerous.

 

 

 

 

Harmony

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Bright blue, blinding cotton-candy skies shifted above me, demanding sunglasses.  A light, cooling breeze drifted across my forehead as I navigated a Kevlar clad canoe around the rocky outcrops and pebble beaches of the Michigamme Reservoir on an eighty degree June day. 

 

 

 

 

It was a day when the sun’s rays beat the waves into submission and they penetrated my bare shoulders until my skin emitted a summer, smoky smell.

 

 

Way up in a solar glare, birds with wing spans of four feet soared this way and that on the breeze; hang-gliders!  Deer, driven out of their grassy beds by mosquitoes, stood in the open, at the water’s edge, quenching parched throats with long, protracted sucks as though through straws.  Bees buzzed in the wildflowers and jumping frogs escaped from shore.

Harmony.  The swift, silent canoe blended into nature’s scene and through its silent glide, it afforded me the opportunity to observe nature undisturbed.

It lifted my soul as we (my faithful dog, Remi, and I) paddled from island to island one glorious afternoon last year.

 We began the trip together in the canoe.  

She sitting forward and not a jiggle.  I paddled.  On this day, though, it occurred to me to experiment with the dog by pulling up to a beach, off loading her, and then resuming my paddling to see what her reaction would be.

Harmony.  As I maintained a distance of about ten feet from the shoreline, she continued to run along with me, happy as a clam. 

 

We were both confident in this new endeavor and the resulting partnership was fun. She proved herself a true athlete, climbing cliffs and swimming in bigger water, next to the canoe, when we had to get to another island.  I marveled at her busy feet, stroking to an internal count, underwater. Her gait was steady, confident, and strong.

We traveled in silence, each under our own power.  We were a team.  We were on an adventure.  We learned to trust.

Harmony.  A very special day for both Remi and me.

 

Locked and Loaded

!!a!

 

I’m pretty excited about THIS so I’m using lots of capital letters.

The iCPooch is REVOLUTIONARY.  This INTERACTIVE care device was invented by a 13 year old girl who had a dog that suffered from separation anxiety.  AND IT WORKS.  You can feed and talk to your dog when you are away.

Lock and load some treats in one of the four little trays that slide down a hopper.  Mine doesn’t stay clean long…usually there are bacon crumbles or cracker bits laying on the bottom.   Sync the feeder to your phone using the app.  (It was so easy even a 54 year old could do it.)

Now leave the room or leave the house or leave the state or leave the country.  When the spirit moves you, open the app to send a signal to DROP A TREAT!  There is a mechanical sound when the chute pops open and it took my dog 1.5 times to memorize it.   Works better than hearing aids.  She might not move when I call her from the next room, but let that chute sound off and BOOM.

Now here’s the best part…if you have a tablet laying around, you can opt to attach it to the front of the feeder to talk to your dog and see your dog on FaceTime.  SERIOUSLY.  YOU CAN CALL YOUR DOG ON THE PHONE.  Have her do tricks for you, too, sometimes, before releasing the treat.  I feel like I’m living in the future, in a Jetson’s cartoon.

iCPooch is fun for both of us and if you have a spare buck fifty laying around, get one.  It works on cats, too.  But I don’t like cats.  Not yet, anyway.  Everyone says I will when I get old.   I’m all about that pup, ’bout that pup, ’bout that pup…no kitties.

Here’s the website:

http://www.icpooch.com/

 

Riding the Rails

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I discovered the joy of riding the rails last summer in Alaska, truly the last frontier.  The last train I had ridden on was a commuter in Chicago that hustled me from preppy Elmhurst to the skyline of the Magnificent Mile, reuniting me with my steno pad as I spent another work day, single in the city, transcribing shorthand as an executive legal secretary–only a buzz away by Intercom–in my heels and fitted skirt.

 

In Alaska, instead of clothes flapping on lines strung across every back porch from here to there and seeing blurred humanity whizzing by at 50 mph, I saw purple mountain’s majesty and crystal pure ponds with a hues that stole my heart, one click-clack at a time.

 

The Alaskan Railroad passes through the wilderness, where all roads end and moose begin.  Whistle stops happen:   homesteaders stand at any point along the track and flag the train to a halt.  These pioneers clutch babies and bundles as they hop a ride to town for supplies.  Sometimes they have to strike a camp along the rail, waiting for the next train.  It could be days.

 

My favorite part of the trip was discovering the “in between.”

To get from one train car to another, you exit the first on a bridged walkway,  over the massive linking sections, to the next.   It is a pause from here to there on the way from “saw that” to “what’s next.”   There are half walls to keep rubbernecks from spilling out.  There is no glass or wind protection above these walls, so sticking one’s head out is mandatory (if you are me!)

 

Some destinations on our trip required a five hour train ride.  My mom and I enjoyed the perks of white glove dining in the dining car, the splendor in the glass dome observation car, and we sank, with smiles, in the reclining seats in the passenger cars.  Among the creature comforts were big tables for snacks or card games and little bistros where a mug of hot chocolate went a long way.

Me?  I spent the whole time, hogging up my spot on the open rail, in the “in between.”

 

 

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