Monday, July 17, 2017

Prickly Pear

If you cut off a paddle
and stick it in the ground
it’ll grow into another prickly pear.
See that little one over there?
When I moved here
there was nothing there,
just dirt.
Well a few years ago this big prickly pear
sprouted out another branch, another section,
a baby paddle off by itself,
climbing skyward from a root
that crawled along the surface of the ground.
It grew about a half a foot away
from the main thrust of the plant,
so it looked out of place.
It wasn't out of place
but I thought it looked out of place.
I believe that when a cactus sends forth
an unsightly paddle into the air,
the cactus knows what it’s doing.
In silence it knows
when and where to grow.
It’s the same way with trees.
Why do we consider pruning a necessity?
There’s one thing I wish arborists would admit:
(and I know that they know it)
trees take care of themselves,
and if they don’t, they die,
and that’s completely fine,
because maybe they go to Tree Heaven,
where everything, in general, is really really nice.
And if they don’t go to Tree Heaven
because such a place doesn’t exist,
well, that’s completely fine, too.
The guts of their woody skeletons
shelter shivering rabbits
and feed a million insects.
Why put trees on life support?
It’s the same way with hunting.
Some hunters fancy themselves caretakers
of a delicate balance of animal populations.
But would the ecosystem of the continent
collapse if all the hunters stayed home?
Overpopulation eventually works itself out.
But it’s really no use arguing this sort of thing.
Agriculture and landscaping have won
just like footwear has won.
Now we think it’s normal and even noble
to subject our plants to surgeries
and to buy our vegetation from nurseries.
And I’m a product of my generation.
I live in a Homeowner’s Association.
And so a few years ago,
I thought the new growth
on my big prickly pear looked out of place,
and I think I still think that,
but let’s not think about all this too hard.
I’m the landowner. This is my yard.
I can do what I want with my own darn cactus.
So I sliced that baby paddle out of the ground
and carried it way over there
with a pair of kitchen tongs,
scooted some gravel up against it,
making it stay upright.
I splashed it with a cup of water
and said “I don’t care if you die.”
And now look at that prickly pear!
It’s alive, and it’s got a couple of paddles now.
I never watered it after that first time.
The only water it got was from the rain.
I think it looks good.
I think it looks really good.
What do you think?
Do you like it?
Whether you like the prickly pear or not,
you have to respect it for hanging on
through the heat of summer,
the shortage of water,
the chill of winter
and a lifetime of isolation.
Well, you don’t have to respect it.
Maybe you don’t respect cactus at all.
But I do believe
that the thing within you
that clings to life
is a friend of the thing
within the prickly pear
that likewise clings to life.
We’re a lot like this little prickly pear,
cut off from bigger and older versions
of ourselves, planted in far-off places,
and given the power and the will to survive.
And for this purpose, survival, we grow thorns,
and we soak up every drop of rain
that falls upon us
and we let the water do its work
and we soak up every ray of sun
that falls upon us
and we let the sunlight do its work. 
See the fruit on this prickly pear?
The deep red bulbs on top,
popping out from the green paddles?
You can eat the fruit of a prickly pear.
Not many people do, but I have twice.
Once when I was a kid, we had just moved
from northern California to southern Arizona.
I didn’t know what cactus was
but I went to school one day
and heard the teacher say
you can eat the fruit of a prickly pear
so I went home and told my Mom
you can eat the fruit of a prickly pear.
So I went out there and whacked the fruit
with a stick and they tumbled to the ground.
I put on gloves and picked up the fruit
but the stickers went through the gloves
and I got tiny stickers in the tips of my fingers.
Three hours later my Mom brought me toast
and spread on top was the prickly pear jelly.
I tasted it and she said, “Do you like it?”
I said, “Yeah.”
She said, “Good. Enjoy it,
because I’m never making it again.
My fingers are full of stickers.”
And the other time I ate prickly pear fruit
was about a year ago.
I got it from this prickly pear right here.
It was pretty good. 
I don’t know why I don’t eat it more.
I let so much of it go to waste.

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