Alien Life Forms


Sometimes the Sonoran Desert really does feel like another planet.   Well, all the time, if you are paying attention to the natives.

Prickly Pear Cactus are so named because they are, surprise, prickly.  When they grow new pads in the spring, however, they do this.  The almost mundanely green plant with spines all over it sprouts bright magenta-fading-to-orange pads with rubbery little two-toned green nodules all over them that have tufts of orange fuzz at their base.  Somehow those friendly little nodules become vicious spines.  I don’t remember ever seeing an interim stage.  Maybe it happens over night.  It sure does in life.  Everything is going well and suddenly spines shoot out and skewer your best laid plans and cherished hopes.  Every year when those pretty new pads sprout, I have to touch them.  I love the feel of them and the knowledge that I can only run my hand over this plant at precisely this stage.  Then, a month later, they have changed, and nothing can touch them except a javelina.  I once watched a javelina munch down an entire prickly pear plant, thorns and all, without skipping a beat.

In other alien news, I’m still working on the rewrite of my sci-fi novel, but it’s been difficult to focus on it recently.  I’m still distracted by a recent run-in with some unexpected spines where I didn’t expect them. It’s hard to get inside the heads of my characters when my own is so muddled.

I love the Sonoran Desert, in all its fragile, hostile beauty.  I will hike in it not just when wildflowers are blooming, but any time.  The tenaciousness and resilience of its flora and fauna are awe inspiring.  There are many plants that literally kill parts of themselves off during dry seasons so they can survive until the next rain.  They they sprout and branch and leaf out like crazy for a couple of months and start all over again.

I think humans do that when they are young.  We bounce back from our setbacks, whether they be personal or professional, wait till it rains, and start all over again.  Unlike plants, however, there is usually more involved than just water.  Sometimes the bits of us that die off don’t grow back, or grow back incomplete.  When that happens, we lose some of the benefits from the next rain, and then the cycle repeats and repeats. We adapt and survive, but eventually we stop putting out pretty little magenta pads with rubbery nodules.  We go straight to spines. It takes a javelina to appreciate that, and who wants to be friends with a stinky, vicious peccary?