This week on Spartan Holiday, I want to talk about something serious. I realize that sometimes this blog gravitates toward the frivolous and satirical, even when dealing with epic, history-altering and tragic events. Like last week when I kind of made fun of the daily horrors of the Cretaceous period or two weeks before that where I joked about Japanese ethics and meaningful work.
Maybe it’s because I believe, like Paul Woodruff, that “reverence and a keen eye for the ridiculous are allies.” It’s just the way I transcend death and express the state of grace I believe we all live in as human beings. By naming hypothetical dogs, I counter the sense of meaninglessness wrought by suffering, injustice and loss.
But can I write, for a moment, about something unfunny and all too common here in desertlandia? Something all over our city streets? Yes. I’m talking about cactuses. I will flip-flop on the plural usage of cactuses and cacti in this post. Both are correct. Inconsistency is the test of reality; whereas consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
If you live here and think cactuses aren’t really a problem, then you haven’t been outside lately. Both prickly pears and chollas are in full, red-blooded, hot-lipped bloom. And they’re all right up in your bidness on the sidewalks as you bike by. You go to sniff a flower and poke yourself. You take a picture of a flower for this blog and prick yourself. You anger legions of nectar-looting bees and sting yourself. There’s no two ways about it–cactuses are an urban menace.
Flowers are hard to resist because of their ephemeral nature. Michael Pollan said it best in Botany of Desire:
I (Michael Pollan) do wonder if it isn’t significant that our experience of flowers is so deeply drenched in our sense of time. Maybe there’s a good reason we find their fleetingness so piercing, can scarcely look at a flower in bloom without thinking ahead, whether in hope or regret.
Flowers are stirring and subconsciously linked to our joie de vivre and sense of impermanence. It’s doubly poignant on a vicious cactus and we veer toward it.
Other things can happen too. Like you’re hiking in the Sandias and you slip on some scree in your blown-out, treadless running shoes and your hand lands square on a little pincushion cactus and your friends have to pull 40 needles out of your palm and fingers while diverting you with stories of Craigslist fraud.
So let’s talk about cactus injury prevention. I think I succeeded in teaching my three-year-old daughter to be properly terrified by sidewalk cactuses by using the word “ever” about six times in the sentence, “Don’t ever (x6) touch a cactus Lali.”
But then I thought: Wouldn’t it be great if there was mneumonic devices to remind you not to touch different varieties of cacti when you see them? So I made some up on my bike.
Don’t touch me-o
I didn’t say they were good rhymes.
Are Chollas, soft?
Methinks not oft.
This cactus here?
Best stay clear.
So if you ever find your hand reaching in mid-air towards one of these cactus types, I hope you’ll take a moment to remember my rhymes. The last one is kind of a catch-all for when you don’t know specific names.
Isn’t it the hand reaching out in mid-air that says the most about us as humans, anyway?
It is a hostile, poisonous, pointy world we live in.
But it’s also a world of kindness, love and the out-stretched suspended hand, never landing, but forever reaching.
In closing here is a bad idea for a chair: