Spring in the desert means the cactus plants are blooming. As you can see in the picture, the colors can be vibrant and showy. This specimen (Beavertail – Opuntia basilaris) is just down the street from me.
Before I moved to the Sonoran Desert, I had a vague idea of how colorful it could be, but I sorely underestimated it. I also underestimated how many ways a cactus has to prick you. The fishhook cactus (Mammillaria microcarpa) has these long, obvious, curled spines. Another, like the Chain Fruit Cholla (Opuntia fulgida) called the Jumping Cholla will really (somehow) jump several feet on to you as you walk by. The Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senili) has spines that look deceptively like soft, long hair. The Coral Cactus’ vegetable-like shape (Euphorbia lactea) fools you into thinking there are no spines at all, but actually they are tiny, nearly transparent, and almost impossible to remove once hooked into your skin. These are just a few of the thousands of varieties nature (or botanist-help) has created.
But…. cacti also offer food and water for both humans and critters. They provide shelter and support for other plants. Like all plants, they reduce erosion. In a couple of cases, the cactus’ fruit can even provide transcendental wisdom. With cacti (and everything, I guess) the key is where you put your attention and how you use what you know.
Classic tales of the Hero’s Journey often contain a creature that is at once dangerous, wise, and divine (e.g., sirens, minotaur, sphinx, griffin, manticore, etc.). The solution for the Hero is to know as much as possible about the creature before encountering it. Who has passed this way before and can give you advice? What value does the creature offer? Who might know that? What are its secrets? Sometimes the Hero finds she can just ask the creature itself for how to pass by or gain its wisdom.
What is the prickly creature on the road in front of you right now? What are you not seeing about it because all of your attention is on the spikes sticking out from it?