SAGUARO
BY STARLIGHT

Papago Indian Reservation 5 miles SW of Sells, ArizonaMarch 8, 1988
 
ARIZONA: Pima County
 
Papago Indian Reservation five miles southwest of Sells. Elevation about 2300 feet.

During this morning's 200-step walk toward the sun, not a single Saguaro was met. With reference solely to numbers, Saguaros here are rare. Nonetheless, their presence is the most striking feature of this desert.

At dusk, with the blue sleeping bag pulled around me against the sharp desert chill, I lie in Henry listening to the "All Things Considered" news program on Phoenix's Public Radio station KJZZ. Therefore, I know what's going on in the world beyond the desert's horizon. Here in the desert, though, all is calm.

Since the moon hasn't risen yet and the sky is clear, right now even tiny stars shine with extraordinary intensity. Across the gravel road a thirty-foot Saguaro stands silhouetted against the starry background. Just to the silhouette's left appear stars of the constellation Leo. Arrayed behind the cactus are Hydra's much fainter members.

Now I've walked in circles around these Saguaros'  trunks, looking up. I've touched them, even leaned so close that their spines pricked my shoulder and cheek while I listened to the wind in their spines tearing itself into wet-sounding streamlets. Now these Saguaros and I know one another well.

In this no-nonsense, flat, horizon-to-horizon desert a thirty-foot Saguaro standing next to me with its silhouette emphasizing its pudgy, upraised arms and blunt head at first seems comically out of place. With time, however -- with minutes and minutes of my gazing calmly in the Saguaro's direction -- I begin recognizing the dignity that has been in the Saguaro all along.

A tree also bends upward and does all the things a Saguaro does, but trees are reticulated, simple trunks yielding to complex patterns of stems and leaves, and often the leaves flutter nervously, distractingly. The thing about these Saguaros is that they are simply upraised arms and rounded head. Maybe it's the difference between tree-like religion, and Saguaro-like spirituality. The Saguaro simply doesn't believe in superfluous dogma. With its rounded head it raises its thick arms toward Heaven, and that's that, and the end product is a majestic presence. Henceforward, if I lose my way with regard to my relationship with the Creator, I shall remember this night among the Saguaros.

I don't see how anyone may for a whole night sleep next to a Saguaro without the next morning being anything less than even-spirited, and a friend to the whole world.

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