Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

cactus paean

People often seem to be "for" rich people or "against" rich people. I find myself in neither camp. I do not watch reality television which features watching rich people who mug for the camera, nor do I wish for spam e-mails to offer me pornographic videos of rich people. At the same time, I do not wish to denigrate all rich people, because they have enough challenges, what with their camels having troubles fitting through the eyes of needles and all. I find, over time, that different people are driven by different things all across the economic spectrum, and the main generalization I can make about rich people is that they have more money than poor people; Hemingway, as I recall, is storied to have set Fitzgerald straight on this point.

One thing I like about rich people, though, is that some of them die and leave their estates to civilization as a whole in the form of public gardens. In San Marino, California, a place with a lot of rich people, one finds the Huntington Garden. We need not tarry over the Blue Boy nor the Huntington family's wealth acquistion nor the General Patton connection. We'll even skip the tea roses and the camellias. Let's move directly to the cactus and succulent plant section.

Huntington Garden's Desert Garden has some 4,000 plants. It has cactus, euphorbia and other succulents from around the world. I can think of few things more delightful than walking the rows of cacti, which stand green and succulent, oftentimes with blooms.

My fascination with cactus began when I was a boy, because cactus frankly are so hardy. One spends a lot of time in life killing houseplants, I find, but the humble cactus needs but light and water to thrive.

In our part of Texas, we have only the ubiquitous prickly pear cactus in the wild, which blooms nicely and grows readily. But other parts of Texas have worlds of cacti. In fact, cactus rustling and smuggling has become the problem in west Texas that it has long been in Arizona, because folks in Phoenix and Tucson apparently can't wait to grow their own cacti in the wonderful desert heat, but instead must have their cacti ready-made from the wrong desert.

Cacti grow relatively slowly, which adds to their charm. In the home, this means they require years to outgrow a pot.
In Phoenix and Tucson, it means that rich people should learn the virtue of patience when it comes to cacti cultivation. Wonderful things grow--but one must give them time.

I used to keep a lot of cacti in southern California, on a ledge outdoors. We never had enough cold weather to cause them any consternation, although once in a while I had to pull them in from the January rains. These little cacti bloomed readily, in flowers ranging from simply gorgeous to a bit stringy.

Off the 210 Freeway, in that part of the San Gabriel Valley which I am never sure whether to call Altadena, Pasadena or Rosemeade, I used to visit the most wonderful cactus place right off the Rosemeade exit. They had a selection of cacti which rivalled the Huntington. I used to love to stop in there and pick up a cactus or two for a few dollars each. I love that cacti cost so little, and live so well.

I keep a few cacti still, on the corrugated iron plant stand in our dining room. I wish to keep a few more succulent plants. Last year I got a pony palm for Christmas, which is nothing like a cactus but quite as succulent. One of my favorite plants is the sansivieria, that old indoor plant standby "snake plant", which requires almost willful neglect to kill. I like the idea that some things grow and thrive on the least amount of care.

Some people grow and thrive on the least amount of care, too.
I meet people, both in real life and in virtual life, who
grew up with so much less than I did, not only materially but in every emotional way. Although my family has dysfunctions just as any family does, my childhood was happy and well-fed and free of substantial pain. Yet I meet people so much more gifted, talented, well-rounded and whole than I feel myself to be, although their upbringing had every disadvantage I did not have. I am not much one for the envy sweepstakes, as I have a perfectly workable life. But it's just darn impressive how hardy and sun-loving some people seem to be, even when they spent their early years in a closet, with inadequate water.

I always like that tag in the Bible about giving three guys five talents each. I think in today's terms you'd have to imagine a talent as worth a thousand dollars. One guy invests his talent in equities, and makes a lot of money. One guy invests his talent safely, and makes a little money. One guy is so timid that he just buries his talent under a rock. He's just too afraid to take a chance and lose. The mutual fund manager, upon interviewing the three fellows, rips the cash away from the timid guy, and gives it to the more aggressive investor. Helen Keller said something to the effect that life is a grand adventure, or it is nothing.
Sometimes when I see cacti growing tall, they are planted in the most desolate soil. They get the least amount of rain imaginable. They bloom.

But I wish the parable of the talents instead gave one guy one talent, which he turned into 1,000,000 talents, and gave another guy 1,000 talents, which he proceeded to spend on a sports car and three drinks for that woman with the preoccupied look at the local wooden-floored blues bar. I find that some folks have that cactus-esque knack for growing in dry conditions in rocky soil, while other folks wilt in the potting mix even when well-watered and fertilized.

I don't really need a metaphor to encapsulate my love for cacti, though. I love things that evolve and adapt to make beauty in rough conditions. I love green things that grow, even when they must evolve spikes to protect from thirsty desert pals. I love the sight of a rain-forest-refugee Christmas cactus in bloom, even if I have too little stick-to-it-ness to mist them in the Amazonian ways they prefer. I like strolling in huge desert gardens in Arizona or New Mexico. I can walk in a field of cacti and be happy without some moral fable to tell myself about them.

Cacti patiently grow where other things flounder. I love to see them bloom. I learn from them, but mostly I take them in, and enjoy them.

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