In America, the land of superlatives, the landscapes and the elements of nature constantly awe with their size and expanse. A place that has forever gripped me in its spell with a vast tract filled with blissful silence, and has left me with a deep nostalgia for space – is a certain road passing through a desert area of Arizona.
I had one transcendental experience during a drive along this road. In an unforgettable moment when I looked out from the car window, my sight swiftly travelled a huge stretch of emptiness, and stopped at the mystical red rock formations on the horizon in the distance. In that instant, what felt like something sent to me from a very far place, wrapped in a single moment, I had seen the coup d’oeil of my entire life, from my childhood home to that very point when I was on that road.
A transient acquaintance with a perfect wholeness of being – that happened never before or since. Well established within myself, at the center of nothingness surrounding me in all directions, I had felt so fulfilled, I was ready to die.
How I wish to return to that road.
Here is a poem inspired by that event, from my illustrated poetry collection.
On this esoteric course, I also had a blink-and-you-miss-it, yet, eternal glimpse of a giant cactus pointing its mighty hand towards the sky. It was, the tallest cactus I had ever seen. So tall, it would dwarf the humans standing beside. Before I could see it properly, it had got left behind on the road. As if standing in that arid land all alone, it was guarding some ancient desert secret, and decided to disappear from my sight as soon as I noticed it.
Later I researched this towering presence in the desert to know that it was none other than a Saguaro. An ageless emblem of the landscape of the southwestern America. A blossoming cactus plant that photosynthesizes at night, Saguaro is not only worthy of being known as the center-piece of a desert, but also, is a key-stone species of the land, in biological terms too. A whole community of animals, birds, rodents and insects consume some part of it, or use it as shelter.
Among the many songbirds supported by Saguaro is Gila Woodpecker – these dashing looking birds with black and white stripes/checkers on their wings and tail, and light brown body with a red spot on the males’s head. Pecking on an average of 12,000 times a day on the prickly surface of the Saguaro, with their sturdy, self-sharpening beaks, and the aplomb of an artisan, they excavate big holes, making nests in the giant Saguaro cacti where they raise their young, and shelter from extreme heat and cold within the harsh climate of desert.
Enormous stature, a lively hue of green, thorns arranged in stunning vertical patterns, the most beautiful blossoms of the desert adorning its crown & arms, and sweet homes of birds on its body. Won’t you call Saguaro the most bewitching species of cacti?
I saw this other-worldly looking plant only for a second, from inside a moving car, and yet it endures in my consciousness. Such fleeting glance may feel enough as an epiphany for the memory of a poet. Or is it?
In his uncommonly enriching masterpiece, “Desert Solitaire“, Edward Abbey (January 29, 1927 – March 14, 1989), American author, environmentalist and the patron saint of the desert wilderness of American west – who had wandered all its expanses and interiors for years in complete solitude – reflected about how it should be explored, in these very lyrical, yet sincere words:
In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus.
When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe. Probably not.
Travelling on some Arizona road, if you happen to spot a Saguaro, dear reader, then think of it as the portal to a world of enchantment, and by all means, try to discern its wonderment from up close, by visiting the Saguaro National Park situated in the Sonoran desert. I know, I certainly will.
Article ©2022 Gyaneshwari Dave
Poem From A Word With Wilderness: Poems Inspired by American Nature (Lulu, 2019)
©2017 Gyaneshwari Dave
Excerpt From Desert Solitaire (Touchstone, 1968), © Edward Abbey 1968