Monday, September 19, 2011

Rising from the Ashes

Written by Karen
Goldfield, Arizona
We took a quick road trip to Phoenix this past weekend. We could have flown. Most people were surprised when we said we wanted to drive. Why? It takes so long. It’s so hot  True. It is a twelve hour drive without stops.  So, it is a commitment. But, we wanted to experience the Sonoran Desert again in 3-D: the heat, the long sight lines, the sparse beauty, the smells, the reddish mountains. 

It’s been about ten years since we last drove to Phoenix on Interstate 10, and it is still majestic to see the wrinkles of the mountains so crisp and clear against the blue sky, the Saguaros standing sentry, and watching the bands of blues, purples, pinks and oranges sink unimpeded behind the mountain ranges as the fiery sun sinks for another day.  All of this beauty against the backdrop of the intense and unrelenting heat to remind us of how flexible life must be out here to endure these harsh and unforgiving elements.
Interstate 10, Arizona
Interstate 10, Arizona
Interstate 10, Arizona
Interstate 10, Arizona
And, on top of just surviving, there is plenty of beauty within those parameters.  We stop along the way so that I could take pictures: blackened bark, brilliant oranges and reds, willowy sages, assorted cactus.  It is hot - no doubt about that - but taken within the context of that searing heat, the story of the Saguaro cactus is even more interesting.
Goldfield, Arizona

On a brief tour that we took, the guide let us know that if we were to plant a Saguaro seed today, in ten years we would have an one-inch baby Saguaro cactus.  The outcroppings, or arms, usually don’t grow until the plant is at least 75 years old.  The Saguaro cactus is considered to be the largest cactus in the United States and can live between 150 - 200 years.  Day after day of unrelenting heat and the Saguaro cactus still stands strong and tall.  In reading a little bit more, according to the Desert Museum, the Saguaro cactus can soak up rainwater and when completely hydrated can swell in weight from 3200 - 4800 pounds. Wow.  It has adapted to not only survive, but flourish in a rocky and unforgiving habitat.  Not surprising, the Saguaro blossom is the State wildflower of Arizona.  A symbol of strength and beauty. 

We went to Phoenix to celebrate the 90th birthday of Adam’s aunt; another symbol of strength and beauty.  It has also been about ten years since we have seen Adam’s relatives on his mother’s side, so we were looking forward to spending some time and getting caught up with everyone.  Time doesn’t demonstrate its rapid passing any more effectively than with children.  Children that we saw ten years ago are now young adults; babies have become children; and, we met little ones for the first time. 

Huge gaps are exposed in our collective experiences. Adam’s family is gracious, generous and fun-loving.  Why do we wait to get together every ten years to have a good time?, we ask ourselves. We vow to do better.

Birthday Celebration, Arizona
Another idea that I am taking away from this weekend is that of making an effort.  We all made an effort to get together and celebrate an amazing woman’s achievement to live  graciously and with deep kindness for 90 years.  That is true.  But, I am also thinking about the food that we had over the weekend.  Handmade food.  From scratch.  With love.  Key ingredients that make the simplest of foods transcend into something extraordinary.  Tortillas.  Beans.  Chicken in a mole sauce.  Carne Asada.  Rice.   Tamales.  This may seem like a simple menu, but in the hands of artists these foods are complete happiness.  You can taste the effort, the love, the long hours, the finger and hand prints that accumulate into a bountiful buffet of favorite and savory foods.
We all have childhood memories of foods that were prepared for us by our aunts, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, uncles and grandfathers.  These are the “comfort foods” of today and are highlighted on restaurant menus.  A throwback to the past. But, you really can’t buy comfort food; the component that makes it comfort food was that it was made with love, with effort and by hand.  Maybe it was a can of beans with frankfurters chopped up, or a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, or maybe some handmade tortillas made from scratch.  Whatever it was, it was the effort taken that made it special.  We knew we were special because of the time that was being taken to prepare and serve the food.   

I was reminded this weekend that you could really taste/see/feel the difference when an effort has been made.  Whether it be the tiny pink flower determined to poke through the hot gravel next to the blazing hot road, family members driving or flying for hours to spend some time together, or the behind-the-scenes preparation to get ready for a family get-together, the efforts that were made resulted in memories that will be savored.  

Gilbert, Arizona
I was also reminded of the strength and beauty of the human spirit.  Like the Saguaro cactus, to have the ability to be flexible and find ways to adapt and flourish in difficult circumstances is necessary in order to be successful in our endeavors.  And, to always remember to celebrate life with those you care about.  Now.  Not every ten years.  


moneyIQGuy said...

The pictures that arose in my mind as I read your travel story were enhanced by those taken by your camera- and made me feel a serious itch to get back into desert country again! There is something about being under Big Sky like that! Nice thoughts about the Saguaro cactus- I'm going to *have* to incorporate that name somehow, someday- I like how it's so resilient to whatever life throws at it. Your description of comfort food reminded me of a time when I was travelling in South America, in Bolivia I think, out in the desert, plodding along a sandy trail with nothing around me- wait, did I say "nothing"? That couldn't be farther from the truth. There was open air, those watercolored mountain ranges, and openess/peace in bucketloads. Anyways, back to my story, I was treated to warm tortillas by a family living in what people of the United States would call extreme poverty, but they lived simply, in camaraderie with each other, and welcomed me with tortilla y sopa made from the hearth, right in front of me. Comfort food, indeed- not so much the food itself, but the warmness of their spirits- I'll never forget that

Observers of Life said...

I love the imagery in your writing, IQ. Your experience in South America sounds amazing. I think it is always so heartwarming when you have a human connection with total strangers. That's awesome. I'm really taken by the strength and beauty of Saguaro cactus, as well. When you look closely at the cactus, you can see these intricate network of lines and cell membranes with shades of gorgeous green. It is a really beautiful plant.