Don’t pick up the cactus

Yesterday I sat down, gave myself a little pep talk, and did a Really Hard And Scary Thing. Upon completion of The Thing I had butterflies in my stomach and spent 30 minutes rage-cleaning* my house to try and burn off some of that frenetic energy. It’s a waiting game now and I hate waiting, hence the rage-cleaning. (*Rage-cleaning is a manic maid state I get in most often when I’m pissed, but, apparently, also when I’m anxious and also when waiting for results after completing a Really Hard And Scary Thing.)

After the cleaning session I took myself on a little walk, the night was cold and the stars were clear and I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself. Very adult-like. Responsible. Have my shit together. Etc.

And then I picked up a cactus.

Prickly Pear_feistyharriet_Jan 2017

Ok, that’s not exactly true (it is totally and 100% true), I mean, I was walking along and I saw this really beautiful dried paddle of a prickly pear, you know, those tear-shaped “leaves” with cute little white polka dots on them? Well, this one had fallen off it’s momma plant and was all yellowy-cream and dried, the ridges looking a lot like the back of an octogenarian’s hand. The polka dots were a soft dark brown and the whole thing was arrestingly beautiful in gorgeous sepia tones with an almost quilted-looking pattern. I had to have it.

So I picked it up.

…Ya’ll, I must be some kind of serious Arizona rookie, because I PICKED UP A CACTUS WITH MY BARE HAND!

Those soft dark brown spots were, shockingly, not soft at all. They were actually strategically placed little defensive forests of bristley brown spikes that quickly transferred themselves from the prickly pear paddle to the fingers of my left hand. I yelped. I maybe cursed a bit. And, momentarily losing my sanity and thinking a game of Hot Potato was in order, I tossed the spike-infested prickly pear paddle to my other hand.

I’mma stop right there and slow it down:

I picked up a spiky cactus because it was so so pretty. And when I was legitimately surprised at the immediately pain of said spiky cactus, I THREW THE THING STRAIGHT INTO MY OTHER PALM!

Yep. That happened.

Almost 10:00 pm and I’m swearing up a storm on the sidewalk, clutching a (gorgeous!) cactus in one hand and shaking my other hand furiously, somehow thinking that cactus spike pain was like being burned, you just blow on it and it will stop hurting. Ha. Hahahahahaa. Nope. Not the case.

Mr. Blue Eyes and I spent 45 minutes tweezing cactus spikes out of BOTH of my hands. Any sense of greatness I felt for accomplishing that Really Hard And Scary Thing? Yeeeeah, totally gone. I’m sure there is a really poignant metaphor in this story somewhere (“Pride goeth before the fall”, anyone?), but to be completely frank, typing is giving me the distinct impression that I’ve missed a few cactus spikes in the pads of my fingers that will need some additional tweezing, stat. That’s also probably a metaphor.


On cactus, and living in the Valley of the Surface of the Sun

Purple Cactus flower_feistyharriet_April 2016

In my short time as a resident of the American Southwest I have come to appreciate some of it’s thornier and more beautiful parts: the desert plants that thrive under the harshest of conditions. In the early spring I loved taking my camera with me on walks through my neighborhood to photograph some of the spikier and thornier specimens in people’s yards. Then, you know, temperatures soared and I retreated back to the air conditioning, where I have stayed.

Agave teeth_feistyharriet_San Antonio Botanical Gardens

I see my northern neighbors celebrating cooler temperatures, the coming of fall fashions, pumpkin spice everything, and exhaling that the heat of summer has passed. Meanwhile, it’s still 100+ every day here and my cabin fever continues to rage. Locals keep telling me that Arizona’s fall is coming, and looking at the weather patterns I only partially believe them. It will be in the 90’s through October before finally cooling off to temperatures where I can breathe, but for me, 70 degrees is a perfect summer day, not appropriate for November and December. I truly don’t know if I will ever fully adapt to life in the low desert; the high desert where there is frost and snow and plummeting temperatures at night? That I can do. But without the elevation of those ancient plateaus, Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs just bake, and bake, and bake, for MONTHS on end.

Red spike cactus_feistyharriet_April 2016

The soul-sucking heat, the neverending blistering sun, the subsequent cabin fever…it makes me anxious and irritable and, in general, makes everything worse. I somehow feel that a few days of truly cold temperatures would solve a fair number of my internal turmoil, the cool temperatures calm me and help me think more clearly. I am sharper and more logical, more productive and happier when my body is not fighting itself and my surface-of-the-sun environment.

Hairy Agave_feistyharriet_April 2016

I have had to negotiate a lot of adjustments since I moved to Arizona: new work routine (which just changed again), new dynamics with Mr. Blue Eyes and his kids, new dynamics with my own family and friendships to accommodate the distance, and new relationships with friends and colleagues here. Those are the pieces that keep my going, the beautiful desert bloom, the cactus flowers…but the damn heat is the always present spikes and cactus spines, the constant that must be negotiated multiple times per day. When walking to the mailbox has the potential to give you heat stroke, the weather doesn’t just disappear into the background. Perhaps it does for those who are used to the fire-breathing sky, and perhaps in time I will adapt. If my love of Charles Darwin has taught me anything, it is that species will always adapt to their surroundings (or they will die out, but let’s not focus on that option, mmmkay?)

Harriet sig