A couple of nights each year my San Pedro cacti bloom. We have to observe them at night, or early morning twilight, so in stealth, undressed we do it.
We know when they will be ready to bloom. There are usually fury bulbs springing out of the tall green stalks a few days in advance. These grow rapidly as evening darkness engulfs us on the particular night.
Almost as if watching them in time lapse they explode, their massive pistol wanders out like a large tongue, searching for participants.
These once or twice a year events produce flowers the size of a human head.
The fragrance floats all around. With ones nose in front of a flower it is mystifyingly lovely.
One bloom in a room is enchanting in its magnificence and fills it like strong incense.
On these warm summer’s full moon nights the air is often thick from the monsoon. Then, in the early morning it changes to cool, just before the sun rises. We can feel the moisture change on our bare bodies. At dawn, my nostrils come alive with new fresh scents, morning dew, a clarity from cleansing moister, and then, I am engulfed by the San Pedro.
We wander out into the desert to view the vista around the nearby hills.
Often the monsoon clouds give incredible arrays of light, bouncing off, decorating the heavens in all directions with indescribable colors. Then, the blinding golden beams burst over the great Catalina Mountains.
The light explodes radiance on every plant.
Rocks reflect it; amazing colors appear on usually more dull granite surfaces.
We feel our bodies also gather the sun as it warms them.
The San Pedro also gathers this golden light. It shines through the petals as they begin to wilt.
This dramatic display is only for one evening, for one species of huge moth the size of which matches the flowers. These bird-like insects, I have only seen on these magical evenings. One, I saw in the flower itself, bathing in pollen.
Once, I saw one lay dying in a neighbor’s front yard. They are elusive and mysterious.
All of that living, the energy, the preparation, all of the plants efforts during a full year, is for that one moment, on that one evening, quietly, hidden in the desert’s air.
During the year, the plant grows taller than a man. Patches expand in any direction, a collection of stalks. Sometimes they fall and branches begin new plants as their tubes meet the soil and take root.
These unusual plants produce the chemicals of mescaline. A psychedelic hallucinatory concoction can be derived from boiling the inner pulp. It has been known as sacred. I don’t think that it is necessary for one to imbibe the drug, to know just how sacred this being in the desert is.
Then, it is over, a memory.
Beautifully written and photographed, as usual. Your article sends me to Mrs. Google to learn more of this incredible plant. And I trust the two of you were not among those hiking last weekend at Tanque Verde Falls during the horrific flood. That canyon is beautiful beyond description, but can turn deadly in the snap of a finger. A reminder for us all to exercise caution!
Be well. Keep writing. Stay nude.
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