One of my favorite spots for engaging Nature is Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson, Arizona. In the secluded solitude of this wonderful desert, I am alone listening, observing, and meditating without any human interruption.
As is my daily practice, I sit outside at dawn anticipating the “golden hour” when the Saguaro Cactus glows from the light of the morning dawn and the birds greet the day in song. Thomas Merton calls this the “virgin point” of the day when Nature asks permission to be.
This morning is a bit different. The light is softened by a hazy sky. The colors are much softer and emerge more slowly. The chirping of the birds is much softer. The mood of the desert is serenity instead of glory.
My mood follows the desert’s mood. My attention is not focused on changing light. Instead, I think in more holistic terms – meditating about how things are interrelated.
With holistic serenity replacing anticipation, I see things differently. All of a sudden, a pair of elders pop into my view. Of course, they had been there all along but my mental filter mechanism was accustomed to the glory of changing colors and not the majesty of two big elderly plants. But there they were only 25 feet away as if hovering over me. I was shocked that I had never sensed them before.
One of the elders is a large Sahuaro Cactus with big arms reaching for the sky. The cactus is embraced by its elder, a large Palo Fierro (an Ironwood Tree). Their sizes suggest that they have both been around for a very long time. Most likely they had been connected in their embrace for over a hundred years. Way back when, the Palo Fierro acted as a nursery plant by sheltering and nurturing the cactus seedling from the elements – allowing the cactus to grow in a protected and fertile environment. These elders are rooted in between two gravel stream beds. Connections between Palo Fierro, other nursery plants, the Sahuaro Cactus, and a stream bed are common.
“I worked as the Grounds Curator for Tohono Chul Park in 1987, and the pattern you refer to is evident for many of the saguaro growing there too. From a permaculture point of view, this pattern is a natural plant guild system. The nursery trees are all legumes which fix nitrogen, and they are deciduous, dropping their nutrient rich leaves as mulch. This creates enhanced conditions for the saguaro seeds, which may be dropped by birds that feed on the saguaro fruit and use the trees as a roost. In the case of the palo verde and mesquite, when the trees die back, they release nutrients to the saguaro, often at the point when the saguaro is experiencing its greatest growth rate. It’s all an example of the environment being holocenotic: everything in it influences and is influenced by everything in it.”
In the evening, the elders bid me a good night with an incredible display. The moon has just risen from behind my camera giving the pair a soft glow. Behind these massive plants, the last faint remnant of a setting sun defines their halo. And surrounding us all, the universe looks down upon us offering a reminder that each of us is a small piece in a giant interdependent pattern where we are all connected.
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.