Carnegiea gigantea (2004)

A Saguaro’s Story

By Chris Deem (October 2004)

July 18, 1799 – Somewhere in the Sonoran Desert
During a thunderstorm, a small white-winged dove carries the red fruit of a saguaro to her nest. One small black seed falls, unnoticed, under a creosote bush. Its chance of survival is less than 1 percent. It rains for three more days.

May 31, 1863
A full moon illuminates a desert scene teeming with life. A lone saguaro stands surrounded by mesquites, paloverdes and a small creosote bush, like her “nurse plant” from years ago.

She has grown 18 feet high in her 64 years. Her roots grow shallow, a distance almost equal to her height. Her dull olive-green body is swollen this year. Her spines, still yellow at the growing tips, have mostly turned brown.

The small wound in her side, the abandoned nest of a Gila woodpecker, has grown dark and callused. Down at her base, a large Western rattlesnake tastes the air with his tongue.

June 21, 1891
A long drought has not affected the large white blossoms on the three arms of the saguaro. Bats, their faces covered in pollen, fly from flower to flower. A small elf owl in the old woodpecker nest stares out at the night. Most of the undergrowth of small plants has vanished now that the ranchers and their cattle have come and gone.

August 1, 1931
Lightning flashes across the sky and strong winds blow as rain pours down. Somewhere in the Sonoran Desert, a giant saguaro lay dying. Her shallow roots were no match for the windstorm. She had stood 38 feet high.

March 1993
President Herbert Hoover signs the Saguaro National Monument bill into law.

Somewhere in the Sonoran Desert, the hard dark callus of a woodpecker’s nest lies on the ground next to a creosote bush.

Dedicated to Pam Schnebelen.