The calendar may say it’s a holiday, but all around the house, In The Yard, there’s “work going on” today: steadily, indifferently, variously, in dead earnest.
The summer is drying out: hot, very little rain, parched. Yet there must be underground currents here, because we don’t water much, still most stuff remains green.
To the east, halfway through hurricane season, the Atlantic is spookily quiet; two storms are on the map — Earl and Danielle, but they are swirling far out, aimless and unlikely to bother any land mass. Then to the west, we have large forests, and something like 60 wildfires are burning, but the nearest of those is more than half a continent away.
in the meantime, there have been some very good regional peaches and not-so regional (Washington state) cherries.
Given this deceptively normal-looking larger backdrop, the annual struggle In The Yard, between the Morning Glories and everything else is about as much drama as we can claim.
It used to be more exciting In The Yard. For several years the city’s yard cops tacked citations on our door, telling us our yard was way too unruly, not sufficiently square or trim or bourgeois for local regulations. But the Fair Wendy went to bat for us, arguing (backed up by a thick notebook/photo album, with lots of Latin names), that one person’s weeds were another person’s cherished free-range “home meadow.” They held off on imposing fines, but there was more to come. A true “grass roots” movement is underway, with people ditching the pre-astroturf for lots of bushes and flowers and stuff bees and other critters like. Last spring we spent a few hours driving around the ‘hood and we soon discovered at least a dozen “wild yards,” recognizable but all different, within a mile or so radius of our small house.
So, what was The Man gonna do? Confiscate our garden gloves and lock us all up? Really, your excellencies, compared to the folks who swagger in the streets waving their bare nekkid AR-15s around in front of Gawd and everybody, we’re much less a danger to civilization. All we want to groom is our postage stamp gardens. And when “We say ‘Gay,'” we might also be talking about mums or peonies, fer pity sake.
But anyway, the heat seems to have backed off; summer’s just about over and there have been no more citations, and the only serious clashes seem to be silent struggles between the Morning Glories and everything else they try to strangle.
But I just noticed today that there are some areas In The Yard where there are no MGs.
Yet why not? What or which (or whom?) is holding the MGs back? Some difference in the soil? Another rootweb system pushing back without showing above ground? Some anonymous bug? (As to insects, which I don’t much follow, their disappearance is their most visible feature this summer.)
This will soon be the second autumn with no sign of the black & yellow spiders who colonized the southern wall of the house. They always looked vigorous enough, and we didn’t use any insecticides.
But they’re gone, along with the honeybees and others, including most of the mosquitoes, whom I do not miss.
Even on this comparatively tiny scale, I continue to get hints at how much in this most familiar quarter acre is completely unknown to me. Meantime, I continue to fall for their obvious late season propaganda of flowers, which by tradition will be followed by turning leaves and all that, to distract us while the cold sneaks back.
[NOTE: I guess there are no coincidences. Thursday Sept. 1 I took part in a final Zoom call with some friends in Arizona, who are part of an experimental community east of Tucson called Saguaro-Juniper, or S-J for short. S-J is named after the famous Saguaro cacti that grow around there.
Then this morning, Friday, I read that one of the most iconic, venerable and largest saguaro cacti, aged at least 200 years old, had suddenly collapsed in a state park not far away.
The S-J community was started by Jim and Pat Corbett, remarkable Arizona Quakers who were seeking a way to live more simply and harmoniously with nature in the desert. Thirty-plus years later, their experiment continues in the swirl of punishing climate change and continued social-cultural struggles.
Jim Corbett was truly one of a kind: a Harvard philosophy grad who was also a cowboy with Indian heritage, a Sanctuary activist, a desert wanderer, a cantankerous Quaker mystic, and a writer.
Jim published two books: Goatwalking (1990; 2021), which described his religious journey, desert wanderings, organizing to aid desperate Central American war refugees, and a prophetic understanding of how human eco-damage was careening toward a crisis. He followed it with Sanctuary ofor All Life, which explored many dimensions of the new S-J experiment, and which he finished on his deathbed in 2001. Jim’s ashes were scattered in the hills of his beloved desert.
It was the books, especially Goatwalking, which put me in touch with the Arizona group. I was part of a project to bring Goatwalking back into print after 30 years, which we did just over a year ago. Our two-year round of biweekly Zoom calls began amid the republication effort, then continued as some of us explored the two books, which we found appealing in seemingly endless ways.
There’s no end to this exploration, but with the second August, we were ready for a change. S-J itself faces major transition, as a founding generation ages out, the climate crunch Jim Corbett foresaw arrives, and new blood is needed. So maybe it’s fitting, at least symbolically, that news of the bicentennial saguaro giant’s fall reaches us now. And as this Washington Post report points out, even the decay of the cactus feeds more desert life.]
A massive saguaro cactus stood for 200 years in Arizona’s Catalina State Park until it collapsed after fierce monsoons. (Arizona State Parks)
The saguaro cactus towered over the hilltop outside Tucson like a massive hand rising out of the earth. Generations of hikers posed for pictures at the base of the hulking, treelike plant, whose longest arms stretched almost 30 feet into the air above Catalina State Park.
Artists painted it. Scores of animal species relied on it for food and shelter.
Older than Arizona itself by nearly a century, it weathered droughts and monsoons, searing heat and cold snaps, that worsened with climate change. It outlasted the ranchers who grazed cattle and built dwellings near its roots. It survived wildfires and invasive grasses.
But at some point this month, after fierce rains swept through the park, the cactus split at the trunk and toppled to ground, removing one of the area’s most cherished landmarks from the skyline.
The collapse of the iconic plant, estimated to be 200 years old, prompted an outpouring of tributes and remembrances from its many admirers following an announcement from Arizona State Parks and Trails this week.
“It’s sort of like if the Mona Lisa had been impaled somehow,” Neil Myers, a landscape artist who painted a 24-by-30-inch portrait of the cactus in 2007, told The Washington Post. “The way it loomed over you, like an emblem of old creation, was just beautiful.”
The cactus’s death also rekindled concerns about the environmental threats facing saguaros, which are highly valued among some Native American tribes and whose blossom is the Arizona state wildflower.
It’s difficult to blame human-caused climate change for the destruction of any individual plant, particularly one as old and top-heavy as this one. But scientists who study saguaros say extreme weather is a growing menace that could drive down their overall numbers.
Years of drought and inconsistent monsoon rains in the region can starve the cactuses of water, according to biologists from Saguaro National Park outside Tucson. This can threaten the survival of young plants, which because of their significantly smaller size and capacity can’t store water as efficiently as older plants. A 2018 report from the park found that prolonged drought may be increasing the mortality rate of young saguaros and reducing the growth of new ones.
“At the same time, increasingly intense storms can harm even the hardiest cacti,” said Cam Juarez, engagement coordinator at Saguaro National Park. “It’s a double-edged sword.”
In addition to climate-related perils, saguaros face competition from buffelgrass, an invasive species introduced by ranchers to feed cattle. The dense grass grows rapidly across the desert, hogging moisture from the soil that saguaros and other plants need to thrive. It’s also extraordinarily flammable, burning several times hotter than other vegetation, making wildfires more destructive.
The saguaro in Catalina State Park withstood those challenges for many decades. It sprouted from the desert floor in the early 1800s, long before Arizona became the 48th state in 1912, on the site of an ancient Hohokam settlement. It emerged slowly in the beginning, growing no more than 1.5 inches in its first eight years. In that fragile period, it likely would have been sheltered by a “nurse tree ” — typically a paloverde, ironwood or mesquite — that protected it from animals and harsh weather.
In the mid-1800s, a ranching family, the Romeros, moved into the area and built a compound within feet of the cactus. At this point the plant still would have been small, armless, nondescript. The family grazed cattle in its midst for more than a decade before they moved elsewhere, likely driven out by repeated raids from the Apache tribe that were common in the region at the time. The remains of their settlement are still there, and the trail leading up to the site is now known as the Romero Ruin trail.
At around 50 to 70 years old, the cactus would have started sprouting arms. At 125 years old, it would finally reach what scientists consider saguaro “adulthood.”
Throughout its life span, it provided a habitat for all kinds of desert creatures.
“Many birds, including cactus wren, woodpeckers and owls use saguaros for nesting. Larger birds of prey will use a tall saguaro for a hunting platform,” said Michelle Thompson, a spokesperson for Arizona State Parks and Trails. “Bats may use the pollen and nectar from cactus blooms. Birds, bats, mammals, reptiles and insects can all use the fruits for moisture and nourishment.”
Though the rains are the most likely culprit, it’s not clear what exactly brought down this giant. “It could have been the extremely moist monsoon season,” Thompson said. She noted that the park has experienced higher-than-average rainfall during this season after a historically wet year in 2021 and the second-driest season on record in 2020. It also could have simply been the end of the cactus’s life cycle, she said.
Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the saguaro will soon begin rotting. Insects will flock to it. That, in turn, will attract birds and small mammals, as well as reptile predators such as snakes and lizards.
“It’s a consolation that this beloved cactus will remain there,” read a post from the Catalina State Park’s Instagram page, “providing habitat and food for many creatures as it decomposes.”
Myers, the landscape artist, said he was inspired to paint saguaros after he relocated to the Southwest and fell in love with the scenery. This one was special, he said, because of the way it rose over the hill where it lived, with the desert sky and Santa Catalina Mountains as a backdrop.
“This one stood atop in that place like a sentinel,” Myers said. “They’re the most anthropomorphic plants that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I know it’s part of a larger natural process, but I hope that when people see that one laying on the ground that they take some concern for the ones still standing.”
Derek Hawkins is a reporter covering national and breaking news.
I Was Injured by a White Supremacist in Charlottesville. Strangers Lifted Me Up.
By Constance Paige Young
Ms. Paige Young is a racial justice activist and an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. She was among the counterprotesters injured in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.
In July 2017 a friend told me that white supremacists planned to go to Charlottesville, Va., to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park that August. I immediately knew I would go to counterprotest and provide support for others.
On Aug. 11, I piled into a car with some friends after work, and we drove from Washington, D.C. Close to halfway there, a thunderstorm rolled through, bringing traffic to a grinding halt. We pulled off the interstate and found a place to get a bite while we waited for the rain to subside. We talked about our fears and how we would be there for one another, no matter what happened that weekend.
It is hard to feel sorry for extremely awful, obscenely rich people – particularly in the middle of a cost of living crisis – but I found myself feeling weirdly sad for the Trumps this weekend, after reading about Ivana’s opulent but miserable send-off.
Donald Trump’s first wife, who was found dead at the bottom of her stairs this month, had a gold-hued coffin (of course), but the speeches were the real centrepiece. Her kids and a former nanny all gave eulogies that were bizarre and tragic in equal measure.
Let’s start with the eldest: Donald Jr. The warm memory of his mother that he chose to recount at her funeral? The time she disciplined him so hard she had to stop from exhaustion. Once, when they were kids, said Donald Jr, his sister Ivanka accidentally destroyed an expensive chandelier. Ivanka – it will shock you to hear – lied and said it was her brother’s fault; Ivana then pulled out a wooden spoon to teach Donald Jr a lesson. Continue reading Can’t Look Away: Ivana Sleeps With The Sharks—Scenes from Her Funeral→