Song of the Sonoran Desert

Photograph by William Ervin. Sonoran Desert, Arizona

He was a frail, twisted, little man who said he had come to the desert when he and the desert were a lot younger.

He came for his health.

Dry climate.

Hot sun.

Dried out his bones, and they had been diseased by the swamps and rice paddies of Saipan. He thought they might rot, and so did the doctors, and they gave him a year to live. The desert saved his life. That’s what he said, and I didn’t doubt him.

“Thought I might find a little gold,” he said.

He didn’t.

“Thought I might find a wife,” he said.

He found two.

“I’m glad I didn’t find the gold,” he said.

The wives would have taken it.

He laughed.

“The desert changes a man,” he said.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“It’s the solitude,” he said. “It’s the sun setting on the far side of the mountains. It’s the cold nights when the wind comes to sit a spell. It makes a man think he’s wiser than he is. He isn’t. But he thinks he is.”

“Are you ever lonely?” I asked.

“I have the cactus,” he said.

“The cactus can’t talk to you,” I said.

“Spend enough time out here, and it does,” he said

“What does it say?” I asked him.

“It says I have no business being here,” he said. He laughed again, “And sometimes it says I wouldn’t be happier any place else.”

“Would you?”

“We’ll never know,” he said.

He ambled toward sundown, and I watched him as he walked into the big Saguaro cactus and, in the afternoon shadows, they became as one.”

The desert claims its own. It always has.

Artist/photographer William Ervin knows the Sonoran Desert well. It’s a place that sometimes lets you in and sometimes keeps you out. He says, “I have always been fascinated with saguaro cactus. You look out across the Sonoran Desert, and, during the right time of day, especially when they are lined up against a sunset, they almost look like a bunch of little people, Druids marching across the sand.

“I was in Organ Pipe National Monument of the Saguaro National Park near Tucson, a great wilderness that celebrates life and landscape of the desert. When the saguaro cactus is backlit, you can see the spines light up, and it looks like each of them has a white halo around it.

“However, unless there is a dark background, you can’t see it. You hardly ever see it in the desert. The sky is too big and too bright. On this late afternoon, I was able to place the congregation of cactus against the dark backdrop of a small rocky hillside, and every one of them has a halo.”









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