October 5th, 2002
Day 171

Start: Flagstaff, AZ
Finish: Scottsdale, AZ

Miles Today: 132
Miles to Date: 17058
Trooper Mileage: 185979

The Last Day, and Home ...

The drive from Flagstaff, at 7000+ feet and it's cool weather, to Scottsdale, at 1500 feet and its warmer climate, takes less than three hours. The descent takes you from the pines of the Kaibab National Forest to the Sonoran Desert. I have made this drive more times than I can recall, so I did not stop along the way.

The saguaro cactus is the trademark of the Sonoran Desert. They don't grow above about 3300 feet, and are only found in Arizona, northern Mexico and a small part of California. When I started seeing them, I knew I was close to home.

For those of you who have never seen one, they are a splendid creation. I've seen some that are 30 feet high. They can live over 300 years. A large one can weight over 15,000 lbs (there is at least one documented case of a drunken plant-vandal, blasting at one with a shotgun repeatedly, being crushed and instantly killed when the saguaro retaliated by toppling over on him - the perpetrator didn't get a lot of sympathy in the press).

In the course of its lifetime, each saguaro becomes a mini-ecosystem in its own right. Hawks and eagles build nests in the arms. Smaller birds actually tunnel through the extremely tough cuticle (skin), burrowing out little caverns in which to nest. The plant forms a callous that lines the borrow, making it usable for pretty much the entire life of the cactus.

The accordion-like pleating of its body allows the cactus to expand and contract depending on the amount of water absorbed by the plant tissues - when the rains do come, as much is possible is abosrbed, and the cactus fattens.

In the spring, white blossoms sprout in rings around the top and ends of the arms. The flowers are pollinated by birds, insects and bats. In June and July, the fruit ripens to a deep red. The fruit is called pitahya, and it is delicious - I know, I've eaten enough of it, and it has been a staple in the diet of local natives probably for as long as humans heve been here. Actually, the fruits of all species of cactus in the desert are edible.

OK, enough of the biology lesson for now.

I arrived in Scottsdale in the early afternoon. Fortunately, I had accommodations arranged for a week, house and cat sitting for my friend Bev, who was going to spend a week with her guy-friend John at the Garchen Buddhist Institute in Chino Valley (a place I will be visiting myself in the future and may write about).

I am HOME.

I call this Home, but for each of us, there may be more than one home. There is the home where you grew up and where your family lives, which may or may not be where you spend most of your life. There is the home where you've established roots and relationships, support circles, jobs, businesses ... and then, if you are lucky, you find the home where your soul rests, where you can survive on seemingly nothing, where you can stand on a mountain or in a canyon or out in a field and just look for hours, walk for days, and feel quite comfortable just lying on the ground and falling into slumber. For me, that is here, in the desert.