LIFE OF HA:SAÑ, THE GIANT SAGUARO CACTUS (Carnegia gigantea)
Ha:Sañ (Tohono O’odham) | a’a (Mojave, Quechan) | PPa (Yavapai) | PaPa (Cocopah)
| ‘a (Maricopa) | naanolzeegé (Apache) | Mojepe (Comcaac/Seri) | Saguo (Opata, Mayo)
| Saugo (Yaqui)
For thousands of generations
On their ancestral land,
Desert People observed everything
that lives and grows among the rocks and sand.
Like their cousins – in our nation’s heart,
The People look forward seven generations –
Lifespan of Ha:Sañ, the ancient ones,
Person-like trees of the Sonoran Desert,
Living spirits, at the feet of whom,
The maternal organ, Indigenous mothers would bury,
Sacred to the Hohokam, O’odham, Sobaipuri,
Apache, Yaqui, and the Seri.
We begin our timeless story
In the Month of the Ripening Moon,
Of marriage, fertility, and hormonal rage,
When Saguaro’s reproductive organs take the stage.
Every rippled tower carries white and yellow funnel flowers
Like ceramic vases twirled high into the air,
Balanced by a street performer
Standing on a tilted chair.
Every blossom is a nectarivore’s white napkin,
It’s golden sun-like center an irresistible invitation,
Providing a sugary snack in exchange for gamete transportation.
Pollinators include diverse species of desert bees,
Hummingbirds, orioles, and tits at that,
But largest of all is the long nose bat!
A female fertilizer that fitly flits about,
Floating from column to column,
Stalking silently through the night,
Moonlight glinting off her fangs like twin blades,
She is a Samurai assassin taking flight!
Sonic senses and sensitive whiskers
Guide her delicate lips as she dips,
Into the fertile flower, her life-giving prize.
Her long, nectar-loving tongue probes deep into the cone,
Without her buffed-up breast,
This August plant would die alone.
Caesar’s month brings white winged doves,
That flock from further South in great migration,
Thirty and seven days after the blissful bloom,
The blossom’s base turns to fruit,
In late summer’s scorching station.
Through thick-skinned, bursting pods,
A dark-magenta pulp passionately bleeds,
But more nutritious to the doves,
Are, in each one, two thousand tiny seeds!
Cooperating and cooing,
The desert damsels dine.
But their gizzards are as merciless
As their blue-ringed, beady eyes,
And when they pass each seed, it dies.
The seed dispersers are instead
The desert kangaroo rats,
Bouncing along on whip-like tails,
Sharing fallen cactus pears
With ringtails, ants, wasps, and little snails.
Coyotes too join in on the feast,
And many another bird and beast.
Blood-beaked finches, cooperating ants,
Cautious quails, and tortoises too,
Spiny lizards, Gila monsters.
And other desert folk with scales.
Having each had their fill of freshly fallen fruit,
The roaming residents will relinquish the germ nearby.
Some on a southern slope
In the shade of a hardy, native tree,
Perhaps a yellow flowered paloverde,
Or a purple blossomed ironwood,
Or a deeply rooted mesquite,
With a prickly pear or chain-fruit-cholla
Nestled snuggly at its feet.
To protect the nascent cactus,
The nurse tree takes great pains,
While she eagerly awaits the summer’s monsoon rains.
And amidst the rich decay and perched birds’ droppings,
In the micro-climate fostered by her arms,
The tiny obsidian seed is sheltered
From the frost and more of life’s immediate harms.
Sky Father patiently watches for the first signals of life,
Maintaining a somber sense of reservation,
For only one percent of seeds will live to see germination.
Then, sending a single tap root down to quench its thirst.
From the dry desert soil a saguaro will burst,
Growing quickly at first, then unhurriedly,
Like a young man still reveling in his youth.
When Ha:Sañ is a little taller than the average man,
Mistletoe and old age will overcome his doting nurse,
And as Saguaro steals her water, her love becomes her curse.
His woody beams give rise, like rings of rebar
Giving structure to biological cement,
Then base roots sprawl so he can reach up to the sky,
Undaunted and unbent.
Grey spines guard his crown,
while desert-encrusting termites nurture the soil at his base,
And upward, ever upward shines his spiral face,
As if he is trying to touch the very circle of the sun.
Nearly a century must pass
Before Saguaro can grow an arm,
And it will be on centenarian limbs,
That a red tail hawk will one day roost,
And at dusk’s behest,
A majestic great-horned owl
Will stop to rest
High atop Saguaro’s outstretched arms,
Which will grow ever longer, ever more
A caracara, a bald eagle, or an osprey,
Perchance even a brave bobcat,
May stop above the desert floor.
And in Ha:Sañ’s ribs, a Gila woodpecker
Will peck out a boot – her perfect nest,
And by the time the Nawait (saguaro fruit wine)
Has been fermented, and every drop has been drunk,
Saguaro will have many mouths and eyes along his trunk,
Myriad homes will be these varied holes,
For pygmy elf owls, cactus wrens,
Purple martins, thrashers, gnatcatchers, orioles,
Centipedes, spiders, scorpions,
Beetles, packrats, and voles.
And by the time my future grandson’s hair turns grey
And two hundred ju:kı̂ (monsoon rains) have fallen,
An apartment building will have been raised,
From just a single grain of pollen.