flowers on cactus in spring

look close and you can just make them out

T

here is nothing quite like a trip to the plant nursery to remind you that you’re living in a desert.

I am driven to one or another each spring, wild with hope. Once inside, I find myself touching leaves and wandering from aisle to aisle, staggered by the tumbling, confident growth of it all. The air inside the greenhouse is heavy, thick with the moisture that’s already evaporating off of the floors, from underneath pots, and this is what settles inside me—the thought of all of the water spilled out to make this viral beauty possible.

It seems like an offensive waste of a desert-dweller’s most vital resource, to pour it out in the unforgiving heat of the real world to prop-up a rank amateur’s delusions of gardening grandeur.

I tend to forget some of the harsher realities of our indigenous climate by the time I reach the register.

How else to explain my most recent purchases: a honeysuckle vine and a pound of the City of Albuquerque’s park grass seed mix, grass being the ugliest indulgence in our moonscape. It’s practically cursed by God, dying the moment it’s planted, its sole purpose to allow us to enjoy the indulgence of pretending not to live in the desert.

Over coffee last week, a friend relayed rumors from the summer yet to come. ‘If you’re planning to camp, do it now,’ she said, ‘it may be too hot later.’ Early whispers of fires that will be allowed to burn unimpeded in the forests because of the scarcity of water, because of the drought that killed everything I bought on my last trip to plant nursery.

So I’m a little embarrassed about the grass seed.

On our front step, though, are three ceramic pots, sizes big, bigger and biggest. Inside each one is a different cactus plant, purchased on a lark ten years ago. They are Scott’s wards, cared for kindly but infrequently, entirely committed to the work of filling the space they’ve been given to grow. A stranger once stopped to ask if we were planning to sell one of them and it was small wonder: they’d grown commercially big.

“They’re the only things you can grow out here,” he grumbles.

Then on Monday, Scott called me outside. ‘Look,’ he directed and I did. Encircling the crown of the most severe looking cactus was a wreath of purple, not-quite-flowers, preparing to surprise the world with the fullest realization of its beauty: soft and sharp at the same time.

Spring comes to the desert, too. It persists in making its way back to us, pushing up and out in shades of blue and pink and yellow, and it does not seem to need my green garden hose to do so.