Monday, August 29, 2011

A Canyon in Spring

The next leg of the trip in March of 2010 was down to Madera Canyon, west of I-19 on the way south of Tucson toward Nogales. Madera Canyon is a fantastically beautiful place, in the Coronado National Forest, up on the west facing slopes of the Santa Ritas. Just over the mountains to the east is Santa Cruz County and some great savannah-ish dry grasslands. The dramatic thing about Madera Canyon is the sudden steep rise off the desert floor and the quick transition through a few life zones heading up.

As mentioned in a previous post, the "luxury" accommodations at Santa Rita Lodge. Rustic, actually, but right in the canyon, facing the dry stream bed, with a view of wild turkeys, etc.

One thing I appreciated about the place was it made me feel younger, as it seemed like a visit to grandma's house:

It was an odd combination of romantic, claustrophobic, connected to the outdoors, corny, tender and strained, intimate and alienated, desirous of reconciliation and resentful and for me, skittish and guilty and ashamed and defensive. Somehow Tucson was easier. Wild spaces threaten to reveal everything. Since I was still an unregenerately self-centered, dishonest, fearful liar liar with my pants on fire on this trip, I was definitely in a lot of restless denial here. It might have been easier if I still smoked a pack a day. Definitely would have been easier in the short term with three bottles of Wild Turkey to match the odd birds wandering around outside. And some of the tipsy old folks. The Poetess and I were perhaps 20 years younger than the rest of the visitors.

The flora in the lower parts of the canyon is interesting, with what seems to be relictual desert plants like Echinocereus rigidissimus, Ferocactus wislizenii, Cylindropuntia spinosior, etc., beginning to transition to more montane stuff. The Echinocereus coccineus-like plant in this area is Echinocereus santaritensis, a recently named form with perfect flowers, as opposed to the gynodioecious flowers of coccineus.

The Poetess had an obsessive eye for real estate, especially of the fantastically remote, getaway variety, especially including ramshackle fixer-uppers. I never used to think about houses until after I spent some time traveling with her. Now, it is just as much a way I size up any place I visit. I sometimes scare myself with essentially nihilistic fantasies of disappearing for good, buying some incredibly remote, tiny, off the grid place and just tossing it all. The impulse is romantic, and connected to my occasional death wish idle fantasies. It is a yearning for absolute and total hermitage, an isolating impulse very strong indeed. It grows stronger as I grow older. It has been suggested to me that it is perhaps a facet of the progressive disease of alcoholism, in its devouring and life-denying aspect. The same sort of yearning for oceanic oblivion that used to accompany drinking. This may very well be. A part of the fantasy is something like this too though: in such a situation, in such a place, I will finally love myself, because I will finally be able to meet myself, and in that encounter I'll be healed. I'll not want or need for anything. That exact same motion toward oblivion is also a desire for the union with the divine. To be insane with God at every moment in a tiny shack somewhere, a notepad and a drumset and not one goddamned thing else. Of course, this is all fantasy. But through these travels, over these nearly two years, I have edged closer to the purity of it. Each time out as far as I can go, wrapped in nothing but horizon. Catching thermals. But then: back to Tempe, to teaching, to AA. Glad for that too. At least, so far.

And the ironic thing about some of these oddball tiny houses: they are probably hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everyone has the same death wish and perhaps forms of the same dream. To just disappear. Then the escape property sits empty most of the year because it's just too damned lonely and hard to get to.

Echinocereus rigidissimus:

Mammillaria wrightii wolfii:

Some sort of fantastic bird or other. Most people visit Madera Canyon not for cactus hunting, but for bird watching.

A short distance away, in the flood plain, in the valley a few thousand feet lower, the relatively rare Coryphantha robustispina:

A view of the canyon from the desert floor, with a balletic Cylindropuntia spinosior.

The next leg: from Ruby Road to Ajo, with a side trip south of Sells to see Mammillaria mainiae.

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