The Giant Saguaro
I recently visited Tucson, AZ, the home of the Giant Saguaro. (I found this photo by “glennia” but haven’t learned to place the credit correctly. sorry).
These awesome cacti led me to have the following conversation.
HG: You are quite an impressive specimen GS. I can call you that, GS, mightn’t I?
GS: Of course. As long as you don’t forget what it stands for. At almost 40 feet I am indeed a Giant saguaro. While the tallest on record is 59 feet, an average mature height is closer to 25. You don’t get to be as tall as I am until you are over 100 years old!
HG: Actually aging is part of what I’d like to talk to you about. I’m struggling around how to lead a meaningful life now that my primary career is over and the children are grown. I mean I play tennis, and visit grandchildren, and do volunteer work. I’ll visit new places and deepen friendships, but . . .
GS: Is this interview for you to talk or me?
HG: Sorry. So, tell me a little about yourself, GS.
GS: What do you want to know about my aging process? We saguaros don’t focus on age, as such. We focus on blooming! and sprouting! Age really has little to do with it.
HG: I don’t understand. At almost 62 years of age, I feel like my halcyon days may be behind me. Like, “the bloom is off the rose” and all that. I can’t imagine being 100. I would feel so — dried up.
GS: Since we are native to the desert, if anyone is going to be dried up it is a saguaro. But while we are still standing, we are most definitely not concerned about that inevitability. I didn’t produce a bloom until I was 70 years old, and the timing depended on nutrition, not age. Am I absorbing enough rainfall to grow? Then I’ll bloom. It actually takes very little water. A little bit of rain goes a long way. I produce flowers for months on end. And 4000 seeds can be spread around my territory from those blooms.
For most saguaros, the first bloom occurs between the 40th and 75th year. I wasn’t too injured by storms and didn’t suffer from lengthy droughts, just your everyday desert existence. I absorbed adequate rainfall. When I grew tall enough, about eight feet, I produced a gorgeous bloom.
So let me ask you, at a mere “almost 62” are you taking in enough sustenance? Are you continuing to grow? Are you blooming? Or are you letting old injuries or storm damage put you on a course of decline?
HG: Wait a minute. We did establish that this interview was about you, not me. So in addition to blooms, you talked about sprouting arms. How old were you when that happened?
GS: There you go focusing on age again. Okay, I sprouted my first arms when I was 75. Many saguaros are older than that before they branch out. They are just one single stalk like most of my brothers and sisters out here in the Sonoran Desert. It is about resources — rain. Not age, but about how I use what I receive.
HG: Don you have any fears about getting old?
GS: Someday a flood may uproot me, or a strong wind knock me over. But, until that happens I’m going to continue to grow. I’m going to continue to bloom. I’m going to continue to spread these thousands of seeds. Why would I focus on age? Look around. The desert is beautiful. And I get to live here. I love being a Giant Saguaro!
HG: Thank you, GS. thank you.
Coyote Medicine: lessons from Native American healing by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, p. 269-270
“Within the desert, time slows. Thirty years pass and a saguaro tree is still a short, stubby pup. Seventy years pass before it grows arms. The sacred beings remain accessible in the desert stillness, listening for our prayers, waiting to answer them. They have been driven from the cities by our cruelty, by our disregard for sacred spirits. We must leave civilization behind if we wish to commune with them. “