It is spring and the desert is in glorious and exuberant bloom. Ocotillo, saguaro, prickly pear, roadside flowers, Palo Verde, Ironwood, indigenous and exotic. Pollen tinges everything pale yellow. Colors so vivid, bright, intense that I need sunglasses to look at the desert.
These are the Superstition Mountains, of the legendary Lost Dutchman, his gold and Apache warriors. This mountain range is the result volcanic explosions, sounds of which still rumble through the area. These sounds echo of geologic movement deep underground. Apache revere these mountains as the home of their Thunder God. I love that!
“Ocotillo and Cholla ‘Teddy Bear’ Cactus”
I’d never heard of Cholla called Teddy Bear cactus and I don’t think of them that way at all. I recall moving to Arizona and having friends introduce me to cactus varieties. For starters, SO MANY NEEDLES of so many different kinds!!
But Cholla – that’s a completely different story. I learned its name as Jumping Cholla, which as a child made me think a bit. Is there really a cactus that jumps?!!! No way!
While it doesn’t actually jump – a light brush with the cactus will find a portion of it attached to skin, clothes, backpacks and it is difficult to detach from. Animals are not immune – desert horseback riding as a child would inevitably wind up with some attached to my horse. If I named this cactus, it would be Sticky Cactus, because it is so hard to get every needle out from skin, and off clothes. It’s like nature’s Velcro on some kind of alien steroid.
Nevertheless, their blooms are spectacular. Desert livestock eat the cactus (OUCH!!), humans can eat the buds and the wood is the driftwood of the desert. Cactus wren make their home among cholla forests.
Ray writes, “Dear John & Sister All is O.K. We are all happy and doing well am building some houses & orange drink stand Pearl has a nice carpenter shop. love to all Ray write c/o write (Way Side Auto Court)” Addressed to J.N. Young of Olympia, Washington
The first thing that strikes me is the orange drink stands. I remember so many cold drinks, served at various Phoenix locations when I was a kid. Having come from Wisconsin, where oranges were exotic and special, citrus drinks of all kinds, available everywhere, I think it must have been life-changing to live in a place where orange drink stands were everywhere.
I am pondering Pearl and the carpenter shop. I always thought of Pearl as a female name. A little googling discovers that Pearl was one of the top 1,000 boy’s names from 1880 – 1939, so I shall assume that Pearl was a male friend and not Ray’s wife. I assume that since Ray wrote the card to John and Sister, if his wife/girlfriend was indeed, Pearl, he would have signed both their names. In any case, someone has a nice carpenter shop.
The card itself describes the “Teddy Bear Cholla” and its habits.
In my trek around the internet to write about this card, my favorite thing is the Thunder God of the Apache. While everything I read refers to actual thunder from the sky, I like the idea of the Earth rumblings below. I’ve never heard those rumblings when I was in the Superstitions, but my imagination takes me to a campsite, deep in a canyon, in the fall, with crisp, deep black skies and brilliant stars as rumbling echoes through the canyon. Do I think it is the Lost Dutchman’s ghost, or the Apache Thunder God, or the Apache warriors riding the wind? I don’t know, but I like the mystery and the stories.
Off to the next adventure into Arizona memories!