May 10, 2003

The Cactus

Back in the late 70s, my father would take us out to Corral de Tierra (near Salinas, off of Highway 68) to go for a long bike ride up Corral de Tierra Road. My memory is of the bike ride ending with us riding up and up and up and up a long winding road, and then zoooooming back down. Up close to the top after a long switchback, we encountered a huge prickly pear cactus by the side of the road. I already liked cacti, and this one was awe-inspiring in its size. I hadn't known that cacti like this existed. I picked prickly pears from it - and the first time I did so got lots of hairlike needles in my hands, probably what I was recollecting in a recent dream (on later trips I brought gloves).

I grew cacti from the prickly pear seeds. Unfortunately I no longer have any of the cacti, though my father might - I gave him a few of them. I still have some seeds in a film container labelled 1980. I'm not sure whether that's when I gathered them or when I put them in the container, but it's representative of the last time I visited the cactus. I should try sprouting them.

I also plucked a small leaf from the cactus on one trip and planted it. It survived various bad experiences over the years. Once I blew the roof off of my workshop while it was on top, along with a terrarium of other assorted cacti. I remember vividly standing outside and watching the terrarium and prickly pear rise up along with the workshop's fiberglas roof, and then continue in a perfect parabola through the air even as the roof flapped back down from whence it came. They both landed in front of the workshop on a slab of rock and shattered, the prickly pear sitting there upright atop its truncated cone of dirt, shorn of pot but otherwise unscathed. In fact, it came out ahead, as I used that opportunity to replant it in a larger pot, this one an oblate spheriod. In this it sat outside my bedroom window for many years getting little sun or attention other than an occasional watering from my father. It sprouted a few more leaves.

When I moved into the Armory and had yard-space to play with, I brought it up from Pacific Grove. Sometime while Ford lived here, I decided that it was once again too large for its container and he and I repotted it. I think Ford got a few cactus needles in him in the process. Since the container it was in closed in at the top, I was unable to remove the cactus from the intact pot. I set the cactus on a stool or something and then broke the pot with a hammer. This time I put it in a large cylindrical wooden planter, a bit smaller than a half barrel, which it resides in to this day.

Today Matthew and Mike and I went out that way to install a repeater on Mt. Toro. We drove up San Benacio Road, passed over the top of a hill, and started down the other side. Down a switchback. And there, off on the right, a cactus. A big, rambling prickly pear, ranging down the hill from the edge of the road. It was bigger and ramblier and the memory was decades distant, but there could be no question: it was The Cactus. I had no idea we were on that same road that I had biked up ages ago, so the sudden familiarity was quite startling, almost disorienting.

On the way back, I stopped to visit it. The recollections it evoked were palpable. The long ride up. The break at The Cactus. The ride back down. The Cactus is doing well. It looks like it'll be there for a long time to come. I imagine I'll be back… perhaps before another quarter century passes.