Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Finger Rock

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out til sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”  John Muir 1913

The city of Tucson sprawls on flatland that’s surrounded by individual ranges of mountains.  They poke up like islands floating on a desert sea.  Geologists say the mountains once rose higher and the desert was much lower; but erosion wore the rock away and placed it on the lowland, so today the reduced mountains appear to float.

High above Tucson to its north, a fist rises skyward, and on the fist, a finger points straight up.  A trail heads toward it, and today I walked a steep canyon for a closer look.

 Many saguaros line the way but far fewer than are shown in old pictures taken before 1940, and scientists used to wonder why.  They suspected it had to do with a cold snap in 1939 when the temperature remained below freezing for at least twenty-four hours, something saguaros die from.  Or maybe it was from some activity of people that conservationists insisted must change.  So they launched a study with lots of post-war money.

I find it a credit to the dignity of those researchers that they did not rubber-stamp the reasons handed to them for verification.  Instead, they concluded that the saguaros died for an entirely different reason, a reason that is now widely accepted and applicable to a host of similar situations.  While it is true that more than twenty hours of freezing temperature can kill a weak saguaro, it is also true that such a cold spell had not occurred for several decades prior to 1939.  The old pictures showed that most of the saguaros were in their old age and would have died anyway within a few years.  The cold simply culled the old and weak individuals in a natural event of weather.

We call them acts of God, these natural disasters, but they are not agents of death and destruction; rather they facilitate removal of the old and unwise, and make way for renewal and favor the more adapted individuals.  Cold, disease, earthquakes, hurricanes and other events remove weak individuals.  These events are part of a longer period of time than we humans can appreciate.
I live, unwisely, in earthquake country, where bridges are made strong.  We have strong medicine against cancer, and strong science to preserve the saguaros.  Our defenses are indeed strong; but time and nature win in the long run.  Geology teaches patience and inevitability; I love its theories.  But I think even geology is ready for upheaval.  It is like physics was before Einstien—ready for a better theory.  I will deal with this in a later post.

Few flowers bloom in the winter.  But it has been so unseasonably warm the last few days that I think the flowers are confused.


  1. Confused, the blooming flower back petals. :oP

    (I have no shame.)

  2. Hello dear Sharon, I love the way the saguaros look so knowing and so alive, yes almost human, or even wiser, they seem to move off alone and in groups leading the way... and the finger rock mimics their shape or maybe they are shaped to match... it's all very enticing and everyone pointing somewhere. It's quite a mixture of richness of saguaro and an emptiness I think, inspiring. More soon it has become late amidst our work here... so I am imagining that world at night ... all the hidden gesturing under the moon... a poets' meeting I think...more soon, love ~k~

  3. And why should you have shame, Steven, it's a poetic thought.

    Kathabela, the almost human saguaros inspired native Americans for thousands of years, and they do point and gesture, have babies and grow old.

  4. Sharon,
    You are a rock dancer, on slants of sun or on needles of sagauro, that hidden water, held closely under hooks and spikes, intricate shadow speckle netting--watch your fingertip--as you march up in arms with cactus armies, up floating sky islands. You always find at least two minds to see--yours and the shale of ocean bottoms and finger spires, seashell layers of ancient time and the brigth daylight. Thank you for taking our voyages to where we would also like to go. Russell Salamon

  5. Thank you, Russell, you too dance on rocks and avoid the needles. It's a waltz; give me a turn.

  6. susanrogers49@yahoo.comJanuary 7, 2012 at 12:03 AM

    love your comments and photos Sharon.
    also loved Russell's comments.