In this morning’s early light, I wake from a dream scattered with jewels. It melds with yesterday’s visit to Mary’s garden, where the chard grew four feet tall in emerald greens. The roselle buds shone, multi-faceted, in ruby reds.
There I saw farmers making trades. A glass jar of fresh cow’s milk (“if you look you’ll see the cream is golden”) in exchange for Roma tomato starts. It was there among the treasures of the earth where I caressed the surface of the cactus.
Mary gave a tour to the Bohemian and I, our hands spilling over with riches. Bouquets of arugulla, handfuls of tarragon and an armload of Tahitian limes. In the corner garden, where Mary grows her comfort foods of basil and eggplant, cacti guard the fence line, reaching heights double my size. We talk about their rapid rate of growth.
“Oh, come here. You guys will love this,” she says, as Mary walks to the end of the cacti row and bends down to sit with one of the pale green succulents.
She holds a rounded disk of cactus flesh between her hands, softly rubbing it with care.
“This is the Luther Burbank cactus, named after a man named from California. He wanted to grow a cactus that didn’t have any spines.”
True, the cactus before us shows the scattered marks from where typical needle spines would grow, but they are empty, the surface smooth.
“So the story goes that Luther would sit with the cactus as it was growing and talk to it and tell it, ‘You don’t need to grow any spines. You’re safe here. There’s nothing to guard against.'”
Mary’s fingers, graced with red dirt, trace the outline of the Luther Burbank, her voice repeating his mantra with sweetness.
“And you see, this cactus ended up growing without any spikes. It is the spineless cactus.”
Six hands extend to cactus skin, our fingers freely scanning its soft surface. We each are smiling, enjoying the delight of being able to be this close. To cross the cacti line of defense, no danger of injury.
And so it is now, in this pre-dawn light, that I have rolled out of bed, away from the warm side of the Bohemian.
A naked cactus and the thesaurus are calling me.
With quiet footsteps I prepare my morning coffee. Light the sandalwood incense and come to my familiar writing chair.
I find the many adjectives that describe the state of being spineless: weak-kneed, faint-hearted, namby-pamby, lily-livered, chicken-hearted, yellow-bellied, wimpy, sissy, gutless.
Yes, I know them all and I’ve flared my spiny protection in response to all the fear.
So now, in the purple, grey light that comes through the windows, my computer screen illumines me in full exposure. For the first time in 300 some odd posts to the Archives, there is a man in my bed as I write.
This is private, but I’m telling you.
Telling you in praise of the spineless cactus. Luther Burbank speaks low with love.
There is beauty in vulnerability. Soft can be strong.
That maybe, really, truly, there is nothing to guard against.
That even a cactus can be cuddled.