Monday, June 13, 2011

So Tall Sotol

The desert is lusty with heat and flowers. After a couple months of daily measurable growth, the sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) in our neighbor's yard is finally blooming. The fifteen foot tall stalk rises from a rosette of sawtooth edged leaves, luring swarms of honeybees (Apis mellifera) and tiny colletid bees (Hylaeus spp.) that come to gather pollen. I've watched the astonishing growth of sotol stalks for nearly a decade, but did not realize until recently that they are dioecious, meaning that there are botanical equivalents of male and female plants.

Male plants bear only pollen-producing flowers. The sheer magnitude of the stalk and all of that pollen production makes me blush. We spent an hour filming and recording audio of this event the other morning, while watching with rapt attention through binoculars. The best entertainment is often just out our front door!

Females bear thousands of seed-producing flowers (below). Although the bees harvest prodigious amounts of pollen, they do nothing for fertilizing the female flowers because there is no nectar to attract them. The females depend on wind to deliver pollen for fertilization.

The seed and pollen producing catkins look very different side by side. From a distance, you can tell the two types of stalks from one another simply by noticing the presence or absence of insect activity.

Prior to blooming, the catkins emerge from the protective covering of a sheath, waiting for the proper environmental signals, probably a certain minimum temperature, before bursting forth in an orgiastic frenzy.

Meanwhile, in our backyard, a 20 foot tall yucca stalk flowers by the light of a full moon.
What's a woman to do?!?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Breaking the Silence

It's been awhile since I've written here. My last post was conceived a few months ago in the natural quiet beneath a palo verde tree. Since then, being outside in the brilliant Sonoran spring has taken priority to sitting down to write in this forum. But now it is hot again, so there is less incentive for me to hike, and perhaps more time to write. Summer in Phoenix is the equivalent to bitter winter in northern climates, where people hunker indoors to protect themselves from harsh weather.

Quiet is still on my mind. I just returned from a writing workshop in Santa Fe, where the photo above was taken. Silouhettes cast on canvas walls of a warehouse in the plaza caught my attention, an unplanned work of art among a feast of galleries. There was no author that I know of but Nature. Here, Nature includes a human element, whomever formed the wrought iron fence and hung the canvas. There is no price tag for this work (although I'm willing to sell the photo, of course!).

Breaking the silence comes on the heals too, of conversation with my friend Claudette, who had recently returned from a six day silent meditation retreat in northern New Mexico. Less than 24 hours after she came home, we visited in her kitchen in Santa Fe. She, her husband Charles and I chattered for four hours; we had a lot of catching up to do after over a year apart. Words flowed along with laughter as we shared soup and bread.

Two days later, when I had a few hours to myself, I found myself yearning for more silence. The week had been filled with words: reading, writing, talking, listening to lectures. In the hills above Santa Fe, I sat by a creek and let all those words go. Just bird song and running water and wind in the pines. Natural quiet.

That is when I composed an essay, not the one above, but this one below: a 200 word message of silence:

May Peace be with you.