Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ocotillo Rhythms

Ocotillos live according to their own rhythms. The tiny leaves emerge and drop according to the rainfall instead of as a seasonal change in light. When I first arrived here in Tucson their branches were bare and cruel looking with inch long thorns radiating up their entire length. But then the spring rains came. What once looked dead burst forth in green, the ends topped in flaming candles of orange. The cruel thorns were now hidden beneath a lush growth of leaves. Across the desert giant ocotillo bouquets dotted the landscape. Then the rhythm changed.

Like the beating of a heart or a wave upon the shore the desert dances to ocotillo rhythms. The rains dry up and the heat intensifies. Caliche mud bakes in the scorching sunlight. Saguaros shrink in diameter as the plants use up water stored in their accordion pleated trunks. The mouse-ear leaves of the ocotillo fall to the earth exposing naked branches to the sky. As gray thorns claw skies of blue the desert moves into dry summer until the seasonal shift in wind that marks the beginning of monsoon.

Monsoon storms pound down in fury on the desert. Dry soil drinks the precious liquid up until it runs in streams and raging rivers down formally dry washes. With monsoon rains saguaros bloat, insects flourish, grasses sprout and ocotillos burst into verdant dress again.

Autumn has arrived in the desert. The grasses that greened up with the monsoon have now turned to a buffy brown. While the mesquite is still green, the ocotillos have turned golden. They drop their tiny leaves like golden coins upon the ground. Once again their stems rise bare and gray against the azure sky.

What will a winter ocotillo look like?
Will it scrape the sky with barren branches once again?
Will snow fall and soften their spiky silhouettes?
Will there be winter leaves on ocotillos?
I will have to wait to see
what ocotillo rhythms mean to me.

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