Tag Archives: cactus

Summer Dreams

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No more pencils, no more lame excuses for overdue books, no more kinder hugs

As usual, I left my final message of the year to the last possible second. Did this one Wednesday day and Thursday of last week (just uploading now because I was on a writing retreat) in about 6 hours. School ended for the year at 2:45 Thursday and I hung this thing up around 4 p.m. Miss Kitty showed up (with an art commission) and helped me get it up a bit faster. I knew I wanted something sort of cooling, so I went for a nighttime theme. The cactus depicted here is the night blooming cereus, also known as Queen of the Night. The flowers bloom one night a year (the blooms are sort of clustered, so you might have a cactus in bloom for a couple days, but each flower lasts only one night). They’re pretty stunning.

The lettering is an ersatz version of a brushstroke font called Wanderlust, which I have inelegantly reproduced here in metallic Sharpies. I hope it keeps the people who have to be there over the summer feeling cool, and I hope all their summer dreams are realized.

I have so many comic scripts written. With a little focus, I hope to get back to actually drawing and posting them again.

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Spring Is the Mischief in Me

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And then you have to read the next couple lines in the poem.

With the comic finally put to bed, 11 days late, I managed to get a seasonal bulletin board up; the image hadn’t been changed since mid-December and now it’s basically spring in Tucson, even though the weather has been unseasonably cold.

The quote is from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” which was first published 104 years ago, yet presciently questions the point of a meaningless wall.

The letter art for the word “spring” is all original, of course, although I did look at some animal alphabets for inspiration on the S and the G. The S is supposed to be a vermillion flycatcher, the P is a lemon bud, the R is a monarch butterfly, the I is a desert marigold, the N is a long-suffering saguaro, and the G is a gecko. The small block letter are just the easiest style to cut by hand, and the lettering of “mischief” is based on a Harry Potter inspired font called “Mischief Managed.” The other animals are a hummingbird, a jackrabbit, some kind of fish, and a gambrel’s quail. I feel like it needed more animals, but The Man wanted me at home and the school is closed until Monday (in Tucson we don’t celebrate President’s Day, but we get 2 days for Festival of Vaqueros: the rodeo).

Maybe I should go back Monday and give the rabbit some whiskers, and take a better picture. We’ll see. My massage therapist also suggested that I should let my creating hand rest a little bit.

Have a Sweet Summer

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Yeah, and, um…bee good, OK?

All week I believed I was going to make a bulletin board featuring a picture of a date palm, but somehow when I got to school, I made a bee on an opuntia flower. Admittedly, it’s not my absolute best work. The school ran out out of black paper and it was about 100° outside and I just wanted to finish because it was 5 pm everyone had gone home and I still had 3 more engagements for the evening. But it’s not a bad bee. Or a bad flower. Still, whenever I do anything, I immediately see how I could have done it better. But this is better than not doing it.

Anyway, school’s out on Thursday, both my district and the Kids’ district, and the pool water should hit 80° this week, so it’s as summer as it can get. Summer I, I should say, since, of course, we have 2 summers in southern Arizona. But I like them both. There’s nothing like a summer sunset in the desert, especially if you observe it from your own back yard, next to your own pool.

The Luscious Saguaro Flower

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Any feedback from professional photographers on how I could have captured this image even more clearly would be greatly appreciated.

This macro showcases the 24-hour saguaro flower. The flower usually appear in June, but what with all this wacky weather here on planet Earth, they’ve blossomed 2 months early. Saguaros, for the initiated, are those iconic Sonoran cacti, tall and long-armed, like a green army marching over the hills. They are only native to this small region of the planet, although they can thrive in other deserts. The buds are about 6 inches long, and appear on the end of mature arms, and on the very top of the cactus, in clusters of up to a few dozen.

Bats with long tongues pollinate these flowers, which have a delicate but delicious aroma. You can see how deep the flower goes here. Each flower blooms for a single day, but only some of the cluster bloom on any given day. When the flower shrivels, a red fruit remains, but I’ve never tried one. They are generally difficult to obtain, often 20 feet overhead, and the birds usually get at them first.

I’m sort of pleased with this image, which was the best out of a dozen, but it could still be better. Maybe if I’d had the tripod with me. I can never figure out how to line up macro shots of thing that have various levels of depth, particularly is the center is the bit that’s farther away from the camera. I’d like to go back to this particular cactus (it has a very low-hanging arm with a huge cluster and it’s very close to the road) and try to get a sharper image, but I’m not sure that I’ll have the time.

Prickly People Need Love, Too

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Slightly more enticing than the average guy wearing a “FREE HUGS” sign around his neck.

A couple years back, The Man took me to see some a friend perform standup comedy at a local club. One of other comedians doing a set that night was from out of town, and it might have been his first time in the desert. He tried out what was obviously a joke he had just thought of on his way into town, about the saguaro cacti and how they held their arms with a pugilistic attitude, making them all look like they wanted to fight.

He didn’t get any laughs with that joke, and I think it was because it was too easy, and it didn’t go far enough. Those of us who live here know that they don’t all look like they want to fight. Some of them do, but some of them look like they want to shake hands, reach something off a high shelf, or push people away, or hold them tenderly. A lot of them look like they want to hold you tenderly.

A lot of them look like they’re really proud to have sprouted arms that resemble genitalia, and then want to show those appendages off to you.

The point is, saguaros all have a lot of personality, in a way that can’t be said for every type of plant. They’re distinguishable, and while there are some with a particularly classic shape, no 2 are alike, and they’re easy to anthropomorphize.

Hard to hug, though.

Not impossible. But difficult.

Summertime and the Cuttin’ is Easy Bulletin Board

Summer sunset bulletin board

Summer sunset bulletin board

It’s the last week of school for Arizona kids, at least the ones attending TUSD and Amphi, and I put together this dazzling summer sunset bulletin board to send them off (and for the summer staff and camp kids to enjoy). Up until about 90 seconds before I started making it, I had no idea what I was going to do.

This one took 2 days; the first day I just put up the background. There was nobody else around and I had a couple hours, so I thought I’d attempt a rainbow sunset. If I were to do this again, I think I might try to cut all the layers of paper at the same time. It felt a bit lopsided to me. For whatever reason, the school doesn’t stock purple butcher paper, so I had to tape a few pieces of construction paper together to do that layer, and it was harder to work with.

Day 1: just the sky, mountains, and sun

Day 1: just the sky, mountains, and sun

The next day I sketched out the cactus and the birds on black paper and cut it all out as a single piece, mostly using scissors, but getting the scalpel in there for some of the fiddly bits. I used my wedding invitations as a reference. A designer put the image together for me from a few pictures; this was before I knew Photoshop, or I probably would have done it myself and been even more impressed with the result, but we were pretty happy to get invitations that more or less looked the way we wanted.

Detail from our wedding invitations.

Detail from our wedding invitations.

The next day I sketched out the cactus and the birds on black paper and cut it all out as a single piece, mostly using scissors, but getting the scalpel in there for some of the fiddly bits.

I used my wedding invitations as a reference. A designer put the image together for me from a few pictures; this was before I knew Photoshop, or I probably would have done it myself and been even more impressed with the result, but we were pretty happy to get invitations that more or less looked the way we wanted.

Anyway, the silhouette was simple to draw; the hardest part was actually making out the pencil marks on black paper so I could accurately see what I was cutting. It all came out nicely and actually took a lot less time than many of the less complex bulletin boards take, about 4 hours max, although part of that is because there isn’t any text on this one. As per usual when the bulletin board is cactus themed, I used a lot of staples for spines, and also to keep the thing in place. It needs to be extra durable to last through the monsoon.

The silhouette.

The silhouette.

Last I did the stars, which would have been a lot easier had the principal not kicked me out of the library so she could hold an interview there, because it was super windy in the breezeway and I spend half my time chasing bits of paper around, but in the end it seems to have worked out pretty well.

The Past is Pointy and So Is This Mandala

Mistakes were made.

Mistakes were made.

Without notes, it’s hard to remember some of the details, but I have a pretty good idea that this mandala is about ill-advised relationships, about feeling tied (or in this case, sewn to) to a person who is emotionally dangerous to you. Sometimes things can feel good or right in the moment, but all the while they’re slicing you up and leaving scars. Sometimes, those are the hardest relationships to get away from.

Speaking of things that slice you up and leave scars, the detail I was too tired to write about yesterday concerned thorns. In my hands.

As many readers know, I live in the desert, where much of the local flora is extremely pointy. Even the trees can be insanely dangerous. Before we bought our house, The Man and I lived on a property where the mesquite trees had 4-inch thorns. I’m not even exaggerating. Every person who ever lived there had, at least once, the experience of going outside wearing shoes and accidentally stepping on a thorn so long that it penetrated the sole and pierced deep into their foot.

We have a mesquite tree here, but it’s not quite as dangerous, and it’s at the very back of the property, where its calculated unruliness helps stem the flow of traffic from the utility easement into our yard. We also have a palo verde tree that is very close to the house. Probably, it should be removed, but I’m sort of fond it it, even though it’s considered a weed tree. They grow so fast that this one has begun to take over our roof.

Palo verdes are also thorny, and while the thorns are much smaller, to my mind, the small ones are much more insidious. This did not deter me; once up there, I could see that the tree was compromising the roof. There was a 3-inch mat of the needle-like leaves, which were trapping water and causing the insulating foam to decay. It took me 4 hours, spread out over 2 days, to clear them off and cut back as much of this tree as I could reach, and I was so intent on the job that I didn’t even notice my hand filling up with little tiny thorns.

My right (dominant) hand took the brunt of it, with the first knuckle of my index finger being severely compromised with three piercings. I could barely straighten it for 2 days, and the first knuckle of the left index finger also had one thorn stuck in it, which made simple tasks like putting on pants pretty painful. The Man dug around in my flesh with a needle to the best of his ability, but the thorns were too small, too deep. They’ll just have to work themselves out on their own.

So that’s what I was contending with last night. The pain is greatly receded today.

A few years back, The Man and I were trimming a date palm out front. Most people don’t realize that palm fronds can be incredibly sharp. Both of us took a pointy piece of frond deep into the hand, so far in that there was no extracting those pernicious little slivers. Six weeks later, within 24 hours of each other, we both were surprised to find our bodies expelling tiny, woody spear tips that we had forgotten were inside of us. So I expect that sometime around the end of March, I will be reminded of this experience on a strange day when my hands eject a dozen tiny minuscule palo verde thorns.