The Sonoran Desert is ruthless. Every plant, every rock, every bug, everything is out to get me. Jumping Cholla and Teddy Bear Cholla literally leap through the air to attach themselves to me as I walk by. Ocotilla stand tall and patient with inch-long-spines hidden in soft furry leaves. Prickly Pear carpet the ground ready attack while I paranoidly stare skywards watching out for 15-foot-tall angry Saguaro.
The 105 degree September heat steals my sweat and energy. A three-hour hike and I’ve downed almost two gallons of water. Rocks shift while I scramble around a thorny Ocotilla branch and I sprain my ankle.
As I crouch to set up a couple shots I am mauled on the knee by the ridiculously named Teddy Bear Cholla. A less cuddly plant I have never seen. The “pups” are engineered to detach with the slightest touch. It’s spines are reverse scaled so they slide easily into flesh then expand and form barbs that thwart removal.
The “Teddy Bear pup” stretches my skin as I pull it out. It releases my knee only to impale my fingers. I pull it with my other hand and it too is comically captured. The more I work, the deeper the Teddy Bear bites.
Eventually, I have to rip my hands apart, screaming all the way. This solves the problem of one of the hands, but it has now dug under my fingernails on the first. Tears coat my eyes.
A lens cap finally comes to my rescue enabling me to pull it out without touching it.
The irony is that they are one of the most beautiful of cacti in their shape and how they hold light. So rather than avoid them, I must get closer.
Around six p.m. the temp drops from 105 to 95, which should be good, but it just allows the mesquites and no-see-ems to hunt.
The whole scenario is a lose-lose. Afraid of the tall cacti, I am open to attack from bellow and visa-versa. Afraid of the bugs, I can wear long sleeves, but then the heat kills. To avoid all things that stab I can stay still, but then I’m a bug feast. I become demented in my insecurity.
I frame a shot, the light explodes, everything goes great, but I am too defeated to be excited.
After sunset, things just get worse. Of course I want to shoot a night shoot, so now I have to negotiate this wonderland of misery in the dark.
More Teddy Bears, more Prickly Pears, and more bugs.
Adding insult to injury I pick a shot that requires I lay on the ground, in a circle of discarded Cholla pups. With the adrenaline of setting up, I don’t notice three groping my leg.
I make the shot [a 30s exposure double light painted with a 5500 degree CT light and then the same light with a red filter] and drag ass back to my truck.
A friend of mine, we’ll call him Saguaro, in Fountain Hills, a suburb of Phoenix, wants to grab a few drinks, so in my exhausted and bleeding state, I go.
It is karaoke night at the bowling alley. We wish for earplugs. A 250 lb heifer hits on Sauargo while her drunken Indian boyfriend spits on the counter through a grin missing three teeth.
We laugh and are polite until things go wrong.
“Did you fart?” Saguaro asks me.
“Nope, but I smell it.”
“It was me! Ya like it?!” yells the Heifer.
Saguaro shoots me a look like just drank some ones dip spit.
Splash, goes the Indian’s full pitcher of beer, all over the bar. The bartender just throws him a rag.
“My boy friend is crazy!” announces the Heifer.
“Really?” Saguaro asks looking shocked.
“We were at a party a few months ago and some one said he just acted crazy to get attention,” bragged the Heifer. “My boyfriend showed him! He pulled out his own tooth with pliers right then and there!”
Shock and horror descend like a person who would pull out their own tooth.
“He wasn’t done! He pulled out another, then another and threw ‘em at the other guy!”
The night went downhill from there.
‘Nuff said about this trip.
[Disclaimer: Events in this story may or may not have happened in the way depicted.]