Decades before Edward Abbey worked a summer job at Arches National Monument, William Boyce Thompson was falling in love with the Arizona desert landscape and planning an arboretum.
Visiting the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, I hoped to be engulfed in the scent of fragrant plants but even the roses I sniffed up-close seemed dry and distant. Was February too early or too late for the desert bloom cycles? Were my expectations too high or was I comparing every floral fragrance to the flamboyantly aromatic Rugosa roses in Alaska where just walking past a rose bush you would be enveloped in a thrilling cloud of rose attar.
But often we find scents by touch, picking a sprig of mint or thyme and rubbing it between our fingers to release the fragrance, perhaps testing our memory of the plant, or riding the flow of recollections that come with the breath that affirms what we already know. Wherever plants have spines, though, whether Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus), or Sonoran Desert cacti or tall prickly ocotillo, touching the spiny plant is a poor idea.
The poetry is in how time changes everything, even at the slow pace a cactus grows. For seventy years, a Saguaro prepares to sprout one side-branch.