Writer’s Block: Perennial Prickly Pear

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

“I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly. If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he’d say, that’s grass! A pink blur! That’s a rose garden!”

That quote has stuck with me since the moment I first read it some two decades ago. It’s an excerpt of dialogue said by a character in Ray Bradbury’s famous dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451. The character was that of a young girl, Clarisse, a quixotic 17-year-old who had a penchant for observation in a universe where observation and critical thought were all but outlawed.

And while possessing or reading books was illegal in that universe, the average person was nonetheless bombarded with a constant barrage of information. A relentless tide of visuals and audio consumed every waking and sleeping moment. Entertainment, news, music. Nonstop.

Sound familiar?

It’s not all that different from our own universe where we hold more information in the palms of our hands than the Library of Congress holds in all the books on its shelves.

In that frenetic world where distraction after distraction tore at the already fragmented attentions of the masses, Clarisse took the time to see individual roses in those blurs of pink. It’s a lesson I’ve since tried to incorporate in my own life — that taking the time to be observant, despite the pressure to rush along, is vitally important.

And so it was that earlier this week, as the blur of green which denotes the plants and thorn scrub that line Highway 100 flew past the windows of my car, I began to notice flashes of yellow, and peach and even pink.

The first of the season’s prickly pear blossoms have begun to bloom! They don’t bloom for long, but while they do the countryside is blanketed with the warm colors of a summer sunset.

Though there are dozens of varieties of prickly pear scattered across the Americas, even as far north as British Columbia, Canada, the kind native to our corner of the world most often produce blooms in cheery shades of lemony yellow. Sometimes you can find a plant that produces fiery orange blossoms the color of charcoal embers, or others with vibrant hues of pink so warm they’re practically red. Here along the coast one can find nopales that produce blossoms in gentle shades of peach. The pastel color serves as a perfect complement for the color palette of the Island aesthetic.

I love when the nopales begin to bloom. What begins with a pop of color here or there soon morphs into a riot across the landscape. And the stalwart plants remain remarkably still even in the stiff coastal breeze, making them excellent microcosms at which to view Mother Nature in action. More than once have I parked along the side of the road to take photographs of the flowers and enjoyed seeing honeybees busy at work gathering nectar and distributing pollen. Sometimes I’ll even find a large orb weaver spider sitting patiently at the center of a web she has deftly weaved between the flat pads of a cactus. I’m not necessarily fond of spiders, but orb weavers are singularly beautiful with their large, colorful abdomens and their long, gangly legs spread fore and aft to form giant Xs. As long as you’re mindful of where you step, they’re fairly docile and more than willing to let you capture a close-up of their silken handiwork.

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