Reach for the sky

My soaring nopal.

I’VE LONG been a desert fan and the cacti that come with it. There is something spiritual about a desert. The same can be said about rainforests, the desert’s alter ego.

When I lived in Houston, one of my favorite road trips took me west. You didn’t have to go far before the environment turned dry, and nopal cacti appeared naturally along the highways. In spring they sprouted red flowers.

Mexicans are fond of eating nopal. I don’t share this love. Nopal is too much like okra, turning slimy when cooked.

So I just admire the appearance, and I don’t have to drive west to see nopal. I need only to step into the yard where I have about the tallest nopal I’ve ever seen.

I shot the above photo with a zoom lens. That’s just the noggin of my nopal. It soars 18 feet into the air.

I measured, more or less.

It was just two of those paddles when I planted it at least a decade ago, having no idea what I was getting into.

My second ex-wife is something called a Master Gardener. You get that title from the County Extension Service after taking an amount of training on such things.

While I am the yard chief here at the Hacienda, she was the garden honcho where we lived together in Houston.

I often encouraged her to plant bougainvillea. She never did. Perhaps it was out of pure spite. I hope not. But she did the right thing. I see that now.

Bougainvilleas are beautiful. They also sport thorns that would fill the most vicious rosebush with envy.

Our bougainvillea likely tops out at 20 feet, and even more from left to right. It is held in place by steel chains. The plant never stops growing, both upward and outward.

I water the nopal because I don’t want it to fall down. I never water the bougainvillea because I want it to calm down.

Springtime is just getting started.

My soaring bougainvillea.



20 thoughts on “Reach for the sky

  1. The bougainvillea is absolutely beautiful right now. We have some around the house, causing color explosions wherever they creep. I love to drive through Guadalajara where the streets are covered with them.

    What is nice to see is the small flowers that cacti produce during the spring. From a somewhat ugly plant these tiny little pods of color spring out, just beautiful.

    What kind of a Southern Boy are you? Not liking Okra, pretty soon you are going to tell me you don’t like catfish and hush puppies.


    1. Tancho: I do not like watermelon either.

      I like okra when it’s breaded and deep-fried. That makes it nice. Otherwise, it’s just a slimy mess. I love catfish and hush puppies.


  2. Cacti and succulents are the coolest plants around. They are gruff-looking and spiny, as if saying “don’t come near me,” but then, when you least expect it, they explode with flowers that are as delicate in color and texture as orchids. We have a bunch of them in pots and tried to put some of them out in the land but they can be pretty sensitive to cold and wind, and a lot of them died. Winter deserts can be pretty bleak, but so is any landscape in the winter. There’s always spring.



  3. Cacti are underappreciated as an ornamental but needles are a problem. There are many nopales without needles except for the extremely fine ones that are so hard to remove if you accidentally get stuck. I like succulents. They have no needles but some do have very sharp points. I had a bunch of Spanish Daggers planted under ground floor windows in Belize as a safety guard.


  4. I like to live in places where I can eat good food. Now that I am in Merida, I can really eat well. This is a great place for food. San Cristobal de las Casas had a bad odor, and too much third worldness for me. The Zapatistas were interesting at first, then after a while, annoying. I wish I had bought a T-shirt with their design on it, though. I had to get out of there to escape the smell and could not bear to go back to buy the T-shirt. The bus to Merida from there lasts 16 hours, and we took it to save about $200 U.S. over flying. I believe children under 16 should be banned from public transportation. I bet if you rolled the diced nopals in flour, then dipped in a batter of beer and flour, then deep-fried them, you would like them — and okra. Anything deep-fried in beer batter is delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bonnie: Well, this may be one of the most fun comments to come down the pike in quite a spell.

      I’ve been in Mérida just once. Don’t expect I’ll ever return. There’s the heat, course. That alone would keep me at arm’s length. Plus right downtown was too touristy. When folks stand in store doors and try to lure me in, it’s too much like New Orleans and Puerto Vallarta for my taste.

      I wasn’t there long enough to form much of an opinion about the restaurants. There was one we returned to a number of times just down the street from our hotel, but I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, the street or the hotel. Oh, well.

      Never been in San Cristobal. Oaxaca either. Didn’t know that San Cristobal smells bad. As for the Zapatista T-shirt, I bet you can get one online. As for the Third World aspect, sure, the farther south in Mexico you go, the more primitive. Or so I’ve read. Never been down there.

      And there’s no way on Earth I would ride a bus through Mexico for 16 hours to save 200 bucks. I’m with you totally on banning critters under age 16 from public transportation. However, I would go further. I would ban them from setting foot outside their homes, anywhere.

      As for deep-fried nopal, that’s the only way I might like them. Breaded and deep-fried okra I do like. It’s the only way that okra is acceptable.

      Enjoy Mérida. I hope it smells up to your standards.


      1. In my experience, San Cristóbal de las Casas had rather nice, non-smelly air. I’m not sure what Bonnie is talking about. I spent a week there with nary a whiff of anything untoward.


        1. Kim: So we have one vote for smelly, one vote for not smelly. Clearly, I’ll have to head down there to break the tie. Don’t know when I’ll get around to it, however.


          1. Bonnie seems to have issues with San Cristóbal that may stem from multiple sources. I’ve discussed the place with many folks who have been there and she’s the only one who has made the “smelly” comment.


      1. I really want the shirt for my daughter, who teaches college in Illinois, so she can impress her friends. I wear those ethnic blouses you make fun of old American women for wearing. We wear them, btw, because they are cotton, cool and comfortable and most stores in the USA sell clothes made for J-Lo and nothing for women over 45. It is why they are all going out of business.

        San Cristobal de las Casas smelled like wet, rotting wood. It was cold, and every night we had to build a smokey fire with wet rotting, stinking, wood.

        We went there to take intensive Spanish lessons and got sick at the first group meal. Really sick. The best place in Chiapas is Sumidero Canyon, which was amazing, and the worst was Chamula, the nastiest town I have ever visited in Mexico There was a church there so demonic that the Catholics had abandoned it.

        We went inside and it was overwhelmingly dark and disgusting, the people drinking Coca Cola and burping their sins into a chicken. Then they sacrificed the chicken by twisting off its head in three turns at the altar. Then they drink posh — tequila-like drink — to renew their spirit. They had candles burning everywhere but it still smelled bad. Every once in a while I think I smell that smell again, and I am afraid it is me — that I was there long enough to absorb the smell.


        1. Bonnie: Just found this comment of yours in the spam file. Sorry about that.

          So you’re one of the ladies who don ethnic attire. I officially give you a pass. Carry on. But does your hubby have a ponytail? I hope not.

          Since your daughter is in the U.S., getting a Zapatista shirt to her from eBay will be simple. Go for it. All manner of styles are available.

          As for Chamula, that place is famous, especially the church, which indeed has been hijacked by local religious beliefs to a great degree. I probably would like it. So you’re not on board with burping your sins into a chicken?!


  5. Bougainvillea is kind of like Mexico itself: beautiful and dangerous if you’re not careful. And I suspect that the combination of beauty and spines is exactly why it’s so popular there, on perimeter walls and fences. Can’t be too careful with those ladrones.


    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where we’re wondering how you manged to write so many posts without it showing up in our RSS feed until now.


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