Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Who says humans are the most special organisms in the world? Oh, that's right, we do. We claim to have souls. If that isn't an ego-centric conceit, then what is?


Up on the Mogollon Rim, I stood in a field staring at the elegant inflorescence of a Parry's agave. No-see-ums were biting my bare legs and there was nothing much I could do about it.

Agaves are sometimes referred to as "century plants", although no self-respecting naturalist would use that term. Agaves never live for one hundred years. At most they live for approximately thirty years. But I guess calling them "quarter-century plants" is too much of a mouthful for the tourists.

So, for a couple of decades or more, agaves are just rounded clusters of stiff spiked leaves that rise out of the grass like daggers. Most of the agaves in the United States are small to mid-sized, rarely getting over three feet high. But in Mexico, agaves can be taller than a human. This plant produces flowers only once and then it dies. In the last year of its life it grows a huge stalk that can be over twenty feet tall. The stalk is covered in clusters of flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds. This plant puts so much of its energy into producing this tall stalk that the plant body itself begins to wither. The photographs above show the blossoming stalk (over 12' high) and the dying leaf base. The color in these spent leaves was gorgeous. Next year this particular plant will be only a dry tilting husk, but there are young agave "pups" pushing their way up through the soil to replace it.

Tequila is made from one species of agave. Mescal is the libation made from the other agaves. Also, sisal rope that you can buy at any hardware store is also made from this plant. And, if you go to the local health-food store, you can find agave nectar for sale in the honey section. It's a superior sweetener to honey or sugar, in this writer's humble opinion. (I won't even go into how pit-roasted agave was a staple food for the local native people.)


And I was thinking about how we really don't have much control over our lives. And how we are desperate, but not desperate enough. And how those no-see-ums are incredibly aggressive. I counted over 30 welts on my legs, but somehow I didn't care.

We are lucky, I suppose, if we can manage even one glorious bloom in our fleeting lives.

From the field, I crossed an empty highway to get back to the car. I momentarily crouched down in the road and watched the yellow stripes pinch off in the distance. I'm going there one day.

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