laura packardI move a lot.

            No biggie, really. I can handle it. So, can most of us . . . those in my family, that is.

            The only one who has a problem with it stands about two feet tall and is somewhat prickly even though said member lives the high life in a pretty cool, retro glazed ceramic pottery bowl with ambient lighting and nightly jazz sessions next to a Boze speaker via Spotify.

             This isn’t the first or last cactus I have had or will ever own. Yes, I have felt the sting from one – well, several – along the years. My first college cactus, Waldo, named after the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, thrived for a year or two off (to quote the B-52’s) the Atlanta Highway. Waldo was proud, carried a distinguished air about him even though he meant business in a “don’t touch me, I won’t touch you” kind of way. He was named after the American transcendentalist philoshopher who penned the essay “Self-Reliance” in 1841, after all.

            Self-growth, so to speak, was paramount for these two gentlemen.

            But then I moved him to a house on Rutherford near the baseball stadium at UGA my junior year. Maybe the move caused WAY too much self-actualization? We will never know, because as soon as I placed him on top of the mantle over the fireplace, he keeled over, slowly, but with the greatest of drama reserved for an understudy at the Sunday matinee, dropped to the floor and ceremoniously died.

            I should have learned right then and there, you never move a cactus anywhere.

            Still, despite a nomad’s blood for travel and the contrary need to collect and adore firmly planted things, I cannot help but love a good cactus, or even the bad kind. Always have, always will. Maybe it’s the stoic trajectory upwards then outwards without a single care . . . ‘cause there’s plenty of real estate to stretch your arms and your legs. Then, there is the occasional bloom that no one makes a huge deal about. A singular pop of color in a gradated sea of sunburnt sand. These succulents are just simply there. Always have been. It’s like . . . so what? What’s the big deal? I guess it goes back to my southernmost Texas roots, growing up in the desert watching the crazy tumbleweeds roll, cacti grow, oh so slowly but with great purpose, while all those gosh forsaken salty rattlesnakes hiss and mad coyotes cry. It’s the nature of the beast and the beast can, at times, be unusually and exquisitely beautiful.

            See, the desert . . . as where cacti grow, and landscapes go . . . is mystically beautiful, a vast soothsayer of sorts laid bare to shooting stars and otherworldliness, an oasis for what ails and heals you if you last long enough . . . but most of the time, to be honest, it’s a cold, calculating b&^tch.

            It was right outside my back door.          

            And it always scared me. A little.

            Or just enough.

            With one exception. There was this place called White Sands National Park in New Mexico. It was a hop, skip and a longish “are we there yet” drive from where we called home, El Paso. No tumbleweeds, poisonous snakes or living breathing plants. It was a pure, as far as the eyes could see, blank canvas of ultrabright crystalized sand.

            Think sheer white. Like blinding fresh powdered snow laid out before a glaring noon sun. I guess that’s why I liked it. For once, I could see nothing extraordinary or scary or particularly uncomfortable for miles. No surprises. Just endless bright, shiny uncluttered landscape shrouded among massive dunes made entirely of gypsum.

            A utopian bliss. Nothing overbearing and creepy crawling could live or grow there.

            Imagine. As a kid. Rolling, sledding, summersaulting, body surfing, climbing, exploring and nothing could get in your way or cause you harm. Especially because gypsum, unlike other types of sand, is water-soluble but without a chance of rain . . . it can be walked upon in the highest of heat with the barest of feet.

          But then you go back to the scary parts, the reality of the geographic situation, the hot earth that leads to eerily cold and hostile nights. The very reason no one lives there in the first place. Because during the month of June, this precious slice of glittery heaven can reach as hot as 111 degrees and as low as a frigid 2 degrees the very same night. It’s a place where rain, on average, only falls 2 days a year.

            It’s an adventurous, childlike wonder of a speck of earth to visit only if you have a well running car with a full tank of gas.

            I watch people garden and relentlessly attempt to adorn unsaturated dry soiled lawns with pelts of grass that are then watered and mowed to death. Maybe earth’s simple offering is just that? Don’t mess with mother nature . . . much like a cactus should not be contained in a planter atop an Ikea coffee table holding court with scattered magazines and faux scented candles wafting of orange blossom and pine.

            I am, of course, one of the guilty ones.

            I forget what we prop up and surround ourselves with are meant for the very reason we lay them out like a confessional on top of a designer table coffee book. Comfort in uncomfortable times.

            They make us feel safe.

            Only sometimes, more than not, we should welcome the bare.

            The soulful nakedness of un-sure-ed-ness. The deserts. Where truth grows like a tiny cactus seed under the vast openness of cold, pitch black skies.

           Blessed be:

            The journeymen. The trailblazers. The desert seekers . . . and the peacemakers who tweeze the thorns from those who are vulnerable and scared.

            And in the immortal words of my fellow Athenians, the B-52’s, “roam where you want to. Roam around the world.”

            We don’t need a coffee table tableau laid out in front of us to conjure a particular feeling of adventure and a life well-lived.

            All we have to do is hit the road. Or as Emerson still encourages to this day, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

            Well, with a well running car and a full tank of gas, of course.