“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust
Saguaro National Park and the Sonoran landscape called to me on a spectacular 70-degree, blue-sky day, and I took off alone on a relatively flat hike.
A sandy trail led through acres of cacti, featuring 200-year old Saguaros, multiple arms akimbo, and some newer ones just beginning to sprout arms at age 50. The Saguaro resembles a curiously tall, lean green person with remarkable limbs, like one of those tall, dancing inflatable tubular characters that car dealers use to beckon customers.
Throughout the hike, once I got past grinning at the inappropriate anatomical curiosities of the initial Saguaros—Elephant-sized penis! Three boobs! Penis hanging low!—all I saw were different versions of myself reflected in those wise old beings.
Many of the Saguaros’ arms grow outward and upward toward the sun. With two or more arms raised to the sky, many of them look like they are celebrating something. “Woo hoo,” they shouted as I walked past.
One of these reflections of me had ancient arms over four feet long on either side with a little bend at each end fully stretched and extended, like my hug that reaches out as far as possible to demonstrate to my four-year-old granddaughter just how much I love her.
Then, there were two Saguaros that were close enough to touch each other with arms in a seemingly perfect waltz-hold, holding back a laugh, dancing like they knew each other’s rhythm by heart. In this, I saw myself and my sister, happy to be together when we can be.
The cacti aren’t just a representation of the joyous parts of myself. Memories come back hard.
Two saguaros might be sneaking off together—far from the trail, hunching close, sharing secrets, unobserved by travelers-by.
Oh, how we coach ourselves that there is nothing untoward going on. It’s just our own problem with fear and jealousy, not that his leaving our bed to go help a friend-who’s-a-woman when the phone rings at midnight is a problem.
“Grow up Ellen, they are just friends!”
But on the day I came home to find so many footprints, that changed.
Were those carpet angels or people rolling around?
On the sand-colored carpeting, that morning’s vacuum lines gave away shameless sofa activity. I knew then what my imagination was telling me—those sandy prints left an adulterous trail.
A Saguaro stood slightly bent, holding herself tight, another with her arms seemingly flailing as her body buckled, begging and broken. One was reaching her arms in desperate hope, offering all of herself. I have been those things, felt all that with my second husband, whom I lied to myself was the right one for me. Sitting alone on my closet floor, with the new carpet still smelling and pilling from its newness as we were improving the home we had chosen together. Me, crying to the point of wailing, begging to be loved and understood, and not understanding why he would withhold his love from me.
There are groups of Saguaros that look like family, arms intertwined and the shorter cacti forcing their way in. In my third marriage, I am a stepmother of two, but when the boys were younger, I often felt like I was the one forcing my way in. Now, with the blessing of time, and a loving granddaughter, I am practically bursting with my own importance in this family.
These cacti seem to know.
Sometimes two Saguaros grow so close over their lives together that they seem to cling, hugging reliantly on each other, as they still sprout new arms in multiple directions to persistently demonstrate their independence. Here’s one that appears truly solitary, strong, standing firm like a chieftess—confident, clearly with good boundaries.
Solid spine, a little prickly sometimes, occasionally unbalanced? Yes, that’s also me.
I had lied to myself throughout those first relationships.
“I am happy.” “Walking on eggshells is a fine way to live.” “Your mental health is more important than mine.”
No more lies are allowed while I am in conversation with myself. This chieftess prefers truth-telling.
It makes sense that others will treat me as I treat myself. Betrayal by others follows self-betrayal.
I am so thankful to finally be honest with myself and to invite the same from others. This discovery, these new eyes, have served me well.
It took a new landscape to revisit the voyage that got me here, and I am grateful for every prickle along the way.
Now, I raise my arms to rejoice—to be known as I truly am and to be loved anyway.
That is my Saguaro story.