Driving south of Tucson my cluttered mind opened up to the bone-dry sky. The friable earth had swirled into the heavens and tinted them into a dusty azure that was surprisingly pleasant. Other than the earth's tiny particles, there was nothing up there but the sun and an old cargo plane that was circling overhead. My brain was emptying out with each mile south of civilization—swirling around with the dust and plane. But soon, the cargo plane got tired of its antics and landed. Then there was nothing.
The nothingness yielded to acres of spindly plants that looked like anemic cacti frozen in a frenetic dance. My eyes came back down to earth to take a closer look. The ocotillo, as they are called here, seemed of a lost civilization, artifacts of something ancient. The lot of them looked dry, burnt, and dead. Yet, I was told, they were very much alive. All they needed was some rain—a tiny bit of rain—and leaves burst forth from them.
It is that way in the desert. What seems lifeless is merely dormant. With just a bit of moisture the entire land explodes into fireworks of color. It happens right before your eyes. There is no feeling of aliveness quite like a summer thunderstorm in the great Southwest. Everything is gigantic. Yet these small bursts of color that are the best part of the show. The patient plants wait for these very moments and they do not disappoint.
I got up close to some ocotillo as soon as I could. I was intensely attracted to their crazy sculpture. It was as if the plants had long ago turned to stone. It would only take the next rain to free them again. And while a landscape full of these glorious plants was stunning, up close they revealed another kind of aesthetic. The spiky twists and contortions seemed perfectly matched to the dusty light of the late Arizona afternoon. Land, flora, and sky were finely tuned to this moment. Rain would bring forth its own kind of beauty but, for now, the dryness of the dormant ocotillo mirrored my sense of big desolation.
A touch of rain and life springs forth. I thought about that as I photographed the ocotillo. I wondered if the plants were happy in their current state. Can something so gnarly and dry be satisfied with its condition? I suppose those kinds of thoughts are unique to the restless mind of a human—a human who is too seduced by the instant stimuli of the contemporary world. The ocotillo are just fine being what they are. It is a lesson that I might well take to heart myself.