Smiling in Spring

Plains Prickly Pear ~ Opuntia macrorhiza
I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wildflowers
are blooming, and who goes,
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.
                                  ~  Wendell Berry


Comments always are welcome.

60 thoughts on “Smiling in Spring

    1. The first cactus flower of the year always seems to me like An Event. I’m wondering if this year’s flowers will be more abundant than usual; the freeze seems to have affected many plants that way, so it’s possible.

    1. Even though these plants are far from rare, I certainly smiled when I came across this flower. Depending on the light, they can glow beautifully; I don’t even hold their spines against them (or against me, for that matter!).

  1. With their bright yellow and orange (and sometimes also red), prickly pear flowers are among the happiest, which is to say they cause people to be happy. The season’s first glimpse of one along the road into our neighborhood last week had me out with my camera the next day doing what you did.

    1. I’ve still seen only one other plant blooming, but there are buds aplenty. I’m finally going to make it to the hill country, and if I’m lucky a certain enormous Opuntia engelmannii will be in bloom. If I’m even luckier, there will be some fresh nopalitos served up.

  2. Smiling, not of his own will. Let me know if you find him! I certainly am smiling at this prickly pear. I’m so glad something prickly has such a dazzling bloom.

    1. I suspect you’ve experienced that same sort of involuntary smile, Jeanie. It’s the sort that comes when we notice a child that’s fought to stay awake suddenly sleeping, or see the vulnerability of a trusting pet. It’s the absolute opposite of a forced smile, and if any flower was going to bring it, I think these would.

  3. Often featured at national and state park visitor center gardens, Linda. For good reason! A delicate beauty for one so prickly… Curt

    1. The obvious reason to plant it in such public places is that few people are going to be tempted to disturb it, let alone pick the flowers! I found this site while I was nosing around. You may have it, but it occurred to me that it might be useful for you, given the areas you’re roaming.

      1. Thanks, Linda. Peggy and I were heading for Big Bend National Park where we surely would have found them, assuming they were still blooming. But the heat wave engulfing Texas has led us to head north instead. Extensive heat and life on the road aren’t that compatible if they can be avoided. And we are free to wander where we will. :) I’m thinking next spring for Big Bend (plus side trips to see Peggy’s brother and hopefully catch up with you.)

  4. The first photo made me smile. I was grinning outright by the second image. Thank you for that. I’d just finished reading the news.

    1. It’s hard to resist the vibrancy of these flowers. I’m especially fond of the yellow and orange or red combinations that some produce. The blooms are short-lived, but they make up for that by their splashiness.

    1. Like Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry always has an interesting view of things, and some of his shortest poems are his most evocative. This combination of image and words pleased me, and I’m glad it pleased you, as well.

    1. This flower had its own complement of bees while I was admiring it. It’s hard to judge the mindset of a bee, but sometimes their happiness at being able to roll around in pollen is just so obvious.

    1. I often think of Chihuly when I see these flowers. I wondered if anyone else would mention him, and here you are! It’s easy to imagine this done in glass, with his special touch. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix currently has an exhibition of his work that runs well into June. What a sight that would be!

  5. Hard not to smile at such a pretty, cheerful flower! Funny how we think of cacti as prickly and nasty, when there are so many interesting varieties.

    1. For some reason, I tend to be fond of cacti, and sometimes have to stop myself before my impulse to ‘pet’ one overcomes me. Their flowers are gorgeous, and sometimes as responsive to rain as any rain lily. Just once, I happened to be driving across Nevada when the cactus were in bloom; it was an unforgettable sight, even though I don’t have a clue which species I was seeing.

    1. So few words in that little poem, and so much meaning. And, likewise: such a well-defended flower, but so much beauty. One of the delights of prickly pear is that even though the flowers are short-lived, each plant can produce multiple flowers in succession, providing a long bloom time, and lots of eye candy.

  6. It always strikes me as a little bit ironic that something as prickly and antisocial as a cactus has such lovely blooms.

    1. Well, prickly and antisocial might also be seen as well-protected and self-assured. Can’t you imagine one of these flowers saying, “Don’t you tell me how to bloom! I’ll be as flashy as I want.”

  7. Beautiful images. We smile in spite of ourselves sometimes, men, women and children. I was in a plant nursery on Monday, looking at some manuka plants in pots. They looked pretty so I put out my hand to touch the leaves to see if they were as soft as they looked. They were not. They were quite prickly. I couldn’t help laughing and said to the plant, “Oh, aren’t you the tricky one?”. Which probably would have sounded daft to an onlooker. But my words were not half as funny as the ones I heard next from another aisle. Two elegantly dressed elderly women were admiring , and chatting politely about, another pot plant. One of them picked up the plant and looked at the price on the pot. When she saw it she let out a very loud , F**** Me, followed by an equally loud, “Oops, so sorry.” It was all so incongruous that the three of us burst out laughing. I don’t think she bought the plant. And I didn’t buy the manuka. I settled for hebes. No one could see our smiles though. We are still wearing masks.

    1. It saddens me that mask mandates still exist. I’ll occasionally see someone wearing one in a grocery store or such, but for the most part we’ve moved on. In fact, the largest hospital in Houston discharged their last Covid patient a week or so ago; they may have admitted another since then, but I’ve not read about it.

      Certain agencies and bureaucracies appear to have a vested interest in maintaining control through fear-mongering (variants! surges! horrid possibilities!) but my local government has taken a reasonable position, advising people to evaluate their personal risks, and act accordingly. The approach seems to be working. In the past week, the number of new cases in my county was — four.

      Anyway: as people began dropping their masks, being able to see others’ smiles was often remarked. As a store clerk said to me one day, “Doesn’t it feel good to be able to smile again?” It does, and anything that evokes a smile is to be celebrated — especially unexpected comments from elderly women!

      1. Hopefully our Covid numbers will be as low as yours by the end of the year. New Zealand came late to the pandemic so we are just coming off peak Covid numbers now. Cases are still at about 8000 a day. ( Twenty deaths today ) With winter upon us, as well as the flu season, I expect mask mandates will be here for a while yet. Some people object to them but most people seem happy to comply. It will be nice to see smiles again but since mask mandates began ( not so very long ago for us) I have had a fine time watching the smiles and other emotions in people’s eyes.

  8. There’s a lot to be said for a person who does not feel the need to speak. Wish I was that man. I am content with enjoying wildflowers just as you are so there’s that. I was curious if Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver ever met and could not find the answer to that by Googling. I am sure they would have got along famously.
    The flower of your Plains Prickly Pear is gorgeous. I know I have told Steve this story but don’t think I have told you. Many years ago I grew quite a variety of cacti and among them were a few Opuntia species. One day a friend brought over another cactus aficionado who happened to be blind. I bet you know how easily some Opuntia spines stick in your skin. The blind man’s sense of touch was so well developed that when he ran his hands over the cactus not a spine stuck to him. It was amazing to see and hard to believe.

    1. I spent a little time exploring any possible Berry/Oliver link, and couldn’t find one: at least, not in terms of a personal meeting. Berry especially was so firmly embedded in his land that I suspect she would have had to travel to him, and I don’t think that happened. Still, their deep love for the natural world surely was a connection.

      That is amazing about your blind cactus lover. Could he avoid the glochids as well as the spines? I can do well enough around the spines — at least, most of the time — but those glochids are nearly impossible to avoid, and even harder to get out. I’ve found that an old nylon stocking does even better than duct tape. It’s an old trick among boat workers for getting fiberglass out of skin.

    1. And not only flowers! I found two pair of Northern Shovelers recently that made me laugh out loud. I’ll show them here in a bit — I have a feeling they’ll amuse you, too. Smiles and laughter are good for the soul, even in the midst of life’s complexities and troubles.

  9. I love that quote from Berry, and it was included in the Brown Wood Rail story for Birdwatching magazine. I had written that I smiled when the rail chased the butterfly and smiled at this and smiled at that — and then the scribbled note slipped from a book…. so appropriate for that moment.

    The yellow flower was a surprise – I expected a white one, but that would be the ‘Dama de la Noche’ aka Cereus.

    1. I’ve not checked, but I’m not sure we have native white cactus flowers. We may, but I know that I’ve never seen one, although I’ve found red, orange, yellow, pink, and green. Some people call the yucca a cactus, but that’s a misnomer. They do have beautiful creamy white blossoms, though — and they make a nice complement in a salad!

      1. si, we have an abundance of a different variant of the cereus – the dragon fruit, and to visit a friend’s ‘patch’ when the mass of the plants flower the same night – oh it’s magical! in my apartment i have one ‘pet’ cereus that thrives in the western-sun exposure, and about once a year it blooms. when that happens, i sit up all night and observe its subtle changes, sort of like a wake, but not – but one of intense awareness thru that all-night event. i’ve tried drawing it, but out of respect to the plant i don’t want to put bright lights in its face – and without good light, my drawings (and eyesight) are horrid. sometimes it’s just nice to sit and experience it.. and do nothing else!

    1. I didn’t know until I was posting this photo and reading about the various Opuntia species that there’s one (or maybe more) that’s native to California. There’s one that produces red flowers, as well. That would be a sight to see!

  10. I had to do some catching up, as I’d been out for a couple of days.

    Rain lilies and cactus blooms!

    My spineless prickly pear has not bloomed yet, though it’s several years old and seemingly thriving. I must be patient, I suppose.

    Now the little wild cactus a certain friend in TX sent me, when she sent the prickly pear – that little rascal has bloomed the last 3 or 4 years. Last year, it had three blooms!

    I had a night blooming cereus years ago and did that ‘sit up all night to watch it blossom’ thing. Lucky for me, it was a Saturday night and I could afford to do a bloom watch. It was well worth it; an amazing experience.

    1. You want rain lilies and cactus blooms? How about this? I found these on the Willow City loop in 2017. I’ve never seen such a combination since. At the time, it seemed passing strange to me, but I’ve since learned about the rain lilies’ willingness to pop up in the most unexpected places, not to mention unexpected conditions.

      I had a prickly pear that never bloomed. After a few years, I passed it on to a friend who has a yard, thinking it might prefer getting its feet out of a pot and into real dirt. No such luck. It still hasn’t bloomed. Maybe it’s just a really, really late bloomer!

      All this cactus talk has gotten me thinking about Godot and Godette again. I’m thinking that’s a story worth re-telling. Right now, I’m just trying to get my mind right for dealing with real summer heat in May. The cacti may like it, but I’m not so enthused.

      1. That’s some combination, isn’t it? Mother Nature is just chock full of surprises, isn’t she? lol

        1. She sure is. My biggest surprise this week was the quartet of mallards that showed up at my feeders. They’re really quite helpful; they’re noshing on the sprouted seed that falls, helping to keep the area under the feeders cleaned out.

  11. Words and images to make the day right!

    I just spent an exhausting research session on nailing down the Opuntia species we found a couple of weeks ago. Between several different states, botany sites and the USDA – I gave up.

    Suffice to say we found a fabulous splash of yellow in an otherwise brown field. After photographing the plant, I walked back to the road and discovered a dozen more pricklypear plants were about to bloom on the other side of the road! Hope they’re still there when I’m able to get out again.

    Thank you for the yellow and orange treat this morning!

    1. I got a little further into prickly pears than I’d meant to when I was trying to confirm my ID of this one. We have Opuntia engelmannii as well; I assumed at first that’s what this was. Then, after perusing this site, I settled on this species, which BONAP shows in my area. I try to be as accurate as possible, but sometimes Opuntia spp. is good enough!

  12. One of the flowers I very much miss from the time I lived in desert areas are prickly pear. They’re so beautiful, and for me very unexpected on a cactus until I got used to them.

    1. I was in cactus country on the weekend, and saw my very-first-ever pure orange prickly pear flowers, as well as a number of other cacti species. I really do enjoy the plants, even when they’re not flowering, but those flowers are spectacular. Which desert area did you live in? I’ve only once seen a desert in full bloom — in Nevada — but it was a sight I’ll never forget.

      1. We used to live in the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona. I was much younger and not quite as into photography back then (though I loved my various point and shoot cameras), but I remember loving that area. I don’t think I’ve seen a desert in full bloom, that would be quite a sight.

        1. Centuries of people have loved the blooming desert. It even shows up in the Bible, in the book of Isaiah: “The wilderness and the dry land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower.” What a great metaphor!

  13. When I was growing up we had a beach house and there was a large prickly pear on the corner of our lot. My mother would make prickly pear jelly every year.

    1. I have a friend who made that jelly — once! Since then, she’s stayed with agarita. She says it’s much easier to beat those bushes to get agarita berries than to prepare the tunas.

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