Friday, March 02, 2007

On Cacti

As we drove across NM and AZ, we tried to school ourselves on - and solidify what we already knew about - cacti. (Cactuses is also an accepted pluralization.) They are amazing plants. The prickly pear group has many varieties but I see the flat, oval, or cows' tongue shaped "leaves" for sale in the produce section of the supermarket. A Mexican Mennonite family in Manitoba Colony uses the juice of this cactus - along with cabbage juice and garlic - to make the tonic they call Jugo Mennonita. Cactus jelly made from the prickly pear is for sale in stores.

There are others, and I would send photos if it wasn't so much trouble. You can google the following names if you, like me, have to know what thing it is that I'm looking at or that's being talked about: Ocotillo, Saguaro, Cholla. Two things desert plants have in common: an amazing ability to extract and conserve water from their environment and an armour of sharp barbs to discourages assault. Looking for lost golf balls on a desert course is not that inviting an endeavour.

I think people - like plants - reflect the environment to which they've had to adapt. The poverty we saw in the hills above Nogales, Mexico has forced people to improvise, and the home-made-of-found-material "residences" are tributes to people's ability to adapt against all odds, like the lowly prickly pear. In many parts of the world, agriculture is under siege, and people who have always made their way by growing crops and raising animals are faced with the necessity of adaptation. What will food production look like in Canada in 50 years? In Guatemala? In Europe? Will it take a generation or two to adapt to the consequences of globalization and corporate agriculture - or more?

Humans can't survive without water either. The cacti's method includes ingenious collection methods and conservative use of this precious resource. The world has plenty of fresh water for every plant, animal and human that will ever inhabit it; somehow we will need to reeducate ourselves to a far more conservational use of water in the future if we're to survive. This is an adaptation our future will require of us.

Here are a few good questions: How much water does a person need in order to have an effective wash? Well, if you have a jacuzzi and you need to soak (for your mental well-being), the answer might be 150 litres. If you shower like I have to because I live in an RV, the answer is 15 litres. Truth is that you can wet yourself, soap up and rinse with a few litres. Baths and showers will look different in the future. How much water does it take to grow a lawn? It's pretty easy to sprinkle on 5000 litres in a few hours. But if you creatively cover your front yard with gravel, cacti and other succulent plants, zero water is plenty.

Cacti also carry armour. Their conservational way of living requires it. Like them, we need to be as prickly as necessary to prevent the consumerism of our time from doing what's environmentally right. In Carlsbad last week, a public meeting was held to hear the citizens' views on the establishment of a factory in the area to produce triggers for nuclear weapons. Only one person spoke up against the plan. The rest were enthusiastic about the economic spinoffs. Those of us who have been given the ability by our Christ to sense the evil inherent in commercialism and consumerism need to develop and project spines that defend the creation from the destroyers.

Well, I've worked the cactus metaphor to death, and my time's up. Have a nice day.


  1. "What will food production look like in Canada in 50 years"

    I was just thinking about that the other day, and global warming etc.....
    I think it's nice that you write something every day or almost everyday, that you make time to write down your thoughts and keep your friends updated on whats going on in your and Agnes life. Did you recieve my e-mails about the snow, my new chapter etc? Well I immagine you are quite busy down there, but anywho take care and have a great stay

  2. Kate: Yes, I got your emails and printed off your chapters but - I'm ashamed to say - I haven't done anything with your writing except reading it. My time on the web is limited to one hour per day and so I propose that I give you a hard copy of your work with any comments when we get home on April 1. Is that OK? We're not really that busy, but like you, I try to spend as much time writing as a schedule and energy will allow. It was +20C today with one little rain shower. Life is hard. Thanks for writing.