Saguaro Landscape, watercolor by Barbara Terkanian

Clouds, a Poem, a Dead Saguaro, and a Painting

is dissolving


you’d have to live up here



you’d have to

just slightly
from year to year

you’d have to

through clouds & with

a thousand years out

in each direction watching shadows

in every direction
only shadows


?Eric Magrane
(on tumamoc, for paul, 7 july 2012)



Eric and I got up at dawn and waited by the Tumamoc summit by the solstice stone for the sun to drive it’s light arrow through the calendar petroglyph. Sadly, clouds covered the sun during the main part of the sequence. What I did see was more amorphous than on the solstice, but I could not be sure since I had not seen the beginning. I’ll have to wait for the current set of monsoons to clear up to try it again.

The reason we came up was to watch how the arrow changed over time, to see how accurate it recorded the actual summer solstice day, how it changed shape as time moved away from the solstice. I had visited the site a few weeks ago on June 20 with Paul and Suzy Fish. Then I went back the next morning, the 21st, to take a more controlled time lapse series of photographs. A week later I went up by myself to see if there were any changes in the sun arrow. Clouds covered the rising sun during the critical period, just like today. See this link for the story of June 20.

Still, there was a lot happening on the hill. As warm of hill-topping winged elate ants swirled above us, mating furiously, sometimes landing on us. Eric wrote a poem on the spot while we waited.

Earlier in the week, I had seen a saguaro along the road inside the north permanent saguaro plot that apparently had recently been struck by lightning. It was broken in half, the lower part that was still standing all charred. Several huge arms lay where they had fallen. As Eric and I were walking down from the Desert Lab, I met a walker, Carl Noggle, a retired electrical engineer. I recognized him from several weeks before, when he showed me several saguaro skeletons that had been struck by lightning, and how to recognize a saguaro killed by lightning. This story was in the back of my mind when I saw the recently fallen saguaro. I had been meaning to find Carl’s email so I could tell him about it. Now I met him as he was walking up. I turned around and we walked up the road together so I could show him the dead saguaro. From the road a few meters away, we could smell the sort of burnt smell of fermenting sap. It was clearly a scene of botanical catastrophe. We climbed down to it and examined the carcass. Carl said he would do some research in the lightning detection network to see if he can find the record for the bolt that killed this fine upstanding member of the north saguaro experimental plot.

A mature saguaro is about 125 years old and may live beyond 200. The permanent saguaro plots are not usually very dramatic places. The thousands of saguaros there quietly live out their lives with the details mostly unnoticed, except when the Saguaro plot census occurs, about every 10-18 years.? The most recent was completed just this May. At that time each individual saguaro is inspected and given individual attention.

As it turned out, our theory of a lightning strike appears to be wrong. Carl met Owen Davis after he left me and Owen told him about two young girls who had been walking past that saguaro when it suddenly just collapsed. Its arms fell to the ground and the top half with them, terrifying them for a few moments with the sound. A large saguaro like that holds a lot of water and can weigh 6 tons. Even after realizing what had happened, they could not believe what they had just seen. Neither could we, when we heard the story. None of us had ever heard of that happening. Yet there it lies. I’ll go and do some extra research on the different ways saguaros die.

The eventful morning closed with Barbara Terkanian coming into my office with a finished watercolor of a saguaro scene she had been working on for two weeks behind the Snake Lab. I’ll reproduce it here. The first day’s sketch that began this painting was posted on June 12. Look at it and compare.

Saguaro Landscape, watercolor by Barbara Terkanian
Saguaro Landscape, watercolor by Barbara Terkanian
photo by Barbara Terkanian
Photo by Barbara Terkanian of scene she was painting. However, the painting was done on site during multiple morning visits to the Hill, not from the photograph.






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