Feb 28 2011

End of Mighty Saguaro

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Saguaro Series – I

I didn’t realize, until I was culling through my photo library, that I appear to have a fascination with decaying saguaros. It seems my camera gravitates toward them, capturing their unique personalities, even in death.

There is a beauty in their decline. An elegance in their passing. And life beyond the hundreds of years that they stood tall.

This once-hearty saguaro specimen sloughs its skin not far from the San Pedro River Valley (photo by Kathy Becraft). Click to enlarge, then click forward arrow button to view all saguaro photos in this post.

As my good friend (and plant fanatic) noted, “Saguaros even provide habitat in their death for countless insects and mammals. They’re kind of alive, even when they’re dying.”

Yes, so true. So, while I want to pay homage to the great saguaro in its living form, I also want to honor it in all of its magnificent stages.

This rare crested saguaro is visible from my kitchen window. In just a year’s time, it has decayed and declined to near non-recognition. Click to enlarge.

I will be posting a multi-part Saguaro Series about this species of cactus in its different stages of life and death – including various photos I’ve snapped over the past year – hoping to document the beauty and wonder of these alluring “trees” of the desert. I also hope to share the inspiration they are providing for my WIP (work in progress). Please scroll below for additional photos.

The hardened skin of the decaying saguaro resembles tree bark after years in the sun. Click to enlarge.

A close-up of a decaying saguaro’s “skin,” brittle and dry to human touch. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: I have to admit that I suspect Mother Nature has been toying with me a bit lately … sending some subliminal messaging, perhaps, since my novel-in-progress deals with themes of life and death. Maybe that’s why I’m confronted with so many living, dying, decaying, beating-the-odds saguaro cacti during my hikes. Or could it just be that my senses are acutely tuned in to my theme? Then again, maybe the saguaro is simply my muse?

Do you enjoy books that tackle tough topics like life and death, or are they just too “dark” for you? If you find yourself drawn to these stories, why? Do you agree that there can be beauty in death? And when you’re writing, do you begin to see thematic significance in the things around you that you might not otherwise have noticed?

P.S. Don’t miss my AMATEUR PHOTO CONTEST. Submissions being accepted now!

21 Responses to “End of Mighty Saguaro”

  • Beth Hoffman Says:

    Oh! Your photos are amazing. And you’re absolutely right, there’s a beauty, perhaps even a majesty in their decline.

    I really enjoyed this!


  • K Says:

    I am interested to see the responses you receive on this topic. Many people shun the “death” word but I recognize it as part of the circle of life. A going away party. Do you go out with a bang, like a whisper, or somewhere in-between? I think of the leaving as the last act, which is as important as the opening act. The writers participating on your blog will probably say it with more punch, but this is how one older person sees life.

    Good thinking and expressing, Melissa.


    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    What beautiful thoughts, K! You have said this so, so eloquently – just as well as any writer … perhaps even better, and with great finesse, given your personal, heartbreaking experiences. I so appreciate you sharing your thoughts and supporting my endeavors.


  • Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I love dark books, and I think the people who are closest to me might be surprised that I write dark books, too. I’ve stopped seeing it as “morbid” and have just come to accept that there is beauty in everything, even in our most painful moments, because our vulnerability and emotions are what make us human, and they help us appreciate and savor happiness when we do have it.

    Your photos are beautiful. I love the strength of the cactus, how, even in death, it’s still standing and its presence is impossible to ignore.


    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    We have so much in common. Many people have the same reaction to my fascination/attraction to dark, heavy books (reading them and writing them). I tend to be a jokester, so most expect me to be drawn to comedy … Your thoughts are so well put … “there is beauty in everything.” And I 100% agree that the tough, emotion-laden times are what help us appreciate happiness. SO well said!


  • Jessica McCann Says:

    Great post, Melissa. I especially like the idea that the saguaro is kind of alive, even when it’s dying, because of what it provides to the desert’s other inhabitants. The desert is such a harsh environment and yet it’s filled with so much beauty and life. I’m looking forward to the next installments!


  • Erika Marks Says:

    Melissa, such a thoughtful tour of these magnificent beings (I feel compelled to call them that–even in decay, they exude such life) and your pictures are exquisite. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that this is the view from your kitchen window!

    I will admit I struggle to write or read stories with darker plots. I have such admiration for people who can “go there” as they say. The Lovely Bones comes to mind. I have heard it is beyond powerful, and yet I cannot bring myself to read it. When I came to the end of Anita Shreve’s Weight of Water (and I adore her and thought the book was truly beautifully done) I was devastated (no spoilers, I promise!) and could not let the ending go for some time.


    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh, Erika… I hope someday you’ll be able to read THE LOVELY BONES. It really is a magnificent story. But I appreciate your candor; I know many people feel this way about ‘heavy’ books. Hmm. Sounds as though I need to add Anita’s book to my list (right up my alley).


  • Shari Lopatin Says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Beautiful theme, I think. As for the types of books I prefer, it depends on what my soul is seeking. At times, I’m craving a funny, uplifting story, and I’d rather read something light-hearted. Yet, the stories that remain in my heart, that I remember and discuss for years to come, are the ones with deeper themes that are difficult to confront. I’d be very interested to read your book if it revolves around the theme of life and death. I find that some of literature’s greatest work confronts such themes in a very profound manner.

    Thank you for sharing this perspective on death. I believe it can apply to more than the saguaro. And lovely photographs.



  • Leah Says:

    I never heard of Saguaros until just now. And I love the idea of looking at a species in a different way. We mostly look at things when they’re alive, rarely in death. But as you point out and photograph, there is beauty in death. And these cacti actually are helping give other species life, even in death. … This reminds me of a story that I read in the 5th grade about a giant redwood tree. I was dreading the assignment because I thought 50 pages of a tree would be so boring. When I read it with my mom, I was able to experience the tree as a living thing. It, too, had a life. I always think of that story and have contemplated writing about it. Thank you, because now I think I will!


  • Hallie Sawyer Says:

    Hi Melissa! I am okay with stories of life and death because the story becomes more real to me. We have all experienced the emotions that are attached to death and so when we read about it, it hits home. Death in a way gives significance to one’s life. Actually, books that have death in them seem to stick with me longer.

    I think back to when I was young(er) and read Charlotte’s Web and Little Women. They packed an emotional punch but because they evoked such raw feelings (about death), those stories were branded on my heart. Great post, Melissa. As usual!


  • Julia Says:

    I love your photos — beautiful. (And it doesn’t hurt that it looks warm….)

    Your post and questions reminded me of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi. Not so much in the dying, but in the appreciation of the cycle of growth, decay and death, and finding the beauty in ordinary things. I remember when gardening friend (and artist) came to see me one day and I was apologizing for the so-many weeds and dead-heads in my garden. And she said she was appreciating the wabi-sabi of it….


  • V.V. Denman Says:

    “I suspect Mother Nature has been toying with me a bit lately … sending some subliminal messaging…”

    It’s funny how trivial comments and images mirror what I’m writing. Daily occurrences seem to reflect what’s already on my mind. It’s the age-old question of the chicken and the egg. Which comes first?


  • Jolina Petersheim Says:

    My friend who spent a majority of her adolescence in Nicaragua is very drawn to books dealing with life in death, death in life. She said that in Central and South America, they do not fear death the same as in North America. Not only that, they EMBRACE it! This life/death interchangeability can be seen throughout their literary works, and they even celebrate it during a holiday called Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I’m certainly not to THAT point, but I do think the less hold death has on us, the more we can embrace life.


    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thanks for the enlightening insight about the cultural differences regarding the way we think about life and death. Living in AZ, I’m familiar with Dia de los Muertos (actually wrote a research article about it), as the Mexican culture also celebrates it. But I never really considered how it would be reflected differently in literature … makes perfect sense!


  • Tracy Mangold Says:

    I love the pictures and the thought you put in to this. “They are alive even when they are dying…” – just as we humans are alive even as we are dying – hope in the face of inevitability still…always…
    I so enjoy your blog! Happy March!


  • Rachna Chhabria Says:

    I always love your pictures, Melissa. One of these days I will borrow a couple of your photos for my blog ( that is, if you don’t mind sharing them, the ones you have already used).

    I actually enjoy themes about life and death. I started two of my short stories (MG fiction) with th protagonists’ deaths. Though I enjoyed writing them, my editor turned pale and was shocked. I am of the belief that children are quite okay with such themes as long as the book is well written and the story grips them.


  • Marianne Smith Says:

    Sychronicities abound! I just submitted an article about the death of my pet cactus to a magazine this week! While my take was humorous, there was still a focus on death, decay, and grieving. Your pictures are amazing, and yes, I see whatever theme I am writing about all over the place. I woke up yesterday finally deciding that a topic I was considering writing about was timely. Walking to the mailbox, I started planning the article. Of course, in the mailbox was the latest issue of a magazine I subsribe to with the topic of my planned article as the headliner! I had to laugh. Hope to see more of your cacti, and read the work that they are woven through.


  • Nina Says:

    oh!! Those are some creepy trees/plants. . . so unlike ANYTHING I’d see here in Minnesota. It is truly amazing how vastly different the areas of our country is, isn’t it?


  • Suzie Ivy Says:

    Beautiful! I have always loved the majestic Saguaro and sharing their beauty with family and friends visiting Arizona. I had never thought of their beauty in death. Now I will never miss it again. Thank you!


  • LA Says:

    I love cactus, but Saguaros are absolutely awesome! Your pictures make them look like totem poles and reminds me of some Indian ceremonial costumes. I have a few cacti bones (ribs) they are just fascinating!


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