Because Cactus Hold Still

DSC_0012I could take pictures of sunflowers all day long. Who couldn’t? Those brash yellow-feathered faces against blue sky – whether you have a field of them or just a few here and there around the yard where errant cardinals have dropped seeds, sunflowers never fail to delight.

We haven’t been having blue skies this week, though. It’s been days of solid cloud cover – happily interrupted long enough for me to see one brilliant Camelopardalid meteor soar lazily across the sky just under the Big Dipper as I stood out in the yard with Travis the other night. Though I woke up in time to go outside to watch for more, I was too lazy and too comfortable in the bed. That’s all right: I’ll take one solitary lovely surprise any time.

Cloudy weather is great for picture-taking, and every morning I’ve tried to get out with the macro lens before the wind picks up. The slightest movement renders a macro shot either terrible or high art, and since I have not achieved “artist” stature in photography, most of my shots go straight to the trash. 

I can’t go up against what nature does. I can only try now and then to see it.


Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

At this time of year the black-eyed Susans own the front patio, or however much of that space they want. They arrived with no help from me and cleverly bring a vivid yellow-orange to what might otherwise be a boring stretch of green.

DSC_0120This is a wildflower, sure enough, and welcome. One large cluster stands beside a Texas hibiscus that for now is only foliage. When the yellow blossoms are finished, the dark centers will become tight fistfuls of dust. The dust is seeds, and they go everywhere.

DSC_0154A long time ago I was terrified of spiders, among other things. Over time I came to study them closely – not as a scholar, but as a person impressed by web-weaving and a physical appearance I could never have dreamed up on my own. Not to mention that their diet consisted of truly frightening and largely unhelpful creatures. Their beauty and perfection were inescapable, and I came to have enormous fondness for spiders. I like things that surpass my imagination.

If looking closely can create a fondness for spiders, think what it can do for flowers that are beautiful even as you walk past them noticing little more than their color. Standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) presents us with clusters of red-orange (I’ve also had yellow) flowers on tall stalks covered with ultra-feathery leaves.


It’s a pretty showy biennial that creates many seeds to share with neighbors. This is an off year for mine, so there are only a few. Seems a good time to celebrate them with a closer look. Dozens and dozens of these draped on a stalk that shifts gracefully with the wind:

DSC_0190When Travis comes in from a walk, he will often have one or two of the blossoms in his black fur. They look lovely everywhere.

One wildflower I am particularly enamored of is bee balm (I have Monardia citriodora). It creates purple high-rises of little blooms on two-foot stalks, and bees and butterflies are suitably attracted to it.


Acres of it have thrived all spring alongside the roads near my neighborhood. I think this week I’ll go collect some seeds and see what happens. Close-up, it’s just one soft purple petal atop another. Who wouldn’t want to move in?


In the back yard, those foolish bachelor buttons have finally started opening up as if they mean it. I always plan to cultivate straw flowers and dry them for arrangements, but as you well know I’ll be going to the place where people with good intentions are said to go. It’s a well-paved road anyway.


Close up, this unlikely little blossom gives true meaning to the concept of flowers that are actually made out of flowers: a discovery I owe to the pesty little macro lens.

DSC_0013It’s like a ring of tiny purple lilies surrounding this dance of pistils. Flowers in their infinite wisdom specialize in irresistibility. 

But I started with the problem of air: how it moves. And how the slightest motion makes a close look impossible. If you’re really going to see something, everything else is going to have to stand still. Annie Dillard’s classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has a wonderful chapter called “Seeing.” The whole book is about seeing, really.

Forget about the day lilies holding still; they’re another flower that seem to have breath of their own.

DSC_0169Nice from a distance, but when you want to go deep, there is always a pulse.

DSC_0163Is it my pulse or yours? I have a hard time telling. 

Then too, there is the connectedness of flowers. They are attached to a stem, stems to leaves, leaves to the leaves of the next plant, another flower. If I place myself close enough to see, I can hardly help touching something that is connected to the flower I want to approach. Everything trembles. Who knew the air was so altered by my touch?

This is where I was going all along: the cactus hold still. They hold their blossoms on short thick stalks, or on no apparent stalks at all. I imagine they designed themselves for rude weather. They make the perfect macro companion, even for an unruly gardener who has no earthly idea what she is doing. Look:




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