Longtime readers will recall that I am a West Texas boy. I grew up in the land of mesquite trees, barbed wire fences and Dr Pepper. I led a sheltered childhood, not finding out till many years later that Barry Manilow wrote the Dr Pepper theme. There are some things a child shouldn’t know.
I loved dirt clod fights, mesquite bean gun fights, and croquet ball fights. Yes, I am a pacifist. Why do you ask? I loved singing “Texas, Our Texas” in the alley while playing hooky in second grade. I loved Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls and Tom Landry and whirlwinds and tumbling tumbleweeds and armadillos as long as they weren’t pushing guys on couches. I loved farm equipment gimme hats and chicken fried steak. I loved keeping my contraband in a snuff can in my back pocket. I loved pretty much everything about The Great State of Texas. But by far, my biggest love was always the prickly pear cactus.
It’s an odd little creature. Round, flat, huge needles for protection. A little red pear from time to time, and an occasional bloom. They would overtake a pasture in the course of an afternoon. Safety in numbers, I suppose. I always thought they were beautiful. I still do. Whenever I see one, it feels like I’m home. It’s a good feeling.
When I first became friends with Mo, we came upon some prickly pears while hiking on an Arizona trail. It’s the home of majestic saguaros that tower overhead, their arms reaching out for an embrace. But I was drawn to the little prickly pears nearby. I explained that this far from home, I was moved to weep at the sight of a prickly pear. She gave me the “you weirdo” look. Twenty years later, I’m still getting that look.
And then years later, as fate and a dying newspaper industry would have it, I landed in South Tejas on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a lovely place, though after four years I still feel like a lost tourist on an extended vacation for which I drastically underpacked.
My runs most days are along the bayfront. It’s beautiful. I’ve been running the 1k Naked Lady Loop, named as such because there’s a naked lady on it. I am nothing if not creative in my course names. I like it a lot. Half dirt trail, half sidewalk, water fountain, a view that extends so far that I can watch the shuffleboard games in Boca Raton while I run.
The only problem: It was never home. Until today.
I was running along the edge of the cliff, where it says “don’t run along the edge of the cliff because you will die,” in hopes it would kill me and I wouldn’t have to go to work. By chance, I looked down. And there they were.
A little prickly pear garden is growing along the edge of the water. How is that even possible? It was 95, so maybe it was just a wonderful hallucination. Maybe I’m in a “Truman Show” production and they’re messing with me. Or maybe it’s just the world giving me a break after a long, ugly stretch. A little heavily thorned bouquet to say every little thing’s gonna be alright. I’m not sure how reggae fits into the West Texas motif. Did I mention it was hot today? (we must never speak of the willie nelson reggae album.)
I ran repeats on the 1k loop, alternating between laughing at the naked lady’s butt and weeping at the sight of the prickly pear. Naked butt, prickly pear. Naked butt, prickly pear. Naked butt, prickly pear. And I knew then that life isn’t supposed to make sense. That’s what makes life, well, life. You just have to keep looking.
I love this trail. It’s just a Dr Pepper and a dirt clod fight from feeling like home. It’s a good feeling.
If I plunge to my death, I’m aiming for the prickly pear forest …