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cactus flower

Prickly Galaxy

Big Basin Prairie Preserve, Kansas    •     June 4, 2009
Photo by Beau Bosko

Posted on June 29, 2009, from Fayetteville, Arkansas

The prickly pear cactus flower shown above becomes a hook for three ideas I'd like to explore tonight from the quiet sanctuary of Crow's Cottage. 

First, I look back to the moment of the image's capture on high land above a smooth bowl of earth known as Big Basin in the Red Hills of south-central Kansas.  The cactus grew on the prairie among thousands of its wildflower fratres and sorores, a beautiful band of colorful vegetable creatures, brilliant under the warming midday sun, at leisurely sway in the soft west wind.  Experts report that the Basin is a circular depression about a mile in diameter with surrounding sides that rise almost straight up, often to a height of a hundred feet.  On the high land beside a rocky road snaking through the preserve, a foot trail stretches up to a vista overlooking the floor of the basin.  Bison drink from one of the ponds scattered about the grassy field below.            

Next, I take joy in imaginative thinking, the blend of reflection, speculation, and synthesis that helps impart meaning to the moment.  I see ancient light streaming from the faraway heavens, time-heavy light stolen from the cold ether by lenses of a Hubble telescope, and then fitted by sophisticated Earth-bound computers into shapes and patterns befitting of a galaxy.  The galaxy reappears in the shapes and patterns of the flower's wavy stamens and the speckled granules of pollen, tiny yellow orbs spread out like stars on the undulating leaves of the succulent, conforming to my dearly held penchant for personification.  In the shapes of billowing clouds like a dreamy child I find fantastic creatures.  Mother Mary might appear to me in the drippings of candle wax, or in the swirly stains of dried rain on the ceiling plaster of a bedroom in an old wooden house, Aunt Helen's quiet home in the faraway village, with a roof that leaked after a hard rain and a parlor that became a summer oasis thanks to the amazing air conditioning machine the handy man had wrestled into a tightly sealed window.  First, you must believe.  Then, you must look up.  And remember.   

Lastly, the image of the cactus flower launches another project for the CornDancer web.  We've not yet found a suitable name for the project.  It may not need a name, but we do know what the project shall be:  a collection of photographs and text tied loosely to the natural world, beginning with wildflowers and extending, perhaps, very likely, to other natural things.  Like all endeavors for our developmental web of the mind and spirit, the spinning is dependent on the Will and frailty of humans.  We start many things and finish only some.  We keep it together by not giving up. 

So, we shall see. 

Family: Cactaceae
Genus: Opuntia
Species: phaeacantha or fragilis
Experts say there are about two dozen species of prickly pear. The phaeacantha is the most common of the clan, but my amateur biological sleuthing leads me to believe that the cactus flower on this page is an Opuntia fragilis, commonly known as the brittle cactus, fragile cactus, pygmy prickly pear, or jumping cactus. The one I photographed at Big Basin was low growing and small enough to fit the taxonomist's profile.

Big Basin Prairie Preserve revealed many wonders on our visit of June 4, 2009.  It appeared as another backroads surprise on the next-to-last day of an eleven-day excursion out West and back again.  As one of the USA's National Natural Landmarks, the preserve straddles U.S. Highway 283 about fifteen miles west of Ashland, Kansas.  It is remote, ruggedly beautiful, and brimming with flora and fauna. 

Our plan, as hatched and dutifully announced tonight, is to show-and-tell a few wonders of nature to you — and only you — in an unfolding series of photographs and attached strings of related words.  Several of the wonders were harvested during our meander through Big Basin.  We can tie them all together with hot links and have a very merry picnic.  It's all part of the new project with the usual immense potential that attends such hopeful endeavors.  (And yes, I know: I wrote 'wonders' three times.  The wonders of the wonderful world are a sweet healing antidote to the creeping strangler vine of cynicism.)

The next wildflower and those that follow in the series shall appear here in the Crow's Cottage Glossary and Compendium.  It seemed the logical container, especially since it was already built and patiently awaiting development.  To my list of family, friends, students, and fellow sharers, I pledge to send notice of each new issue by e-mail express.  And, if you've come here by some other means, I invite you to write me at the address below so I can add you to the list.

Ebenezer Bowles

Monday, June 29, 2009


L I N K S :

lilbat Great Plains Yucca Flower
The yucca was photographed at Big Basin. See the Bison Meeting Place.

lilbat Fruit of the Cane Chola
Another member of the Cactaceae family.

lilbat Big Basin Prairie Preserve
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.


Prickly Pear Bud

Big Basin Prairie Preserve, Kansas    •     June 4, 2009
Photo by Beau Bosko

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