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In the Shadow of Giants

Tucson, 2018

By S. A. CrawfordPublished 2 months ago β€’ Updated about a month ago β€’ 4 min read
First Place in Travel Snaps Challenge
Sonoran Desert Museum, 2018

For the last 9000 years or so the Sonoran desert as we know it has stood as a testament to the strangeness and ingenuity of life. This is a place of hidden things and secretive creatures that live between the cracks and in the shadows of goliaths... it couldn't be more different from my home. Or so I thought.

If the Sonoran desert and Scotland have one thing in common it is that the land demands we live on its terms. It's just the terms that are different.

"If it doesn't prick, sting, bite, or poison you - it ain't native!" - A disturbingly happy drunk in a Hookah lounge in downtown Tucson.

Frost-free, seemingly barren and ruled by extremes, this desert covers 100,000 square miles compared to Scotland's 30,000 or so square miles. In the heart of summer can see 48 to 50 degrees Celsius during the day, plummeting to just 20 at night; to live here is to be ruled by the sun. It is to fight against a land obviously unsuited for humanity. The fight here is fierce.

In Scotland, it's a war of attrition; the damp, the moss, the creeping foliage; it's a land that waits for things to stop, or die, so that it can grow out of, through, or around the carcass. If you think this is literary dramatism, please understand I once found a plant growing between the rubber seal and glass in the driver side window of my car... it had roots.

When the first wave of heatstroke set in, I appreciated the honesty of the desert; it did not want me there, I was as alien to it as a sea creature, and I like to think it appreciated my persistence. The people of Tucson certainly seemed to.

"What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

What do you do when home no longer exists? I left, temporarily, and sought out the furthest place from home I could think of - from marsh and bog and weary hills that dream of their past lives of mountains to a place where the land and sky can only be separated by giants.

It started with a downward glance from the plane; the Catalina mountains looked crumpled, like the hand of an angry god had reached down to drag the earth upwards in ragged fistfuls and the land was orange. Even in October the heat was stifling (for me) and the high, white sun felt alien. Home, my definition of it, had been reclaimed by the moss, and the damp; so why not burn it out?

And boy did I burn. For the first week my skin reddened and paled, it started to peel and the dampness that pervades everything in Scotland, even the people, was leeched away. I became bone dry - another dramatization that's frighteningly true. The Target sheet mask on my face simply dried up; I had to switch mine with my friends so she could use it to soak up the serum that simply wouldn't sink into her desert proof skin.

It as a holiday - a good one, and then something started to happen to me.

You see, the desert is a mirror. It shows you who you are; do you see death or life? Do you enjoy your smallness or fear it?

Saguaro Cactus, Tucson, AZ, 2018

It's hard not to marvel when you come face to face with an icon; the saguaro cactus is perhaps the symbol of the American southwest. Living for centuries, growing up to 70 feet in height, weighing thousands of pounds, they are goliaths... and they are, to me, the embodiment of thriving in extremity.

As I stood in the shadow of the saguaro in this picture, I couldn't imagine anything bringing it down. The spines were like needles, its shadow cast an eclipse, and in the heights of its body a dark crevice hinted at life. A burrow, someone told me, for a tiny species of owl. Life against all odds.

And then I learned what can bring it down; water.

Many people think that it doesn't rain in the desert, and in many cases this is true... but Sonora has a rainy season and I had arrived in it. How ironic; to look for something new and find your day to day. That's what I thought, and then I experienced a desert rain storm.

It rolled in like smoke from the horizon, and for a blessed few moments the air cooled. Then the rain fell. Great, fat droplets that felt somehow sticky as they thundered to the earth. The desert seemed to sigh with relief. And the water kept coming.

Love in the wrong form is cruelty, and the desert cannot take an abundance of water. Streamlets formed on the sidewalks and ran to the gutters, then rushed to the storm drains and those... well they formed rivers. The cars slowed and the people scattered and the world went limp until it stopped and the heat came back.

It rose from the ground in steamy waves and clung to the sweat on every limb. It was like breathing through a hot, wet cloth that reeked of dust... and when we took the bus to San Xavier we saw them. Goliaths on their prickly sides. Overwatered - not in that one storm, of course, but over time. Rotted away by kindness they collapsed under their own weight.

I've seen a lot more of the world since then, but I still remember those fallen giants. A reminder to love everything in its own way, and myself in mine.


About the Creator

S. A. Crawford

Writer, reader, life-long student - being brave and finally taking the plunge by publishing some articles and fiction pieces.

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Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (16)

  • PK Colleran 23 days ago

    Really wonderful to compare the Arizona desert to your homeland in Scotland. Beautiful descriptions. As a reader I could actually feel that desert heat. Congratulations on first place. πŸ₯‡ Here's an extra gold medal for you. πŸ’™ And another heart.

  • The Dani Writer25 days ago

    Oh my! Your description is rich! Superb writing and a well-deserved win!

  • Kathleen Thompsonabout a month ago

    Very interesting. I could put myself there by your descriptions. Bravo..!!

  • Shirley Belkabout a month ago

    So evident why this won!!!

  • Carmen Heniginabout a month ago

    Absolutely beautiful and congratulations on winning!

  • Congrats on your win. More enjoyable to read about than to experience… I don’t cope well with extreme heat… I’m felled like your giants πŸ˜΅β€πŸ’«πŸ₯Ί

  • Annieabout a month ago

    I just loved this! What a way to tell of your experience on this journey. Thank you for sharing - it was beautiful.

  • BKabout a month ago

    Well deserved win! Congrats! Exquisite way with words. I look forward to reading more from you.

  • Golam Kibriaabout a month ago

    Write more wander article like this

  • Scott Christensonabout a month ago

    "Rotted away by kindness they collapsed under their own weight." I've killed so many cactuses at home by watering them. I now have a cactus on my office desk that I haven't watered in 5 years, and its thriving.

  • Natasha Collazoabout a month ago

    Congratulations πŸŽ‰ well deserved

  • Gabriel Huizengaabout a month ago

    Fantastic storytelling- the landscape comes alive in your vivid descriptions and thoughtful reflections. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece- congrats on a well-deserved win! :)

  • JBazabout a month ago

    Now there is a new place I wish to see Your back story was the inspiration Congratulations

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Wooohooooo congratulations on your win! πŸŽ‰πŸ’–πŸŽŠπŸŽ‰πŸ’–πŸŽŠ

  • Real Poeticabout a month ago

    Congratulations! πŸŽ‰

  • Darkosabout a month ago

    Beautifully written 🩷πŸ”₯😊 Congratulations!!!

S. A. CrawfordWritten by S. A. Crawford

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