A Climate Crime Scene in the Sonoran Desert
Heidi Siegmund Cuda reports on how climate change is threatening the iconic Saguaros of North America's Sonoran Desert
“Indeed I live in the dark ages…
Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice.”
Bertolt Brecht, To Posterity (Translated by H R Hays)
The desert sky is pink and subtle, muted like a faded postcard. I miss the astrophysicist, who used to tell me things about scattered light and black holes, gravitational waves and string theory. I understood little but loved the magic — a universe filled with wonder and beauty, particles colliding.
As the pink sky becomes blue black, the stars reveal themselves — first just a few — blink — then more — blink blink — then millions, sky sparklers, shooting through the night, an infinite tiara crowning the cosmos.
I see heaven in moments such as these, and I don’t want to miss a single second of the wonder and beauty.
I come to the desert to wash my spirit clean, as John Muir wrote of our national parks.
I spent much of the pandemic in the Southwest, driving through the desert — Tucson, Arizona; Silver City, New Mexico; the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley — Navajoland; Joshua Tree, California; Moab, Utah.
I fell in love with the Saguaro — an iconic, statuesque cactus that can live 150 years or more and is recognised worldwide for its multiple arms, giving the cactus a jaunty look, always ready for its closeup. In 2020, I decided the Saguaro was my spirit animal — resilient and sturdy, prickly on the outside but with reservoirs that sustained them on the inside.
I found strength in the durability of the desert and in the Saguaros in particular. They bear fruit and when the monsoons come, you can expect a crown of blossoms that are glorious in spring. I was lucky to be in Tucson in May of 2021, when the Saguaro blossoms were dazzling and abundant.
So when my friend sent me an image of a Saguaro that had collapsed after the heatwave in July, it looked like a crime scene. Flattened and lifeless, all that was missing was a chalk outline.