Just Do What the Signs Says

cactus signMaybe I’ll never learn to believe that a sign means what it says; I guess a lifetime of parking tickets will attest to that fact. Still, I really did think that the prohibition against going into this cactus bed was meant to protect the cactuses.


My family and I have been staying these last few days at an inn in Tucson that is a veritable oasis in the desert, where the branches of orange trees curtsy low with the rich burden of their citrusy gifts, and sunstruck lizards pose like wall art, and whole jewel cases of blossoms border every lawn. On top of all that here at this inn we have:

  • the wide blue eye of a swimming pool, with gently eddying waters;
  • a tennis court with nobody on it (racquets available at the front desk);
  • a taut little badminton net on an emerald green lawn, its attendant equipment standing by in a sweet wooden cabinet….. and finally;
  • a ping pong table sheltered from the sun by a hula skirt of undulating palms.

I have resisted the tennis and badminton so far, but the ping pong set-up proved too much for me just before lunch today: I began playing the game just by myself, hitting the ball here and then there, bouncing it up off the paddle until, inevitably I suppose, it rabbited down off the table and into the cactus garden.

My choice: either to fetch it or  to abandon the fun. I thought, “Fetch it,” right? Fetch it so I can play more now and somebody else can play later with a full complement of ping pong balls.

I stooped under the above-pictured bush and scooped it up – and within seconds felt something like the sting of a thousand insects. I looked at my arm: nothing. Were these the bites of some kind of desert fire ant? Did I have mites under my skin? Had I developed a sudden allergy to the desert sun? I rushed back to our room, pulled off my top and saw…


And yet the pain was stunning and had spread as well, I now realized, to my back and all along one hand. But what was its cause? What could be the cause  of all this pain?

It took going out into the bright noonday sun to finally see: at least a hundred infinitesimal cactus spines, imbedded deep in my skin.

I couldn’t rub them off and I couldn’t pinch them off – all that did was remove their heads. It took going out into the bright noonday sun with the medical tweezers I thank God always travel with to squintingly one by one begin prying them from my poor inflamed hide.

It looks like it’s going to be l-o-o-o-o-ng night – and how I do sympathize now with any dog that meets a porcupine and comes away with a snootful of quills!