A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Friday, February 13, 2015

Prickly Pear - the Good, the Bad, and the Heart of It

People not familiar with the kind of country we live in used to always ask what we were going to do when we retired. I always told them Rickie was going to cut cedar and I was going to dig up prickly pear.

I decided today was a good day to work on my end of that. We have some open areas between the cabin and the road and the prickly pear is out of control there. I like prickly pear. It has beautiful flowers and my favorite jelly is made with the fruit, although you have to work hard for it. It provides food for wildlife and Woodrow and Gus will nibble on it in a pinch. But it's one of those things that if you give it an inch it takes a mile.

I was having a day of rough moments. I really don't have days that are rough; I have moments. I learned many years ago to appreciate the little things and I can have moments of happiness in all but the darkest of days. If you can't find peace and joy in the world around you - in a little crippled doe that keeps on going, the tiny yellow bloom on an indescript cactus, an early morning snowfall, the way the late afternoon sun lights up the hills - then it might be harder for you to find that peace. But it's always there for me. I just have to get out in it.

It got up to 81 degrees today. Perfect for digging prickly pear. I started outside the yard gate and worked for about 3 hours. The boys had nibbled the grass as close to the pear as they could. When pickin's are slim like now they show up with cactus spines in their faces. I freed up some grass where I dug the pear out and they headed straight to that when I left. Then they moved over to the area where I dump the pear out and examined that. Curiosity is a character trait of theirs and they notice anything different in their world.

There's a little bug called a cochineal that lives on prickly pear. You can tell it's there when you see white cottony clumps on the pads. If you smash the bug you'll end up with a bright red color on your fingertips. This is used to make a red dye and it colors food and makeup. It was used by indigenous people in Mexico and by the Spaniards to dye clothes. I like seeing it and knowing its story. I like knowing that people long dead found uses for it in their lives and that it's still around. It's a survivor and I like survivors.

This heart shaped pad was lying on the ground where I was working. The boys had chomped it off recently and left it right where I happened to be today. Their Valentine to me.

I wonder sometimes if they miss Rickie. I'm not sure what they comprehend. They are smart observant animals very aware of their surroundings. If they notice a few prickly pear dug up and moved surely they notice the absence of their friend. The one who stood at the fence and rubbed their noses and horns, speaking softly to them. They know their names and they know their routines and they come when you ring the bell on the shed.

And apparently they know Valentine's Day is this week.


  1. Such a sweet post. Seems like my brother has burned the needles off so his cows can eat the pads. You can also make an awesome smoothie with the nopales http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nopalito. Nopales and pineapple is awesome.

    Are you near Fredericksberg?

  2. A bit over an hour from there, Judith.
    Woodrow loves to eat the cactus on the edge of a burn pile where it's been seared a bit. He'll walk into the burn area while it's still hot!