The Little CactusPhoto by: Earthfire

— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

We have a tiny cactus here in the office that I have had for years. It was being originally sold as a souvenir from Arizona. It was potted in a blue pot glued to a magnet and destined to become a refrigerator decoration. I couldn’t stand life being treated that way, so I rescued it.

Over the years, it has had quite an adventurous life. When it first came, a round little ball the size of a quarter, it covered itself with dozens of tiny blooms year after year. How did it produce such amazing beauty and profusion from a bit of dry soil?

Then one summer, when I put it out to enjoy the Idaho sun, apparently some mice came and threw it on the ground. They ate off its entire top half. I found it lying on the ground, out of its pot, root drying in the sun, and quite mangled.

I repotted it. It grew again, and again got eaten—this time inside the cabin. There were big gashes in its tender flesh. I held out little hope—it had been so disfigured and had such repeated trauma—but I potted it again. Perhaps it decided blossoms weren’t the way to go, because instead of blooming the last couple of years, it started to develop big round buds–three of them, a little like the buds on a saguaro cactus ready to grow new arms. I have been watching in fascination to see what the next development will be. It won’t be fast because cactuses don’t grow fast, at least in human terms. They teach us patience whether we like it or not. But what will those buds turn out to be?

Many researchers are beginning to find evidence that plants have their own intelligence; that their behavior is intentional in their own way, with their plant version of a nervous system. This widening of our understanding of the intentionality and intelligence and creativity of life seems to be happening all over. It’s happening with octopuses, with trees, with crows and slime molds and seeds. Perhaps it is true of all life. Perhaps it is a quality inherent in the universe.

There is such life force in that little cactus. Not to be glued to a refrigerator! Not a toy or a specimen or a conversation piece, should it even be seen, but a living, resourceful being. There is so much we don’t see in our busy human lives. So much to enjoy and be inspired by!

I am quite in love with that cactus.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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