Saguaro fruit brings a future promise, as does God - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Saguaro fruit brings a future promise, as does God

June 25th, 2018 development
Saguaro fruit brings a future promise, as does God

By Lynne Hartke, Guest Writer


My husband Kevin and I hit the trail early in June on South Mountain, just minutes after the gate opened at 5 a.m. We wanted to finish our six-mile hike before the temps hit the expected 112 degrees. It was a day to get in, get out, and go home.

I couldn’t help agreeing with author Roger Naylor, who wrote, “The desert can unleash a withering, angry heat, a heat that blowtorches the rocks and sand. It is a heat that will make you weep just so it can harvest your tears.”

From the bare landscape, I felt the first simmering burn issue a threat and a promise for things to come later in the day. As we jog-shuffled on the mile service road to the Pima Canyon Trailhead, I felt a continuous drip of sweat collect in the band of my shorts like a salty reservoir.

I thought of turning back, but the promise drew me.

In the early summer, the creamy-white blossoms of the saguaro give way to scarlet fruit, each the size of a child’s fist and containing thousands of tiny black seeds.

Ripening on the top of the saguaro’s accordion-like columns and arms, the delicacies are accessible only to winged creatures: bats, insects, and birds.

White-winged doves, especially, perform an important role in the cycle of the saguaro as the digested seeds are deposited elsewhere in the desert, surrounded by bird droppings – a vital fertilizer.

The desert-dwelling Tohono O’odham considered the ripening of the fruit so significant that their new year began with the event. Historically, the fruit was knocked down with long poles, collected, and used to make sweet wine as part of the annual Nawait I’i or rain ceremony.

“I think we are too late,” I said, as we passed saguaro after saguaro. The bases were surrounded by the empty husks of already digested fruit. The tops of the columns were bare, except for thousands of pointed spines, like a giant child sporting a new summer buzz-cut. “We should have come last week.”

I thought back to our over-crowded calendars. Church events. City business. An out-of-town wedding. I sighed. We had run out of time and missed our opportunity.

Kevin picked up the pace, no longer concerned with capturing on camera the hope of future life. We pushed on toward Fat Man’s Pass, going around several other hikers, as the sun burned a hole in the steel-blue sky.

As we turned a corner of the trail, I stopped. Stood still.

“Look!” I pointed. “A white-winged dove.”

The saguaro in front of us wore a full ring of ripened fruit, almost like a lady’s hat with the dove as a living ornament. The bird gorged itself on the red fruit, poking its head again and again into the ripened center.

Coo COO coo coo. Who cooks for you? it’s mate called from a nearby cactus.

We were not too late for the fruiting after all.

As we snapped several photographs, I felt anticipation rise for the next promise: the hope of the monsoon. Although I am Norwegian in heritage and not Tohono O’odham, as a fellow desert-dweller, I understand the need to hold a party and to invite all your friends and neighbors for significant events.

Get ready. Rain is coming.

“This desolation will continue until new life is poured out on us from heaven. Then the desert will become an orchard and the orchard will be considered a forest” Isaiah 32:15 (NET).

-Lynne Hartke is the author of “Under a Desert Sky” and the wife of pastor and Chandler City Councilmember Kevin Hartke. She blogs at