I talk about some pretty heavy duty subjects around here: cancer survival, loss, family woes, struggle. So I think maybe it’s time for me to write something a little more lighthearted, about a Little Cactus That Could. And did.
Before I tell my story I have to admit that there are a couple of things wrong with this title that I should point out. First of all, I only chose it because it’s catchy and reminded me of a children’s book we had at home, called “The Little Engine That Could.” For you see, the cactus in question really isn’t so little. And the only reason that it could and did, is because of crazy old me and my will to make it do those things. Because unlike the aforementioned little engine, the cactus, though round, doesn’t have wheels, or a train whistle, or even tracks on which to travel. But The Little Cactus That Could did have wings, if you want to use your imagination.
Meet the cactus in question:
Okay, okay, we clearly have another problem here. I’m not completely sure, but I think that this is a hunk of a Joshua tree, also known as the Yucca brevifolia, and a member of the Agave family. So it isn’t even a cactus, at least until you practically tear your hands off to stick it into a bag so that you can then try to stuff it into your suitcase…
Whoa! I’m getting way ahead of myself! I’d better stop here and backpedal to a few days before the suitcase scene…
It was a frigid day in Las Vegas, windy, with the highway to Death Valley threatened with snow. The storm forced me to change my plans for the day, to do a short local hike on the edge of Red Rock Canyon. Here’s what the view looked like when I got there:
Yeah, the snow was a bit too close for my liking, and it was damn cold with a swirling wind. But intrepid adventurer that I am (insert winking emoji!) I was going to do that hike if it killed me! So off I went. And that’s when I saw my cactus. Or Joshua tree baby. Or whatever it is. Note to self: pick that thing up on the way back. That anomaly that looks like a desert sunflower. I’ve been bringing home cool stuff from the desert for decades, but I’ve never found anything like the Little Cactus That Could. I was mesmerized!
A lot more mesmerized than I was with my hike. I gave it my best shot. But that snow was too close; it was bitterly cold and the gusts were just about gusting me over. After a half mile, I had to turn back. And there was my little burst of sun waiting for me. Yet as much as I wanted it, and I knew it would be a great and interesting addition to my new home, I started to procrastinate. Maybe I shouldn’t take it. My suitcase was already full with hiking stuff. I had not brought a second bag like I sometimes did when bringing boots and poles and backpacks. I’d probably just have to leave it behind, like an abandoned child.
I took it anyway, put it in the trunk of the car to deal with later. Out of sight, but not out of mind.
A few more days of more successful hiking ensued, and then it was time to pack to go home. The Little Cactus That Could lurked whenever I opened the trunk. Now, it was sink, swim…or fly? Just throw it in the bushes, I tried to tell myself. It’ll tear Muffin (my bunny) up if he gets anywhere near it, I reasoned. And yet, I put it in a Walmart bag and brought it up to my room.
It’s tradition that I repack my suitcase the night before I leave for home. This time, I had to try and get this damn spiny thing in between clothes and supplies. First, I had to put it in something that would make it less sharp, otherwise I’d have a bunch of ripped stuff when I got home. I always carry bags for food shopping, and it just so happens that the one I bring with me these days has a cactus print! It was just barely big enough to house my new accessory, and I got a few injuries getting it in there, but it worked. Lopsided for sure, and still poking through the fabric, but definitely better.
I’d bought some dresses for my sister Jeanne, a few things for myself, some small presents for my niece. And as already mentioned, I’d only brought one bag for my week of hiking. I knew in my heart that even if I managed to somehow get this un-little desert delight in my suitcase that it either wouldn’t close or it would get destroyed on the way home. And if the TSA happened to open the bag for a random check, someone was going to get hurt. My carry-on is always a backpack and is full of medication, camera equipment, and food, so that wasn’t an option. But here was the new conflict: we’d arrived at this point together and I just couldn’t imagine leaving my new sidekick. It was crunch time.
There was only one way this thing was getting to Massachusetts: it had to go on the plane with me. Which brought up a whole new slew of issues! A) What if the TSA officers think I’m bringing it as a weapon? B) What if they consider it like food or liquid, and throw it out because it weighs too much? C) What if they just think I’m nuts for bringing this thing to the airport and trying to smuggle it through security? I concocted excuses for all of them, not really caring if they thought I was nuts or if they tossed it out. Naturally, I was concerned about them thinking I’m a criminal wanting to tear up my fellow passengers with the Little Cactus That Could. But I decided I would just shrug and say that I was only bringing it home to decorate my new house. I’m a trusted traveler, have TSA precheck, Global Entry, all that stuff. My passport is well-stamped, without a single hitch. I tried to convince myself that it would be okay, one way or the other.
I slept well that night, and got up very early to fly. Dropped my rental off, got the shuttle to the airport. Overstuffed suitcase: check. Backpack: check. Barely legal cactus-print bag held cautiously away from body so as not to get pinched: check.
The Southwest Airlines rep had no clue she was looking at a possible criminal. The big guy waving me into the precheck line wasn’t savvy to what was in the nondescript white bag. The officer who handed me back my passport was unaware that an arrest might soon happen. Now, the moment of truth had arrived. The white bag went on the belt to be scanned. My excuse was ready. I had tweaked, reviewed, and memorized it.
I walked through the body scanner, then waited at the other end of the bag scanner for my stuff. Tense. Shifty-eyed. Worried. And out came the Little Cactus That Could as if nothing was wrong, while I tried to envision what it looked like on the scanner screen as it rolled through. Like a pointy bomb. A jagged, multi-blade knife. Something never seen before by TSA agents. Waiting with bated breath to be stopped, I snatched my stuff off the belt and split. No one followed me.
The Little Cactus That Could had just made it through United States airport security.
Said cactus continued to move toward Massachusetts. I warned the flight attendant that I had something in my bag that might hurt someone if they tried to shove their carry-on into the overhead past it. She was not interested. I petitioned my nearby passengers not to push the white cactus bag in the overhead with a bare hand. They were unconcerned. In fact, no one cared about the Little Cactus That Could. Except for me! I babied my new friend as we made our way from Las Vegas to Baltimore, then on to Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Through Bradley Airport. Onto another shuttle to my car. And finally, up I-91, across the Mass Pike, and over a few other roads to my little home.
What a journey!
Here’s the end result of a lot of hard work, and worrying!