By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 12/11/2017
Posted: 6/6/2010
Topics/Keywords: #Cactus #Tonapah #Arizona Page Views: 3073
Don't pick up a cactus without gloves, like I did.

I've lived in Arizona since 1997, and visited here seven times before that. I have seen cacti before. Close-up, even. So you'd think I'd know better than to load up my hands with cactus needles. But, apparently I don't.

I had made a trip out to the hot springs in Tonopah, Arizona, one of my favorite spots. On my last several visits, I have noticed a beautiful purple cactus they have growing several places on the property; and I began thinking how nice that cactus would look along our back fence. So, the last time I was there, I asked if it would be okay if I took an ear of the cactus home, since even I, non-gardener that I am, knows that cactus ears sprout into their own, individual plants pretty readily. The manager said I could. But I forgot to actually do it.

So, this time, I went with that specifically in mind. And the manager said, "What will you do with it?"

And I answered, "I thought it would look nice in my back yard."

And she replied, "No, I mean—what will you do with it now? How will you get the ear off the cactus?"

Prickly Pear cactus with fruit.

These cacti, from regular viewing distance, look like purple prickly pear cacti. Granted, the spines were much shorter and of course the ears were purple rather than green. But the area between the spines of a prickly pear cactus is smooth, and it's possible to touch one safely by simply avoiding the spines.

So that's what I figured I'd do. But I didn't explain that. I simply said, "Very carefully?"

"Oh, dear," the woman responded. "You'll need gloves. But I don't have any that would fit you. But here," she added, handing me two torn pieces of cardboard. "Use these as gloves. And you can put it in this old flowerpot," handing me that, as well.

The purple cactus, in situ.

So I carried the cardboard and the broken pot to a cluster of the purple cacti I'd spotted previously, growing near the rear of the property.

As I inspected the cactus with the idea of tearing off an ear, I thought, this was going to be really simple. Despite the superficial resemblance to prickly pears, in fact these didn't have long spines at all, just little clusters of prickers, which I figured would be easy to avoid. All I had to do was put my fingertips between the clusters. I wouldn't need the cardboard at all.

I figured wrong.

The cactus was tougher than it looked, and by the time I had wrestled the ear from it, both my hands were coated with the tiny, hair-like prickers. Worse, I had been unaware of them when they got into my skin; but now they stung every time I touched anything, as I discovered when I pulled my car keys out of my pocket and opened the back of the SUV to put the cursed cactus in.

I pulled out what I could from each hand with the pinched fingernails of the other…removing many clumps, but mostly getting the stiff hairs under my nails.

I tried using hand sanitizer, which only made the prickles sting when I rubbed my hands together.

I wound up driving home with my wrists on the steering wheel.

And, as hard as that was, texting at the same time was impossible. It was bad enough just calling Michael. "I'll be home shortly," I said. "Could you find the duct tape and leave it out?"

"Oh-oh," he groaned. "What have you done now?"

I explained, and Michael began ranting about how anyone would know to use gloves with a cactus, why hadn't I brought a pair, how could I not know better, and so on. Because, you know, there's never a bad situation Michael doesn't like to make worse if he can by second-guessing the victim.

When I got home, there was the duct tape and I did get a lot of the prickles out, but not all of them. I then tried some of Michael's facial peel stuff, which I poured onto my hands and then let dry into a rubbery mass, then peeled off. I did that twice. And that got almost, but not quite all, the prickers out of my hands.

Time, hopefully, will get the last two or three. At least, none remain in my fingertips, so I can type.

And, in my back yard, there is now a little purple cactus that, hopefully, will grow and multiply. And, like all plants in one's back yard, it now has a story.

My new purple cactus. Hands off!