I grew up in the Appalachian hills, in a “holler” really, though being the English major I am, I say hollow. Our house was surrounded by hills, with the hollow behind, and acres of woods to explore. They were old mountains, but oh so cozy. Out west, I traded cozy for imposing. In Montana, our town had the most spectacular 360 view of snow-covered mountains. The air was always crisp, and the scale of that sky and those large peaks made me feel small, but in a calming way. The kind of way that makes you realize the world is big and there’s more than you know. But even with all that beauty and possibility, it never felt like home. The vastness, the dryness, the lack of trees—I felt too exposed. I missed being surrounded by hills. Eventually I found my way home, back to the green hills that seem to hug you. But the sense of home that some people seem to have, that feeling of familiarity and solid ground and comfort, it eludes me here much of the time. I am from this place and a part of it but also apart, detached. It’s gritty; it’s run-down; it’s dirty and stuck in its ways. But then I go into the woods, and it’s grounding in a way that nothing else is.
As for the cacti, I just love them. I love their shape and their color and their endearing trait of not requiring much attention. Maybe the cacti are a way to keep the allure of the west and its promise close? Maybe their ability to thrive here in a place where they wouldn’t naturally be is symbolic? I don’t know, but one thing is certain: they’re very hard to kill. And that provides a very practical advantage in my care.
The biggest guy I have is now taller than me, thanks to six years with my mom and her heavy-handed use of miracle grow. We literally used a dolly to get it into the house. The small peanut cactus in the yellow pot came all the way from Bozeman, Montana in 2007. I think these cacti are just dying to be joined by a super soft brown leather chair, but they may have to wait a bit.