Saguaro Harvest Memories

Moxie Cosmos Says…

It’s 104 degrees F in Tucson today — but, as they say, “it’s a dry heat.”

We took a visitor from Cuiliacan, Mexico, to the Arizona Desert Museum last Saturday night, one of the summer evening openings this institution has to allow human beings to view their non-human neighbors who come out at dusk. Our 12-year-old granddaughter, whose father was hosting his week-long visit, was with us.  She and her grandfather and I have been to this world-class outdoor exhibit many times.  This is the first time I felt sorry for the animals, who are in enclosures, but very large ones that mimic their original habitats. Juan thought it was a beautiful place, and took all kinds of information to share with his colleagues, planning to organize trips for businessmen, government officials,  university professors, and students to follow in his footsteps exploring Tucson.  This would be a prime stop.

To me, even the cactus pads looked puckered up.  We’ve had no rain. It brought me back to an earlier posting here, about Juanita Ahill, a woman I met writing a story  for Arizona Highways in 1976.  Her people, then called Papago Indians (now Tohono O’odham) used the red fruit from the tops of tall saguaro cactus “trees” in their cuisine. The tradition of camping out to pick the fruit during the summer, before the rains, had all but died out when I met her; she might have been the only one interested in continuing the practice.

Imagine Papago desert nights around 1910. You would be lying on a cot softened with a blanket, on the west side of the Tucson Mountains, far beyond any city lights. The sky is a canopy of indigo, with pinpricks of starlight gradually becoming larger.  The mesquite wood under the fruit pots infuses the air with sweet-acrid odors, familiar, not threatening, just enough to make you sleepy.

These two segments of Juanita’s memories I recorded on tape and transcribed are the opening to her new page in the ORAL HISTORY section of my website.  This is just a taste.

1. SAGUARO HARVEST

I don’t know that place
we used to go to in a wagon.

Yeah.
We used to go from here
that that
camp
on the other side of Old Tucson by that mountain.
I don’t know
what is the name of that mountain.
And we used to camp about almost three
months.
And we stayed there
and my uncle
and my other friends
we went down there.
When I was about
I don’t know how old
and my sister is kind of bigger than me and my baby
brother
but now he’s hig now. [Laughs.]
And we used to go out and help my mother how to harvest
the fruit.
And they want us to go out and pick the fruit.  If we don’t do it she used to get after us
get us
make us do it and so we learned from her how to make syrup.
And we gather the fruit and dry fruit.

I think I was around about
about nine or ten.
Yeah.
Ten, I guess.
I don’t remember and at someplace the lady said:
“Maybe you must be twelve.”
so I remember everything.

2. HER MOTHER’S BASKET

My mother has to stay close to us, you know,
she has to be on the other  . . .
We used to carry those little
cans     . . .
Four pound can?
When we fill it up we have to take it to the big basket
and pour it in there
and so my mother carry it on top of her head when
that basket is full of the fruit.

It’s just like a big bowl,
basket, it’s willow and
devil’s claw.
And they’re big ones!
I don’t know who took my mother’s when she died.
I wish . . .

Somebody got it already.
After that, why the basket was dis’peared. I tried
to ask my sister where did that basket went because
pretty soon we gonna grow up and get married and so we
can go out and collect that . . .
Yes, it was a big one.
About this big.

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