Mortimer Sánchez

Gardens of earthly delights

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Above, original education building of Boyce Thompson Arboretum, built in the 1920s.

Enough with online networking. How often must I deal with people who want to be Facebook friends, then are offended when I ignore their request?

All I get is bosses accidentally finding embarrassing photos of me streaking on my birthday, bands I’ve never heard, and a plethora of acquaintances masquerading as friends. Like weeds, they keep popping up.

Judging by my growing frustration, it was time again to get out of town.

My handlers here at the magazine felt I should risk life and limb by (mis) treating myself to a Brazilian wax at some fancy spa. In honor of this issue’s theme, I told them, “No!” My lawn is not theirs to weed.

Instead, I shut down my laptop, turned off the cell phone and ignored all messages. I slipped out the door before my roommate started grumbling about his job again. In minutes, I was merging on a highway to anywhere-but-here.

And I managed the feat two weekends in a row!

I was following a new interest in the plant kingdom. Its idea of networking is simpler; tubers, seeds, rhizomes, stolons, flowers, birds and bugs. How organic!

The first weekend I spent a day at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, strolling trails and bridges, looking at plants while I worked on my sunburn.

Approaching a tour staging area, I found 20 members of the Red Hat Society waiting. They were the highlight of an almost pointless tour if you’re a native like me. The women bobbed about like wind-up toys, interrupting, trailing off, risking life and limb to touch prickly pear spines despite warnings.

A nearby cardinal in the arboretum’s trees just after the rain.

The very patient tour guide was a sweet, elderly gentleman. But if it wasn’t for those red-hat-clad women talking about hip replacements and cussing, I would have had to listen to news I already knew like, “mesquite beans are edible.”

Fortunately, I found some heaven in the butterfly pavilion, where parents were finding that if you want your rug rats to be still, put a butterfly on their finger. I lingered, watching, while the misters and shade soothed my fancy new sunburn.

The next weekend I headed for the granddaddy of desert botany, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum outside of Superior. I drove east across the Sonoran Desert, through waves of rain as the first spring storm brought the smells of the desert through my car vents.

The rain let up long enough to walk down one path, then it pinned me down for an hour in the Arboretum’s original education building. There I took in the hundreds of succulent plants from across the globe; some of which are the oddest plants to ever reach for sunlight.

Back at the visitor’s center, I spent far too much money on Madagascan wackadoodle whatzit weeds, boojum trees and what ever else looked like Dr. Seuss had filled in for God one day.

Then I found the herb festival. A couple was offering samples of food made from desert plants; yucca blossom and tepary bean stew; ocotillo blossom tea; desert greens salad and … oh, forget it. I blew a little more money on some of their exotic jellies and mesquite marmalade. Bills be damned!

Soon the monthly tour of edible and medicinal plants of the Sonoran Desert was ready to being. This time, I was not disappointed by lack of knowledge. And no red hats to distract me.

The tour guide was Don Wells, co-author of “Foods of the Superstitions.” He rattled off several gross-sounding ailments that each plant helped cure. I learned that creosote bushes are one of the oldest living things, with one that just had its 11,700th birthday; that Mormon Tea plants have nothing to do with Mormons. Oh, and only John Wayne can drink from a cactus.

Driving home, I started thinking about online requests from friends. It would be better if I could send a reply, instead of just pressing the ‘no-thanks’ button. I could say something like, “Mortimer denied you the satisfaction of adding him to your plethora of pseudo-friends. He found watching plants network at Boyce Thompson much more satisfying than becoming one of your trophies.

Ok. I feel better now. Where to next?

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