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Quotations about
Deserts & Cacti


The desert — beautiful, lonely, merciless. ~Creek Stewart, SOS: How to Survive, 2017

What draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote. ~Edward Abbey

A mesa loomed up, spare and craggy. It was striped with horizontal layers: a vein of crimson, a seam of granite, a stratum of chalk. ~Abby Geni, The Wildlands, 2018

I'm never, ever happier than when I'm in the desert. ~Jeremy Clarkson, The Grand Tour, "The Beach (Buggy) Boys," 2016  [S1, E7]

I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams… ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

If you would know the world go into a desert and study your own heart. ~Austin O'Malley (1858–1932), Thoughts of a Recluse, 1898

My favorite color… the seam of a desert horizon. ~Eileen R. Tabios

All I think about sometimes is desert. Mountains or woods will do, but where I want to be at any given moment, if you catch me staring off, is where boulders are warm to the touch, where rain rarely falls and the air feels like it's being played on the highest, tightest string of a violin, as if you could barely squeeze a drop of water from it. Some people dream in color. I dream in canyons. ~Craig Childs, March 2019, Bean Tree Farm, Tucson Mountains, Arizona, Introduction to Virga & Bone: Essays from Dry Places, 2019

The Desert is—
A brown maiden
Basking in the sun.
~Ruth E. Meakin (b.1888), "April's Secret"

To a man left in the desert the first passer-by becomes an intimate. ~Marie Corelli (Mary Mills Mackay)

The desert, bleached dazzling white under an afternoon sun... it lay stark and unromantic, colorless in a blare of heat. ~Winifred Hawkridge Dixon, Westward Hoboes: Ups and Downs of Frontier Motoring, 1921

Nothing stood between us and the vibrant desert. Staring at the unlimited space fanned out before me, I felt magnified and ethereal, yet grounded... I'd forgotten how enlivening it could feel, seeing clearly and far. Aridity frees light. It also unleashes grandeur... Desert beauty was "sublime" in the way that the romantic poets had used the word — not peaceful dales but rugged mountain faces, not reassuring but daunting nature, the earth's skin and haunches, its spines and angles arching prehistorically in sunlight. ~Julene Bair, The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning, 2014

It was the farthest she had ever been from home, not only in miles but in feeling. The vastness of the desert frightened her. Everything looked too far away, even the cloudless sky. There was nowhere you could hide in such emptiness. ~James Carlos Blake, The Rules of Wolfe: A Border Noir, 2013

The first going-down into the desert is always something of a surprise. The fancy has pictured one thing; the reality shows quite another thing. Where and how did we gain the idea that the desert was merely a sea of sand? ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

Our desert... bristles with sharp points. Its plant forms are grotesque. Its colors are not bright. It has a harsh appearance that it has acquired by virtue of centuries of heat and aridity. Life is not easy on the desert. All living things therein simply to survive have had to develop rough exteriors and there is little graciousness in that very roughness. ~Raymond Carlson, "The Happy Land," Arizona Highways, March 1953,

Content can soothe, where e'er by fortune placed,
Can rear a garden in a desert waste.
~Henry Kirke White (1785–1806), "Clifton Grove"

A waste of intense heat and cold, of drought and cloud-bursts, of winds and lightning, of storm and death... What was the attraction...? What is there but a strip of sky and another strip of sand or water? But there is a simplicity about large masses — simplicity in breadth, space and distance — that is inviting and ennobling. And there is something very restful about the horizontal line. Things that lie flat are at peace and the mind grows peaceful with them. Furthermore, the waste places of the earth, the barren deserts, the tracts forsaken of men and given over the loneliness, have a peculiar attraction of their own. The weird solitude, the great silence, the grim desolation, are the very things with which every desert wanderer eventually falls in love. You think that very strange perhaps? Well, the beauty of the ugly was sometime a paradox, but to-day people admit its truth; and the grandeur of the desolate is just as paradoxical, yet the desert gives it proof. ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

In the empire of desert, water is the king and shadow is the queen. ~Mehmet Murat İldan

The desert was quiet. The coyotes were not howling yet. I was my own howling coyote. Outwardly a comfortable-looking man in an arm-chair, smoking a pipe, I was inside a half-starved little coyote, out there on the dark desert, howling to the stars. ~J. B. Priestley, Midnight on the Desert: A Chapter of Autobiography, 1917

The desert is a place of bones, where the innards are turned out... ~Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration: Old Wisdom for a New World, 2010

The snake is the desert. The fox is the desert, as is the bee... The country is not easy. Scorpions are here too, and a lush variety of cactus I would not touch... How could you not admire this sharpness? The buckled horizons and unencumbered views are nourishing. Poisonous things and needle-tip spines demand attention. A healthy agave with a fresh blade growing straight up, I never hesitate to reach out with a fingertip and touch, reminding myself every time how pointed they really are. ~Craig Childs, Introduction to Virga & Bone: Essays from Dry Places, 2019

Night in the desert. Nowhere else in all the world
Night comes like this...
My eyes, my human eyes, can see no end...
The hard bright moon seems far, so far away—
—The million, million stars that jeer at me—
Great God, how big it is—and I
But one more grain of sand beneath the immeasurable sky—
Night in the desert...
~Jean Wright, "The Desert"

For all the toll the desert takes of a man it gives compensations, deep breaths, deep sleep, and the communion of the stars. ~Mary Austin, "A Land of Little Rain," in The Atlantic Monthly, 1903

What makes the desert beautiful... is that somewhere it hides a well… ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

When other plants were dying in the heat,
And disappearing, one by one, from sight,
You stood your ground, acknowledged no defeat,
And patiently and slowly won the fight.
When Nature had refused to promise more
Moisture, you set your sure and sturdy will,
And built yourself a private plant to store
Your own supply. It is effective still.
You faced the threat and calmly flung your dare
At cloudless sky, bright sun, and burning sand.
Not for a rainy day did you prepare,
But for a dry one in an arid land...
~Clarence Edwin Flynn, "To a Cactus Plant," in Arizona Highways, March 1973

A tumble from the rocks would probably land us in a cactus — and anyone who's ever tried to tangle with a teddy bear cactus knows there's a whole lot more bear than teddy to it. ~Kevin Hearne, Hounded, 2011

The cactus of the high desert is a small, grubby, obscure and humble vegetable associated with cattle dung and overgrazing, interesting only when you tangle with it in the wrong way. ~Edward Abbey, "Cliffrose and Bayonets," Desert Solitaire, 1968

      Lucy did not know what she yearned for, she did not know why the desert called to her, she did not know in what it resembled her spirit, but she did know that these three feelings were as one, deep in her heart. For ten years, every day of her life, she had watched this desert scene, and never had there been an hour that it was not different, yet the same. Ten years — and she grew up watching, feeling — till from the desert's thousand moods she assimilated its nature, loved her bonds, and could never have been happy away from the open, the color, the freedom, the wildness...
      Hers always the desert seasons: the shrill, icy blast, the intense cold, the steely skies, the fading snows; the gray old sage and the bleached grass under the pall of the spring sand-storms; the hot furnace breath of summer, with its magnificent cloud pageants in the sky, with the black tempests hanging here and there over the peaks, dark veils floating down and rainbows everywhere, and the lacy waterfalls upon the glistening cliffs and the thunder of the red floods; and the glorious golden autumn when it was always afternoon and time stood still! ~Zane Grey, Wildfire, 1916

...the deep insistent red of things time-worn beyond memory. ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

Desert — a piece of Earth that God forgot to water. ~Terri Guillemets, 1996

A subtle but palpable feeling surrounded the three of us, like the scent of creosote and cactus flowers hanging heavy in the air after a long-awaited desert shower. ~Linda Kohanov, "Does the Horse Have a Buddha Nature?," Riding Between the Worlds: Expanding Our Potential through the Way of the Horse, 2003 taste loneliness in desert places... ~H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia: A Sociological Holiday, 1904

      The shadows of foliage, the drift of clouds, the fall of rain upon leaves, the sound of running waters — all the gentler qualities of nature that minor poets love to juggle with — are missing on the desert. It is stern, harsh, and at first repellent. But what tongue shall tell the majesty of it, the eternal strength of it, the poetry of its wide-spread chaos, the sublimity of its lonely desolation! And who shall paint the splendor of its light; and from the rising up of the sun to the going down of the moon over the iron mountains, the glory of its wondrous coloring! It is a gaunt land of splintered peaks, torn valleys, and hot skies. And at every step there is the suggestion of the fierce, the defiant, the defensive. Everything within its borders seems fighting to maintain itself against destroying forces. There is a war of elements and a struggle for existence going on here that for ferocity is unparalleled elsewhere in nature.
      The feeling of fierceness grows upon you as you come to know the desert better. The sun-shafts are falling in a burning shower upon rock and dune, the winds blowing with the breath of far-off fires are withering the bushes and the grasses, the sands drifting higher and higher are burying the trees and reaching up as though they would overwhelm the mountains, the cloud-bursts are rushing down the mountain's side and through torn arroyos as though they would wash the earth into the sea. The life, too, on the desert is peculiarly savage. It is a show of teeth in bush and beast and reptile. At every turn one feels the presence of the barb and thorn, the jaw and paw, the beak and talon, the sting and the poison thereof... Everything is at war with its neighbor, and the conflict is unceasing. ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

People say that they "love" the desert, but few of them love it enough to live there. I mean in the real desert, not in a make-believe city like Phoenix with exotic palms and golf-course lawns and a five-hundred-foot fountain and an artificial surf. Most people "love" the desert by driving through it in air-conditioned cars, "experiencing" its grandeur. That may be some kind of experience, but it is living in a fool's paradise. To really experience the desert you have to march right into its white bowl of sky and shape-contorting heat with your mind on your canteen as if it were your last gallon of gas... You have to imagine what it would be like to drink blood from a lizard or, in the grip of dementia, claw bare-handed through sand and rock for the vestigial moisture beneath a dry wash. ~Marc Reisner, "Introduction: A Semidesert with a Desert Heart," Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, 1986

"Sand," Ragen explained. "Nothing but sand for miles in every direction. No food nor water but what you carry, and nothing to shade you from the scorching sun."
"And people live there?" Arlen asked.
"Oh, yes," Ragen said.
~Peter V. Brett, The Warded Man, 2009

East away from the Sierras, south from Panamint and Amargosa, east and south many an uncounted mile, is the Country of Lost Borders. Ute, Paiute, Mojave, and Shoshone inhabit its frontiers, and as far into the heart of it as a man dare go. Not the law, but the land sets the limit. Desert is the name it wears upon the map... Here are the long heavy winds and breathless calms on the tilted mesas where dust devils dance, whirling up into a wide, pale sky. Here you have no rain when all the earth cries for it, or quick downpours called cloud bursts for violence... This is the country of three seasons. From June on to November it lies hot, still, and unbearable... then on until April, chill, quiescent, drinking its scant rain and scanter snows; from April to the hot season again, blossoming, radiant, and seductive... The desert floras shame us with their cheerful adaptations to the seasonal limitations. Their whole duty is to flower and fruit, and they do it hardly, or with tropical luxuriance, as the rain admits. ~Mary Austin, "A Land of Little Rain," in The Atlantic Monthly, 1903

How is it possible under such conditions for much vegetation to flourish?... All told there is hardly enough covering to hide the anatomy of the earth. ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

Deserts are mummifiers, bone-makers. Some years, the rain won't come, clouds promising and promising, but did you say the right prayers, did you pray to the right god? ~Craig Childs, Virga & Bone: Essays from Dry Places, 2019

You wait in heat like this, scanning the horizon for a cloud, sometimes through a haze of wildfire smoke that turns the world orange, when a drop of rain would be a miracle. ~Craig Childs, Virga & Bone: Essays from Dry Places, 2019

There are flowers that bloom in gardens
      Under a gardener's care,
      And their lavish beauties charm me
      As they flourish in luxury there.
      There are flowers that blow in the meadows,
      Kissed by the rain and the dew
      In a riot of happy blooming
      And I love their loveliness too.
But the flower that fills me with comfort
      And makes Life's meaning sweet
      Is the flower that blooms in the desert
      In the midst of sand and heat;
      Whose roots draw strength and beauty
      From a land forbidding and wild,
      Whose face turns bravely skyward
      Nor pines for lot more mild...
~Hattie Greene Lockett (1880–1962), "To a Desert Flower"

Great big yellow mule-ear sunflowers are blooming along the dirt road... scattered more thinly over the rest of the desert are the others: yellow borage, Indian paintbrush, scarlet penstemon, skyrocket gilia, prickly pear, hedgehog cactus, purple locoweed, the coral-red globemallow, dockweed, sand verbena. Loveliest of all, however... with a fragrance like that of orange blossoms, is the cliffrose... ~Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 1968

The prickly pear... produces a flower that... is cup-shaped, filled with golden stamens that respond with sensitive, one might almost say sensual, tenderness to the entrance of a bee. This flower is indeed irresistibly attractive to insects; I have yet to look into one and not find a honeybee or bumblebee wallowing drunkenly inside, powdered with pollen, glutting itself on what must be a marvelous nectar. ~Edward Abbey, "Cliffrose and Bayonets," Desert Solitaire, 1968

...the prospect of living waterless in the middle of a million acres of sand and cattle-bones... ~Richard Bach, The Bridge Across Forever:  a lovestory, 1984

This is a storytelling landscape. ~Craig Childs, The Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival, 2004  [Southern Utah —tg]

The desert is a scorpion's tale of stings and survival. ~Terri Guillemets

Black, brown and gold
In diamond checks prevail;
Coats will be worn skin-tight,
Six to twelve amber buttons
On the tail.
~Margaret Wheeler Ross (1867–1953), "Spring Styles on the Desert: The Rattlesnake"

"Where are the people?" The little prince finally resumed the conversation. "It's a little lonely in the desert…" "It's also lonely with people," said the snake. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

My dear friend:  Three or four months on the edge of the desert, all alone — how I envy you; and again, how I thank Heaven I am not in a similar position. ~Jack London, 1899

...there is something in the desert air
after the rainfall;
a clean smell, a calm, and the
of foggy clouds
that obscure the tops of mountains
as whole days become heavy with a
cool blue wetness.
for a short while the world is peaceful
and young again...
~Ken Sekaquaptewa and Candy St. Jacques, Sahuaro, 1970, yearbook of the Associated Students of Arizona State University

It was in the winter when the winds were fiercest. With them at times came a sharp cold, the more biting for the thin dry air of the desert. All the warmth seemed blown out of the basin with a breath, and its place filled by a storm-wind from the north that sent the condor wheeling down the blast and made the coyote shiver on the hill. How was it possible that such a furnace could grow so cold!... At those times the springs were frozen... and down in the desert it seemed as though a great frost-sheet had been let down from above. ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

The desert tells a different story every time one ventures on it… ~Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., One Man Caravan, 1937

In any land what is there more glorious than sunlight! Even here in the desert, where it falls fierce and hot as a rain of meteors, it is the one supreme beauty to which all things pay allegiance. The beast and the bird are not too fond of its heat and as soon as the sun is high in the heavens they seek cover in the canyons; but for all that the chief glory of the desert is its broad blaze of omnipresent light. ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

Water, water, water… There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, of water to sand, insuring that wide, free, open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here, unless you try to establish a city where no city should be. ~Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 1968

...face reddened by desert sun-heat... ~Alexander Smith, "Books and Gardens," Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country, 1863

Out west a favorite practice is
      To brag about our cactuses,
      Of which the west not only has the mostest,
      But also those to skin and clothes
      Inclined to stick the closest.
Opuntia warts have fuzzy hairs,
      Some chollas look like teddy bears,
      While others look like hatracks gone delirious.
      All love the sun. There's only one
      That takes night-blooming cereus.
Out west we never miss a chance
      To brag about our cactus plants,
      A theme on which we may get stuck for hours;
      But hold your scorn for spine and thorn
      Till you've seen cactus flowers!
~S. Omar Barker, "Cactus, Anyone?," in Arizona Highways, March 1973

God takes everyone he loves through a desert. It is his cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden. ~Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting With God In A Distracting World, 2009

Sometimes you need to spend time in an empty desert to discover how full your soul is. ~Terri Guillemets

November, in the desert, is a time
When heat has fled the night.
When days are warm, but not too warm to climb
A mountain's rugged height...
~Mildred Breedlove, "November Is A Time," in Arizona Highways, 1970,

The desert is overwhelmingly silent. ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

I had to do some lighting up myself, with a torch, in order to pick my way past prickly pear and cholla and cat-claw and other hooking and spiny growths, vindictive by day and devilish so late at night. ~J. B. Priestley, Midnight on the Desert: A Chapter of Autobiography, 1917

Some say that true love is a mirage; seek it anyway, for all else is surely desert. ~Robert Brault,

You cannot blame the Sahara alone for the troubles. But you should also not see the desert simply as some faraway place of little rain. There are many forms of thirst. ~William Langewiesche, Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert, 1996

Get plenty of sunshine
Accentuate your strong points
Be patient through dry spells
Conserve your resources
Don't desert your friends
Wait for your time to bloom
Stay sharp!
~Ilan Shamir, "Advice from a Cactus"

But the most beautiful individual flower in canyon country, most people would agree, is that of the cacti: the prickly pear, the hedgehog, the fishhook... the various cactus flowers have earned the distinction claimed for them on the basis of their large size, their delicacy, their brilliance, and their transience — they bloom, many of them, for one day only in each year... The true distinction of these flowers, I feel, is found in the contrast between the blossom and the plant which produces it... from this nest of thorns, this snare of hooks and fiery spines, is born... a splendid flower... soft, lovely, sweet, desirable, exemplifying better than the rose among thorns the unity of opposites. ~Edward Abbey, "Cliffrose and Bayonets," Desert Solitaire, 1968

But let not our thoughts be only of happiness. For does not the old Arab proverb — "all sunshine makes a desert" — faithfully remind us that the cloud and the storm are likewise needed for the most complete and satisfactory results? ~William P. Finney, 1907

No rose on thorned stem
Pricks my heart as does the cactus
Flowered in spring or gaunt in December.
I remember.
~Muriel M. Alcott, "I Would Return," in Arizona Highways, August 1970

But there is still too much to see and marvel at, the world very much alive in the bright light and wind, exultant with the fever of spring, the delight of morning. Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. ~Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, 1968

The Colorado desert, with the exception of some fifty miles, is a mass of light clay, which, when dry, rises in the finest form of dust, and yet supports a peculiar vegetation of the mesquite tree, which is a low feathery acacia with large spreading roots. This shrub covers scores and hundreds of miles almost exclusively, where there is no grass, no other flowers, but everywhere this mesquite. It would be a pleasing shrub if not associated with such disagreeable remembrances of dust for days together. ~W. Tallack, "The California Overland Route," 1860

A scream into the desert returns the echo of your own soul. ~Terri Guillemets

The best gift of the desert is God's presence. ~Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting With God In A Distracting World, 2009

Throughout history, the desert has been a place of trial, penance, and hard-won revelation. God lives in the desert. But Satan does, too. ~Jon Talton, Cactus Heart, 2007

Perhaps I can tell you something of what I have seen in these two years of wandering; but I shall never be able to tell you the grandeur of these mountains, nor the glory of color that wraps the burning sands at their feet. ~John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

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