Desert Mountain Times
Desert Mountain Times - People, Plants and Places of Desert Southwest

Transplanting barrel cactus no ordinary fete

By Dan Bodine


"Uh...You're my friend, right!?"             (Image as on Craig's List ad)

“Uh…You’re my friend, right!?”             (Image as on Craig’s List ad)

Transplanting a fishhook barrel cactus from one yard to another can be far from an ordinary fete! Especially as a senior citizen when you’ve settled into cozy linear thinking!

This cactus was at a home in Santa Teresa, N.M. More than “a little bit” west of El Paso’s Far East side!

Too, “a little bit” west of El Paso in general — in another state, in fact!

Although here we tend to say, “Since we’re all part of the same borderplex community, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump across the Rio Grande into New Mexico!” (Hee, hee, keep thinking like that Jethro! One of these linear days you’re gonna BE somebody!)

Indeed, found this beauty on Craig’s List: “Free, but you must move it yourself!” it said more or less. A challenge?

“Wow!” I thought. Immediately hooked! My alter ego, Jethro, then takes over.

Hey, size no problem! We’ve thrown heavy stuff like this around before! Remember how we use to throw those heavy hay bales around on the back of farm trailers!? This will be easy! 

Yeah, that was over 50 years ago, too. (Never listen to an altar ego who’s name is Jethro Bodeen! The guy’s an idiot! This cactus had a 70″ waistline!!!)

With no further thinking, I answered the ad. Excited, I was.

Just the touch I need to build a separate feature in our front yard, I thought.

Together with a honey locust and desert bird of paradise — both of whom are really feeling their oats this spring — I can do something really hot-doggish! Huh?!

Hee, hee. Noemi thought I knew what I was doing! We left Tuesday morning. Took us maybe 45-50 minutes to find the yard.

Because of shallow roots, cacti aren’t difficult to dig up. The problem — especially with a fishhook barrel cactus like this — is the weight. They’re mostly water! Held in by a tough skin!

“Holy cow!” I thought, walking up to it. “Can we lift that up into the back of the car!?!”

(Jethro, of course, disappears in moments like this!)

Noemi saw my face.

“You said you knew!” she said.

I knelt down quickly and started digging.

No time to panic.

But panic did come a few minutes later. First time one of the fishhooks drew blood! And after I’d attempted to shove Big Bertha (didn’t take long to name it) around a little to get it up out of the ground!

We can’t lift this! hit me like the proverbial bricks!

I looked down the street. Couple of workers in front of a house, maybe 100 yards down.

“I’ll be right back!” I told Noemi.

She was already on to me then, like stink on you-know-what! She’d been suckered in by Jethro on too many of these heists! She knew the game she’d fallen for! Gritted teeth!

And the doubt on both men’s faces when I returned only confirmed it. Staring and shaking their heads.

The pros know how to handle a fishhook cactus like this. You bring props! Lots of thick gloves. Two-by-fours to fashion a sled, i.e., or piece of garden hose to use as a harness, so you can pull it along the ground. Gently.

I’d thought to bring none! Just 4-5 sets of gloves. Cotton! And a small piece of cardboard, which already was in the back of the car. Seventy inches of fishhooks?!

At last minute when leaving, Noemi had grabbed a shiny washtub we keep around the house — for some reason. It turned out this was the day we needed it! Nothing linear about her thinking!

One of the other workers noticed a man trimming a tree several houses up from us. And yelled. He came.

We were a team then. Slowly got the roots into a low place on the ground.

Get that empty washtub under the bottom of it! Hold it, hold it; lifting! Barely. Slowly…

Finally, got it up, and then into the back of the car.

Wow! I could only say.

Then I noticed the men were leaving! Their left arm stuck backward in the air, with a waving hand on it. I couldn’t have tipped them anyway; I’d hadn’t money on me! Now they were gone!

Hey, thanks much guys! I yelled.

To them, walking off was an escape — back to work!

Returning home, after I’d dug a hole for Big Bertha, the linear thinking hit again. Another situation.

How do we get this … over there? And standing up?!

Thankfully, Noemi was in the house and didn’t see my expression.

Carlos Arroyo, a neighbor from across the street, had noticed us though. And came out to help. Took him only seconds to realize we needed thick cardboard. He left and returned with some.

Noemi was back then; she suggested I find some rope or something from the back yard.

After getting Big Bertha and tub down to the ground, on top of the heavy cardboard, the next step then was just a matter of sliding it over to the hole.

But at no point in all of this, this day, did the fishhook barrel cactus want to cooperate!

Here, actually planting it into the ground — despite our best efforts at pushing, shoving, staying away from those hooks and not losing an arm — it managed to go into the hole headfirst!

Then after another 15-20 minutes of struggling — pushing, shoving with hands; pulling with the rope — finally we got the cactus in, feet-first. And pulled it upright with the rope.

While they were holding it, I grabbed a shovel and quickly filled in dirt around the plant!

Whew! Later I’d water it some, I thought.

Noemi, still miffed I sensed, quickly disappeared into the house though.

We need to pay Carlos? I thought. Money?

It was an odd moment again.

Despite the fact Carlos doesn’t know English — and I don’t know Spanish — we enjoy each other’s company. And a helpful neighbor he’s been, too! Many times.

So we talked for a few minutes. Each of us grunting, or smiling, right on cue.

Then Noemi returned, thankfully. Had in her arms three beers — for Carlos. One, for her.

It explained everything!

I began watering Big Bertha.

Job over!


Cactus planted 2

Hey, Joe! Wanna big cactus?! Maka you a special deal here! This one’s classy! Loaded with fishhooks! ….Huh?!   Hey, hey! Hey Joe! You no wanna cactus!?! —   Seriously, thanks to Carlos Arroyo, a helpful neighbor, Noemi and I may never have gotten Big Bertha the fishhook barrel cactus landed this day!                                     (DMT photo)

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