Saguaro Summer Gifts

Sizzling hot mid-June in southern Arizona marks the transition to the rainy season. The monsoon rains have not arrived quite yet, but lightning over the mountains and a tease of a few fat drops splattered the windows late last night. Throughout the Sonoran desert, giant saguaro that began blooming in spring will begin to produce fruit in late June. The flowers start as tiny, alien bumps that sprout from the saguaro tops and arms. Birds, bats, and bees do their pollination work, mostly at night as the saguaro’s flowers usually last less than one full day. 

Last year our neighbors Buzz and Pat planted a magnificent giant saguaro in their front yard. Transplanting a ten foot tall saguaro is no small undertaking and is best left to experts. On my morning walk I noticed its blossoms have finally opened. A sure sign this sentinel of the desert, as native people once called them, is happy in its home here on Easter Lily Lane.  

In mid-July it will be two years since Jim and I moved to Quail Creek. When I reflect on all that has occurred in those two years, it makes my head spin. First, Jim’s thirty-one year career at Mitsubishi came to an abrupt end when the mother ship in Japan closed his division. A month later our sister-in-law Susie’s life nearly ended with a ruptured brain aneurysm. She remains profoundly disabled. Last July my sister Katherine died of ovarian cancer after a brutal seven year fight. She was only sixty. And then three months ago, Jim’s Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis landed at our door.

For those of you who think we have weathered all these storms without difficulty, or assume that we have some special brand of wisdom, faith or philosophical outlook that keeps us from going bonkers, I assure we have no magic bullets. Heck, we don’t even have good wine to soothe our souls right now. Our fourth week of Prohibition has begun. Jim is off to the oncologist office right now for a weekly blood draw, preparing for Round 3 of chemo tomorrow. Right about the time we mark that two-year point next month, he will have a CT scan and tumor marker tests to see how well chemo is actually working on all those bad boys in his lungs and liver. 

For all of you who take the time to read this blog, send messages of support, prayers, cards, gifts, edible goodies and love, we thank you heartily. They really do help keep us strong.

In addition to all the other things going on in our lives in July, we will also pause to remember someone we never met. His name is Alex Newport-Berra. Last year, on a gorgeous July day in the Colorado Rockies, Alex lost his life in a fall. A gifted athlete and teacher, Alex was just thirty-three years old. For our neighbors Pat and Buzz and their family, on that day we will put aside our own troubles and remember Alex. We are grateful Pat and Buzz have shared Alex’s story with us. Sharing their grief helps us with our own burdens. 

When I look at photos of Alex with his strong body and handsome youthful face, I see something that reminds me of Jim Asbell that has nothing to do with age or physical abilities. Jim and Alex could not be more different in that regard. What I see is a twinkle in Alex’s eye. A playful sense of humor, a competitive spirit, a resilient nature. An ability to find joy in unlikely places and to live in the present. I think Jim and Alex would have liked each other quite well, despite their totally different lives.

Wherever Alex is at this moment, I am sure he’d be glad to know that giant saguaro in his Mom and Dad’s yard has put down roots and blossomed in its new home. So have we. 

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35 thoughts on “Saguaro Summer Gifts

      1. Lee, You and Jim are so inspiring. It’s been a tough time, but we know you two will get through this — with smiles on your faces and rainbows in the backyard! Keeping you in our prayers, Janie and Don xx

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  1. Jim,

    I am your biggest fan. You have taught me a lot. Please keep up the good fight. I still remember on a review when I scored you average….., you got in my face and said I have never been “average” at anything!

    You are right.

    I am a man of faith and you are in my daily prayers.

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  2. Thank you Lee for the gift of words to carry us to comfort. “Big Juan” as he is known by Buzzy & Newpie is a special addition to Easter Lilly. Loss of Love runs hard as
    we first acknowledge living without a presence & later we see & realize we are living with them in so many different subtle ways. Thank you Lee & Jim as we bring
    our small gifts you are enriching us on this journey.

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  3. You see and put into words what I see and haven’t, Lee. And you are right, Alex and Jim would have liked each other very much.

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  4. So enjoy your blog. Makes me think and reminds me to be grateful for all my blessings. Hmmmm – the ability to find joy in unlikely places and to live in the present. Wise words indeed. Hope we all can bloom where we are planted. I’m trying but it is so freaking hot!!!!

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  5. Thinking of you all, as we often to. Thanks for sharing the beautiful stories, memories, and pictures. Thankful to have you all in our big extended family.

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    1. Thank you sweet Laura. Getting to know the Podesta clan better has been great. And I hear congrats are in order for another addition soon. A toast to the Brooks!🍷🍼

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  6. You and Jim are in more hearts out here in Oregon… We so enjoyed meeting you both when Clint and I visited Pat and Buzz earlier this year and will look forward to connecting again on our next visit. Meanwhile, thank you for this remarkable reflection. It’s a beautiful tribute to Jim and Alex and a shared zest for life. I came across a wonderful quote by Kent Nerburn this morning that feels apt: “I believe that God embedded the miraculous in the ordinary, and it is our task to discover it and celebrate it.” Celebrating you both, Cheryl and Clint

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    1. What a beautiful quote, Cheryl. Thank you. We truly enjoyed meeting you and Clint and hope you will be back this way soon. Cheers!!!

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  7. Beautiful writing as usual, Lee. We continue to pray and believe that wonderful news will be ahead for you.
    BTW, upper atmosphere air currents are sending Arizona’s heat our way this weekend. Forecasts call for two or three days topping 100. AC and fans set for heavy duty. and lunch on Sunday will be watermelon and root beer floats!!

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    1. Thank you for your ongoing prayers. We feel that love. I’m thinking root beer floats sound pretty darn good right about now. We are at 110 today and only too glad to share a bit of our heat with you, ha ha!

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  8. Jim and Lee,

    How very, very kind of you to remember our son Alex, especially given what you are both enduring right now. I believe you are right on, to compare Jim and Alex and the inner fortitude and joyful spirit in each of them. I personally draw inspiration from Alex and Jim’s joie de vivre.

    We celebrated Alex’s 34th birthday last week at a bench we installed in McDonald Forest, owned by Oregon State University, near our house. I love the connection you have made between Alex and Big Juan in our front yard. I will think of Jim and Alex when I look at the strength and beauty of that amazing cactus, and the softer side of it with it’s delicate flowers that serve the natural world, and display their beauty.

    We will all celebrate Jim’s 2 year mark next month, and look forward to two beautifully painted orange and black- oops, I mean green and yellow- toenails. We think of both of you all the time, and your Oregon connection makes us feel that much closer to you. I eagerly anticipate sharing a hug and a glass of wine- or whatever we can muster- with you both in October when we return to the desert.

    Thank you for your courage and for remembering our son Alex. And I hope that his memory gives you strength.

    Much love from Oregon, Buzz

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    1. Thank you, Buzz. A little Piep told me you recently celebrated a birthday. Happy 68th. We will look forward to seeing you and Pat in October for Jim’s 68th on October 11th. You can bet we will be cracking open something good, no matter what. Breathe some of that sweet Oregon summer air for us. Sending a hug your way.

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  9. Lee We are grateful for your notes on the blog to keep us up all that is going on in Easter Lily Lane while we are away…so wonderful to see the blooms on the saguaro today as always when I write I continue to hope and pray good things are coming your way…I have a quote as well .You must understand the whole of life,not just one little part of it.That is why you must read,and look at the skies,that is why you must sing,dance,and write poems,and suffer,and understand,for all that is LIFE.JKrishnamurti….We keep holding you up….

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  10. Absolutely beautiful. Your elegantly crafted words and tremendous strength and spirit are a true inspiration. Thoughts and prayers to you and Jim.

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      1. Lee, although I haven’t seen you or Jim in some time and I don’t receive your E-mail, Steve has been kind enough to share a few of them with me. As I read through your review of the past two years I realize how small my burdens have been. You both exhibit great strength and positive attitudes. Your ability to express your sensitivity to all things surrounding you and Jim, including your neighbors, and to see their beauty and relevance to your lives is the mark of a true artist!
        I think of both of you often and wish you happy surprises on the road ahead. Cheers! Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Thank you Lee & Jim for sharing your lives & your hearts out to your desert neighbors. We appreciate how you both look at life & the world around us & your words help us in oh so many ways. We are blessed to have found our new neighbors, our new surroundings & to hear the stories of those people who have touched our hearts even when we have never touched their hands. Our thoughts & prayers go out to both of you.

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  12. thank you Lee for all your words. Each day your words are looked for and read eagerly. My hearts warms because knowing you and reading your words puts a spring in my step and wisdom in my dizzy head. Hugs to you both, Earline

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  13. My dear friends…
    You have written an eloquent piece of wisdom and love and gratitude and faith. Thank you for honoring Alex. He filled every one of his 33 years with the kind of spirit that Jim has…with intention, integrity, passion, joy, humor and full awareness of the blessings of each day we have.

    I rarely question Alex’s presence…there are so many beautiful, unique, quirky, sun-filled, joyful reminders that I receive throughout each day. There are the ones I anticipate – like the stunning beauty of the walk to his bench in the forest where he appears along the trail…the swooping red tailed hawk, the chirping wren, the salamander wiggling along, the wind. And then there are the ones that surprise me, like Alex jumping out to say “Hi Mom!” Before I started to write this, I read all the comments for this post, from bottom to top…the sweet notes, prayers, thoughts sent to you two. And when I got to the top, I saw the heading “33 thoughts on Saguaro Summer Gifts”…33…there you are again Alex, and this time, I think, acknowledging the connection with you and with Jim…and knowing, simply knowing that we are indeed here to live life to its fullest. Call it crazy…but I think those of us balancing the pain, joy, grief, and gratitude of life simply ARE a bit “off”…finding our way.

    I am so very thankful we are companions on this journey of life.
    Sending hugs full of healing Oregon sunshine and warmth,
    Pat

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    1. Thank you, Pat for all you bring to us in this crazy dance of life. We look forward to seeing you and Buzz in the fall. The heavens are about to open up and give Big Juan a monsoon cocktail of lightning, thunder, wind and hopefully, some sweet rain.

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