Desert Fairies

As I rode horseback with my local friend Manuel into the desert mountains this week, I noticed lots of Baja fairy dusters in bloom. Just the name of this plant is enough to enchant me, but the brilliant red stamens arranged like tiny whisk brooms equally draw my attention.

baja fairy duster aka tabardillo or cabello de angel

I like to picture the little sprites who could use these one- to two-inch-long brooms to sweep out their magical homes.

Maybe they’d live in the sandy burrows which I’ve heard are the homes of nocturnal tejons, (native coatimundis and cousins to raccoons). Or they might commandeer the empty nests of cactus wrens and swing in the north wind as if living in a hammock house.

Perhaps they could live in the heart-shaped hole of this cordon:

Cordon with heart shaped bird home

Not knowing the Spanish word for fairy, I told Manuel that the American name of these plants which I kept noticing means in English “brooms of imaginary little people,” and he told me that here in Baja California Sur, the little people are called duendes.

In a previous house he and his wife Andrea owned, he said with a smile, duendes lived in the kitchen cabinets and shuffled through the food, snacking and making a mess of things.

That’s made me muse the past few days about the good humor inherent in folklore, and I’ve been reminded, too, of the yarns my best friend Glenda and I wrote one elementary school year (was it 4th grade?) about the “flower people,” our own versions of fairies and duendes who lived among the plants, and which we illustrated on notebook paper with brightly colored map pencils.

Tall tales, stories told with a wink–even the common names of plants–serve us well, I think, giving us a way to stretch our imaginations, a droll way to practice paying attention.

Writing Practice:

What stories have you told with a wink? What ones were told to you as a child?

What plant names or shapes stir your imagination?

5 thoughts on “Desert Fairies

  1. PS Also just remembered a horse named “Duende” that I rode on St. Marteen with my daughter Lisa celebrating her 30th birthday. When I asked our guide what the name meant, he just shyly smiled and left me to wonder…I later heard it translated as “spirit.” Spirit or fairy, the delight is the same!

  2. My dad calls Michael and I “desert rats” because we love the south west and your story of desert fairies struck a chord with me! Even in Death Valley, I took pictures of the flowers hiding there. Thanks for the reminder!

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