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.
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:
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.
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?