Foster’s voice sounded sleepy. We were kicking back in the front living room while Mom was working on her blog. “What?” I replied, realizing I was kind of sleepy myself.“Remember when we were in Peru and you fell into that cactus?” Foster asked. I had to laugh. “Yeah, that was kind of scary,” I admitted, “but it was worth it to get out of that giant condor’s nest!” Foster agreed. “Well, I’ve been thinking about cacti lately. I think it would be fun to learn about them.”
“Okay…” I began. “I know we have some in the back yard. Remember when Mom planted some cuttings she got from the nopales at Carlos and Kate’s?” Foster nodded. “Yeah, she was pretty happy because they had grown so much in two years. But did you hear her saying that the biggest one started leaning and broke off last month?” “No,” I said. “I must have missed that somehow.” We jumped up to look out the front window, and I thought it was too bad we couldn’t see the back yard from there. “So you’re saying you want to go somewhere to learn about cacti to help Mom figure out what went wrong with the nopales? Like when we went to India to see if we could help her learn her numbers in Punjabi?”“Yeah, something like that,” Foster replied. “But where do you go to learn about cacti?” I shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine,” I said. “I know we saw some in Area 51.” Foster shuddered. “Well we’re not going there again,” he said firmly. “Let’s sleep on it. We’ll think about it when we wake up.” I agreed, and before we knew it we were both sound asleep.When we woke up, we were sailing through the air over what appeared to be a field of giant saguaro cacti. “Wow!” Foster exclaimed. “I don’t remember spiraling through outer space, do you?” I shook my head. “No,” I replied, blinking my eyes. “We must have slept through the entire trip!” We landed with a THUMP on a dirt road surrounded by cactus on both sides. Before I managed to even get out of the travel tunnel I heard Foster say in an incredulous voice, “Who are you?” At first I thought he must have bumped his head and gotten amnesia, but then I saw an unusual looking creature stuck in a cactus nearby. From my position on the ground, it kind of looked like a fox!Immediately I sprang up and ran over to the newcomer as he made his way down from the cactus. Foster was already interrogating him. “Where did you come from? What’s your name? How did you get here?” Our new friend studied us as carefully as we studied him. “My name is Dusty,” he replied in a friendly manner. “Your mom just got me at Office Depot this weekend. My name was Rusty, but I thought I’d better change it to Dusty after being in her room for a couple of days. I’m actually a pencil pouch, but I didn’t bring any pencils with me. I stowed away in your travel tunnel last night because I heard you talking about going on a trip and it sounded fun.”“Oh wow,” I said, amazed. “Now that I think about it, I did see you yesterday in the bedroom but I thought you were just a stuffed animal.” For a split second I thought Foster looked at me funny. “I’m the newest addition to her fox and hedgehog collection,” Dusty went on. “Her fox and what collection?” I asked, dumbstruck. This was all news to me. “They’re on the chair in the bedroom,” Foster explained. “I guess you’ve never seen them before.”
“Ohhhh,” I responded slowly. “That’s a chair under there? I always thought that was just a giant pile of Mom’s clothes.” Foster stifled a laugh. “Just don’t let her hear you say that,” he said. “Well,” Foster said briskly, after Dusty had answered his questions to our satisfaction. “Let’s get this show on the road. I’m anxious to see how many cacti we can find.” “Come on, Dusty,” I said to our new friend. “Stick with me and you won’t get lost!”After walking for what seemed like forever, we finally came to a sign we had never seen before. “Wow, a turtle crossing!” Dusty exclaimed. “I hope we see some turtles!” Foster and I agreed. Other than the ones Mom painted for the back yard, we had never seen a turtle before.We didn’t have long to wait. A minute later we saw a giant desert tortoise just miss being hit by a huge semi! We all stopped in our tracks, terrified. “Whew, that was a close one!” the tortoise panted as the truck roared past. “Good thing I’m pretty fast for a tortoise. Hey, who are you?” We explained who we were and what we were doing there. “Cacti, eh?” remarked our new friend. “I know all about them. And I know where they all are. Come on, I’ll give you a ride!” It was a little crowded but we all managed to climb up on the tortoise’s back. As we rode, he explained all the different cacti to us. “Do Joshua trees count as cactus?” Foster asked. “That’s a good question,” our friend replied. “It’s a type of yucca plant, so it is a succulent, and cactus are succulents too. But they only grow in the Mojave Desert.” Foster and I exchanged glances. “We’ve been there,” I offered, “but we don’t want to go back.”“Wow!” Dusty said as we approached a huge cactus by the ocean. “I never knew there were cactus at the beach!” Our tortoise guide laughed jovially. “Yes, these are in the Canary Islands in Spain. There are lots of places where cacti live near the ocean. These are related to noplaes, actually.” “Oh yeah!” we responded in unison. “We almost forgot! That’s why we came on this trip, to learn about nopales!” Dusty looked puzzled. “I just came along for the ride,” he said. “Would it be too much trouble to take us to see them?” I asked, trying to keep us on the subject. The tortoise shrugged, nearly knocking us all off his back in the process. “Oh, sorry, guys,” he apologized. “Didn’t mean to do that. Nopales aren’t hard to find. I know where they are. We can be there in no time.”Soon we arrived at a huge patch of nopales. They were even taller than the ones at Carlos and Kate’s. “How do you like these?” our friend asked proudly. “Here, I’ll hold the ladder while you guys climb up to get a better look!” We climbed the ladder carefully. “Dude, don’t wiggle the ladder!” Foster said. “You know there’s always an element of risk!”After that we were able to tour a facility where nopales are prepared for sale. “These are delicious,” our guide said, munching on a fresh nopal pad. “You should try it!” Foster and Dusty winced. “Sounds…um…interesting,” Dusty said politely. I was interested. “Does it taste like delicious bamboo?” I asked. The tortoise shrugged again. “Don’t know. Never tried it,” he replied with his mouth full. The rest of the day was spent learning about more cacti and enjoying the company of our new friend. We even had time for a quick game of hide-and-seek before we had to start for home.Once we got home we all decided to relax and have some quiet time. “Thanks for letting me go on your trip with you,” Dusty said. “You guys are really fun to be around.”“No problem, Dust,” I replied lazily. “Any time you want to go with us, we’d be glad to have you!”
Author’s note: Thanks to www.pixabay.com for the background photos. We don’t claim to know the difference between a turtle and a tortoise, nor are we sure if you can say cactuses instead of cacti. And we never found out whether Joshua trees count as cactus or not. But we do know pretty much everything else.
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