The Twist: A prickly surprise


Maya Palavali

The Sidekick staff cartoonist Maya Palavali poses in front of a cactus at Joshua Tree National Park in Palm Springs, Calif. Palavali recounts a funny adventure from her vacation to the desert town.

Maya Palavali, Staff cartoonist

Did you know that the cactus species Cylindropuntia bigelovii (Engelm.) F.M. Knuth has the nickname “teddy bear cholla?” And did you know teddy bears are the fluffiest stuffed animals ever?

Well, one would assume there would be some relation. But, trust me, there is not. I speak from experience.

Nature is not my calling; instead of a gardener’s green thumb, I have a red thumb. Everywhere I go, plants dislike me as much as I do them. However, nature is my family’s thing. Going on a vacation without being part of planning was a big mistake I made during my… unique trip.

In Palm Springs, all there was to see was nature: clear skies and rocky mountains. Those I can handle, but then we visited a place which will forever be a part of me: Joshua Tree National Park.

We pulled up to the visitor’s center to ask for directions. While my parents were talking to the park ranger, I looked around. On a huge sign, an ugly stump-like tree was displayed with “JOSHUA TREE” across the bottom. 

I stopped and looked. Took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes. Squinted and walked closer. But I could not run away from the inevitable: that brown stump with green sprouts was what we were there for. 

We drove so long to see gnarly tree-like beings. Worst of all, the Joshua tree is actually a succulent. 

As we drove, I warmed up to the place: it was pretty and calming. The Joshua trees began to look cute and cuddly. I was becoming a Joshua Tree National Park fan. 

Until the incident.

Let me first set the scene for you, dear reader:

It was late afternoon, bordering on evening. The sky was painted with vibrant brush strokes of blues, purples and pinks. The air was crisp with a light breeze.

We stopped to admire the cactus garden at the end. It had cute wooden signs naming the plants and fences. 

The other side of the road was the evil twin of the former. Cacti were growing wild, clumping together and had spiky balls rolling around. 

The Palavali household beats to its own drum, so, naturally, we went to the other side.

Carefully treading through the dusty clearing, my family admired the authentic beauty of nature. We stopped at two cacti next to each other (I swear they looked suspicious from the start).

Remember Finding Nemo? It was a staple in my household growing up. In it was a coral reef and many scenes had the protagonists peeking out the vivid ridges. 

My mom made the connection between the two. 

“Maya, go over there and peek out like that clownfish.”

Even though it was dangerous, I listened. After all, who says no to their mother?

I picked through the spines and posed for the picture like the dutiful child I am. As I moved back from the cluster, disaster struck.

I felt a sharp pain on my right hand, like something sunk its teeth into me. Uh oh. I glanced to see a cactus ball embedded onto my skin. 

“Hey guys, I got a cactus on me.”

The Sidekick staff cartoonist Maya Palavali, father Sreekanth Palavali and brother Rohan Palavali remove cactus spines from her hand at Joshua Tree National Park in Palm Springs, Calif. Palavali recounts a funny adventure from her vacation to the desert town. (Maya Palavali)

It was almost worth getting that torture device on me to see their eyes widen in horror.

My father and brother rushed over to help, but the damage was done. 

Eventually, my father had a brilliant idea: he took off his shoe and bashed the green monster off of my hand, ripping spikes and bits of blood with it.

Afterwards, my brother took over and used his medical student knowledge. He focused on picking each spike meticulously. As each was removed, dots of red came; my hand was covered. 

Throughout it all, I was laughing really, really hard. It did hurt, sure, but that builds character!

After a bit, the spikes were mostly gone – with one exception stuck inside my hand. We drove back in silence, exhausted by the excavation. 

The funniest part? The scars are still there. Colored bumps mark my hands as a remembrance of the battle between me and nature. 

Though I don’t think Palm Springs improved my viewpoint on plants, I have newfound respect for cacti. 

Moral of the story: sometimes, you shouldn’t listen to your parents.


Follow Maya (@mvpalovalley) and @CHSCampusNews on Twitter.