Far From Any Road
From the dusty mesa
Her looming shadow grows
Hidden in the branches
Of the poison creosote
She twines her spines up slowly
Towards the boiling sun
And when I touched her skin
My fingers ran with blood
In the hushing dusk
Under a swollen silver moon
I came walking with the wind
To watch the cactus bloom
A strange hunger haunted me
The looming shadows danced
I fell down to the thorny brush
And felt a trembling hand
When the last light warms the rocks
And the rattlesnakes unfold
Mountain cats will come
To drag away your bones
Then rise with me forever
Across the silent sands
And the stars will be your eyes
And the wind will be my hands
by Handsome Family
Generally, the song tells about protagonist’s fascination with Selenicereus Grandiflorus and his intention to watch it bloom, which is a unique occurrence by itself. Namely this species of cactus blooms only on a single night once every 2-3 years, and it(the bloom) withers within hours. There are also legends about people losing their minds while witnessing this rare event. Rennie stated this at a live performance of the song at Castle Douglas.
The symbolic meaning of the act and the cactus itself apparently reflect protagonist’s affection towards the esoteric, the unfeasible and the beauty of strangeness embodied in the cactus.The cactus may also represent
a person with such characteristics who the author loves or feels for, which is implied by the use of the words “her skin” and his being tempted to touch it. It is located in a most foreboding place, a sweltering desert filled with dangerous animals and poisonous plants, and the cactus itself is spiny and allegedly induces insanity with its blooming, but nevertheless he/she is determined.
In the second stanza the night has fallen and the lyrics become more ambiguous and foreboding. There is a commotion of ominous shadows (which can be interpreted either as the onset of the overwhelming madness or as actual unearthly phenomenon) and also a reference to strange hands halting the character (from witnessing the blooming in entirety perhaps?), but still he/she collapses and feels his/her hands trembling from the trauma. The protagonist(s) may even have died, as the following lines describe the natural course of things in the desert: predators will come at night to feed on his/her corpse and tear it asunder.
The final lines suggest the only tragic possibility of bonding with such a horrific and astounding thing:
eventual union in a different, unknown mode of existence, when his/her body has dissolved into particles and literally become a part of the desert which the cactus belongs to, a part of the still life, then his/her life essence will be able to relate to the morose beauty and ethereal being of the otherworldly cactus in an incomprehensible way(seeing each other with “stars” and touching each other with “wind”).
Although Brett and Rennie take turns singing, I think they both represent the voice and mindset of the same character, or at least two characters with identical destinies.
This is a love story, albeit a dark and tragic one.
The first verse, sung by Brett, describes a man who goes into the desert in the heat of the day to find the elusive cactus, Queen of the Night. He finds it, among a poisonous creosote plant, and collapses there, eventually to die.
The second verse, sung by Rennie, depicts a woman who sets out on the same quest at dusk. She finds the same cactus and when she “falls down in the thorny brush” she feels the man’s trembling hand.
The 2 characters die there and their bones are dragged away by desert scavengers. They are forever joined by their common fate. The tragedy is that if they’d found each other sooner, perhaps they could have found what they were seeking in each other and not in this dangerous quest.