the desert is a tactile experience

I lived in Tucson for just over seven years (1999-2006), which is eight summers, which is how you learn to count it. Summer starting sometime around late April (triple-digit highs typically make their first appearance around the first week of May) and ending sometime in mid-October. My wife and I got hitched (outside, naturally) on the 24th of September, at sunset. It was a crisp 90 degrees.

(If you say something about a dry heat, I will punch you in the throat.)

The thing is, you do learn to live with it. Move economically. Breathe shallowly. Seek shade wherever you can. Never pass up a gulp of water. Never completely close the windows to your car when you park. Never, ever, ever, spend more than an hour outside without sunscreen (much less than that, if you are fair-skinned.) Beyond all that, your expectations of comfort simply adjust. By my second summer, I could go running when it was 95 degrees outside. I'd come home with salt crystals in my beard, and drink a couple of liters of water in less than 5 minutes.

Before last week, I'd only been back to Tucson once, in 2008. I've lived in Seattle since the beginning of '10. Seattle, where we cracked 80 degrees for about 2 hours last summer (really).

It was nighttime when we arrived. While waiting for our luggage, we stepped outside for a moment. I didn't realize this, but I instinctively brace myself whenever I pass through an exterior door now, expecting a blast of cool air, moisture, wind, or (more likely) some combination of the three. I braced myself even as I could see the rock gardens and cacti beyond the curb, and the automatic doors slid open, and I felt--nothing. The air felt exactly the same outside as it did inside. Still, dry, and a completely unnoticeable temperature.

When we got to our friend's apartment, we had to wait a bit for her to arrive (long story). Her place is less than a mile from downtown, but I could see the stars blanket the sky. The air was so still and quiet I could hear a slight ringing in my ears that must be there all the time--the years of drums and marching band and headphones and riding with the top down have taken their utterly predictable toll--but is usually drowned out by the white noise of the lab, the ever-present din of traffic, the buzz of airplanes, the wind off of Puget Sound. I made a mental note to find a truly silent place at home to test this theory out. I haven't found it yet.

The first morning, I stepped out onto the patio with my cup of coffee. The sun was well up--it was nearly 10--but the patio was still in shadow. I walked across the cool concrete (I'm outside! Barefoot!) to the back wall, and leaned out into the sunlight. It hit my left cheek like a gentle slap. I can't remember the last time I really felt the sun.

I've got about a hundred reasons not to be there anymore. Summer is awful. I spent more time behind the wheel of a car in 5 days than I usually spend in a month. (And I wasn't even going to work.) The city itself is basically one strip mall after another. The food is amazing, but if I made a habit of eating the way I did last week, I'd be as big as a house.

And yet...when I sit on a rocky peak in the blazing sun overlooking this landscape that still after all these years feels like another planet to me, there's something that pulls me back. Hard.

1 comment:

Gino said...

"there's something that pulls me back."

why i prefer to drive north every excuse i get. difference being that my happy spot has more trees.