We are now almost a month into 2019. The new year is always full of promise, new beginnings, (mostly) healthy habits, and to our dismay the gym is a little more crowded. We all love a fresh start – but I’m finding myself reflecting on all that I’ve taken for granted while growing up. More specifically, I used to dream of leaving the desert for something more urban and cool – also known as Los Angeles. I had the privilege of living in L.A. for two years and it was magic! The amount of diversity, culture and all-around badass lifestyle of the West Coast took me up into a whirlwind adventure that every day I’m grateful that I was able to experience. Also, shoutout to the amazing people who can call themselves “Angelenos” and welcomed me into your world (and also Dodger Stadium). Once I moved back to Phoenix, I realized I had been a little homesick the whole time. Of course I was homesick for the people that I missed but surprisingly, I longed for the scent of creosote.
Why You Should Love the Desert
The desert is unforgiving. It’s no surprise to anyone that the land can be treacherous and it’s native inhabitants look slightly menacing (the animals and insects mostly). But there’s just that “something” that has always captivated Hollywood (thank you John Wayne and Clint Eastwood). It seems as though we’ve gotten another surge with the “Wild, Wild West” adventure narrative through popular television shows like Breaking Bad and Westworld. As hopefully many of you have noticed, much of what I just described is the white popularization of the southwest. It is so imperative to discuss the true native inhabitants of this land and talk about it as theirs – because, well, it was. I’m not sure that anyone truly understands the sacredness of the land like the Navajo, Apache, Hopi and the Ute Native American tribes. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve grown up in Arizona but I have never taken the opportunity to learn as much as I can about the native people and their culture – until recently. Of course many of us who have grown up in this part of the country understand the horrors that the white man inflicted on these communities of people. We still to this day have not corrected the mistakes of our ancestors, but educating ourselves is a good place to start.
There are beautiful things to learn too. In the Navajo and Apache tribes the word “diné” translates to “di” as in “up” where there is not surface, and “né” as “down” on the ground in which they exist.
Many native tribes put a profound emphasis on respecting the land as sacred and I think that this is something that we should all adopt. We have state laws protecting our saguaro cacti and we have rehabilitation centers for injured or orphaned wildlife including coyotes, rattlesnakes, hawks, owls and so forth. We know that there is no other landscape quite like the desert! It’s an alien world compared to the rest of the country. Our monsoon season in the summers bring on weather similar to biblical proportions. Rolling thunder startles us awake, lightning dances across the sky as if it’s taunting us with it’s power, and there is an array of smells that float through the air that signal the quail and jackrabbits to find cover.
When Your Love Is Tested
Like any relationship – you have your ups and your downs. I just finished romancing you to the point where you’re about to pack your bags and leave the Midwest behind, right? Let me fill you in on what you need to be prepared for first. The weather. We average the 60s and the 70s in the winter which makes Phoenicians remember why we either stay put or why we moved here in the first place. Then March hits and spring training happens, art and music festivals are in full swing and you think, this is great! But for those of us from the desert, the mounting fear slowly creeps it’s way into your mind in the coming weeks. The inevitable is happening. Mid 80s turn to 90s, turn to the break of 105 degrees for weeks on end. Once June hits people are running for the hills, or rather, air conditioned buildings.
Mirages, or imaginary pools of water, really do exist. You’ll be driving down a Phoenix freeway at 2:00 in the afternoon at 115 degrees and see a pool of water floating mid-air in the distance. And there has been more than one occasion where I’ve seen the stereotypical tumbleweed blowing across the street. God forbid you have to venture out in 120 degrees at all, but getting in the car that’s been sitting outside is the sun could be considered a form of torture. I’ve built up some nice leg muscle balancing above my drivers seat until it’s cool enough to sit down. No, I’m not kidding. I’ve actually seen people drive around with oven mits on just to touch the steering wheel.
I’m proud to say that we’re tough. We put up with a lot living in this type of terrain. We know to listen for rattlesnakes on our hikes, many of us have had the pleasure of finding critters in our homes (look up scorpions and centipedes for some fun) and some of us amateurs have known the agonizing process of removing cactus stickers from our bums. Like any boxing match we get the shit beat out of us, bobbing and weaving to miss the next punch, only stopping to drink water and cool down for a second to then get back up and do it again. Why do we put ourselves through it you wonder? Because there’s beauty at every corner even if it’s not glaringly obvious. Because you come to respect the land and it’s creatures, not the other way around. Because there’s nothing like driving down a desert road playing Johnny Cash or The War on Drugs, or taking an afternoon nap under the shade of a porch, taking in the vast skyline at sunset or falling asleep with the music of coyotes howling in the distance.