A Paean to Arizona Seasons
My previous post about spring in the Northwest may have unfairly slighted my former home state, so I need to set the record straight. Arizona’s seasons are second to none that I have experienced. True, seasonal changes in Arizona are not always apparent from the middle of the Large Amorphous Urban Area where I lived but I was fortunate enough to spend enough time in Arizona’s back country to appreciate the differences.
Spring is perhaps the most dramatic season in the Sonoran Desert, a riot of wildflowers and blossoms that is stunning. Yeah, you get flowers and blossoms everywhere else in the spring but the stark beauty of the desert combined with a lascivious display of color is as dramatic as Virginia’s riot of color in the fall. Before I moved to Arizona, I thought desert meant desolate. Many years walking in the Sonoran Desert taught me how wrong I was. I was fortunate to arrive in Arizona in the spring and see this dazzling profusion of life. It was almost as if my new home was putting on its best display as a welcome.
Then comes summer and how can one possibly find solace and beauty in the intense heat that drives even lizards into the shade? My approach was to appreciate the cool mornings when he day is still gentle and the light soft. In those early summer morning hours, I found gentleness and wonder. At that time of day, I would see coyotes and great horned owls even in the middle of the city. In the back country those early hours offered the opportunity for pleasant walking. Later in the day, summer thunderstorms swept across the desert, darkening the sky before pelting the earth with rain, thunderr and lightning. Arizona summers may be difficult but they do not lack either tenderness or drama. For those who just can’t get up early enough to enjoy the mornings or are afraid of the thunder and lightning, Arizona’s high country offers some relief from the heat.
Fall is either the shortest or longest season, depending on how you want to look at it. It seems short in the city because the heat lingers well into October, sometimes even later. At my house, fall showed up in December when the ash tree in my yard turned color and dropped its leaves. Not far away in the Superstition Mountains, though, cottonwoods, sycamores and oak trees began turning color in September. The following month finds aspen trees in the high country turning bright yellow. Even as late as November cottonwoods are still turning color. I still have the memory of a 1983 early November trip to Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo Reservation where the cottonwoods seemed to glow with color even after dark.
Winter in Arizona is what you make of it. While most people think of Arizona as a place to escape winter, Arizona offers as much winter as anyone could want: everything from deep snow and freezing temperatures in the high country to mild weather in the desert areas. Desert hiking in winter offers some of the best star gazing I’ve ever experienced, especially on nights sleeping without a tent. On those nights I felt like I was wrapped in the Universe, not just a sleeping bag. On other trips, we plowed through snow. The climate zones in the state are that varied.
Ever since I’ve been blogging I’ve been pretty snarky about Arizona. Probably because by the time I started my blog, I had decided I didn’t want to live in a metropolitan area filled with four million people (and probably an equal number of motor vehicles) that has totally divorced itself from its environment. My dislike of Phoenix is my aversion to the crowds, the traffic and cancerous growth that has displaced so much of its natural beauty with concrete, steel and red-roofed stucco houses. That is wholly different from my love of the land, its unique life forms and seasons and the many interesting attractions that are readily available in a large city. Phoenix is also home to many fine people whom I am privileged to call friends.
Arizona is second to no place else when it comes to beauty. I just want to make that clear even as a celebrate my escape.
What little experience (mainly freeway driving) I’ve had with Seattle has left me with an aversion to a city that I once longed for. I suspect that it has many of the same drawbacks as any large urban area. I think I will be a small town boy for the rest of my life.