It’s March, but it’s already been spring in Tucson for several weeks now. Temperatures in the seventies, wildflowers and trees getting a head start flowering and sharing their pollen with some precociously itchy noses (cue the Claritin!) As someone who shivers when the mercury dips below 60, it’s been heavenly. But also unsettling. Can’t help but think of global warming. With all the apocalyptic movies and talk of the Mayan calendar surrounding us, are we just preparing ourselves for an inevitable future devoid of the beauty we’ve grown up with and used to? Is this the swan song of a paradise we never even appreciated? Was Genesis actually a prediction? That we’ve been living in the Garden of Eden all this time but after eating the oily apple years ago are about to be evicted?
But then I shake myself. This isn’t a gloomy piece about a possible future apocalypse. I’m here to talk about spring in Tucson. A very unlikely paradise, but paradise nonetheless.
Yes, we live in a desert. But this is the Sonoran desert, one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world. Even in a desert, we are surrounded by a unique and fantastic array of flora and fauna. And spring is the brief, juicy season when Technicolor hues bursts forth from the usual gray, green and brown. Soon, those forbidding, spiny prickly pear cacti that provide a more muted, alien backdrop to our desert lives the rest of the year will suddenly be peppered with frilly crepe paper blooms. And these blossoms, little baby nodules just now studding the edges of the pads, will become as outrageously flamboyant and flirtatious as their backdrop is stern and monochromatic.
Looking inside the blossom of a prickly pear is like looking into a kaleidoscopic geode – with vivid complex arrangements of stamen in the center – a mini-bouquet unto themselves, jealously guarded by the mother spines. Look but don’t touch. We gaze upon them rapturously, greedily drinking in the fuchsias and yellows and scarlets bright enough to rival the ever-present sun. Later in the season, the stately, statuesque saguaros will turn into May Queens, crowned in puffy, fluffy white flowers with yellow centers like eggs sunny side up. Even the ocotillo, normally austere straight sticks spiking the air, become tufted in orange. An austere, elegant landscape turns blowsy with blooms.
And we Tucsonans follow suit. Women break out bright floral dresses and paint their toes to match the blossoms. Men dig out their shorts and Tevas and work on their farmer tans. Now is the time to take that extra midday bike ride, one more hike under a noon sun before the soft golden wash sharpens into laser rays. Now is the time to flaunt our flesh and forget the hat. We still know enough to bring our water and sunscreen – but without summer’s desperate urgency.
At least for now, this is the time to be Outside with friends and lovers, a flaming barbecue in the background. We no longer have to hide until May rolls around. Then while lilacs and peonies light up some alien land to the northeast, here the sun’s touch starts to bite our skin and soon we’ll be heading for cover again. The last gasp before the heat starts melting the asphalt.
But for now, let’s smile and promenade, admire the loveliness bursting around us and in each other. Like everything else, like each other, it will only last a little while. Let Sonora kiss our eyes and the yet-young sun stroke our shoulders for just a while longer and wallow in our own Garden of Eden. While we have it.
Image by azmichelle on flickr.