The most popular topic of discussion in Tucson is heat. Complaining about the heat, strategies to cope with the heat, travel plans during the summer, disparaging remarks about the term ‘dry heat’ itself – New Yorkers talk about rent and Tucsonans talk about the heat.
And for damn good reason – it’s frikkin HOT here. And it’s not even the hottest spot in Arizona (Phoenix is generally a good ten degrees warmer.) But when you live here, you redefine what you consider ‘hot’. For example, we try not to turn the A/C on until it gets closer to 100 degrees (just about now). So the 80s or 90s are still considered balmy spring – even though the rest of the world considers it high summer. And I have to admit, I’m a heat junkie – luckily both Jamie and I are. I work in an un-insulated room that now averages between 85-90 degrees and I don’t even think about it (much). After noon-ish, I start turning the ceiling fans on and closing the curtains, but those are usually the only concessions I’ll make. When the room starts creeping into the mid-to-upper nineties, I have to start taking action – though it’s more because the computer starts acting wonky at that point.
And I’ve always been this way. Daughter of a Cuban exile, born in Miami in July – my introduction to the world was sultry Caribbean heat and its close companion – drenching humidity. As a little girl, I loved to sit on the cement front porch that had been baking in the summer heat and just bask. I’m a lizard – shivering when it gets below 65 degrees. It’s cozy – it’s fluid – it’s a great excuse to go swimming and not wear so many clothes. If given a choice between hot and cold, I always choose hot. I’ll still drink my coffee hot, take hot showers when it’s boiling in August.
Even so, Tucson gets hot even for a heat fiend like me. As my friend Carrie likes to say, it gets “pizza oven hot”. It’s a dry heat alright, open the door and you’ll feel like you’re in the path of a giant hair dryer in berserker mode. I’m incredibly lucky to 1) live in a house with air conditioning and 2) be able to control my schedule and avoid going out during the hottest hours of the day. I’m a night person and most of the early part of summer features the balmiest, breeziest, loveliest nights I’ve ever experienced. This is the time of year when you take the bike out after dark and soak up the cool, sweet air through every pore as you glide down the almost empty wide streets on the way to Red Room.
After a few months (hmm, weeks?), your body starts adapting to the season and slows doooowwwwn. My fingers move more slowly, my blood thins out and the lids of my eyes get ever so much heavier. Even when you drink all the water your bladder can manage, even if you employ every old or new technology to cool your immediate atmosphere, at some point it gets to your brain and your brain says to chill the f&ck out, it’s not the time to put 110% into your project. Naw, sweetie, it’s time for siesta. It’s time find a spot to sit and then stay there with a cool drink at your side. It’s barely too much trouble to brush your teeth (though you still do, like the good American.) It’s more like winter in the north – a time for introspection and a great time to withdraw from society and cocoon into a new project (as long as you’re not expending TOO much energy in the process).
The whole city of Tucson goes through this process, too. It’s a university town and when school’s out for summer, a lot of the college kids are gone, too. And not many families think of Tucson for their summer vacation. So our small town gets even smaller – even more space opens up and those of us who tough it out get a lot more legroom. Time to spread out and linger. There’s something waaaaay bigger than you and it’s overhead throwing down lots of radiation – a great lesson in humility. You can’t beat the sun – just hide as best you can. Some folks skip town, some folks hole up in their own perfectly air conditioned biodomes. But I like the emptiness and whitespace.
And then comes monsoon season! I’ve come across some folks who don’t care for it, but the rest of us LOVE monsoon season. Well, the weather patterns have been changing so much since we moved here, apparently we haven’t even experienced a true one yet (though things look promising for this year, fingers crossed, pray to the rain gods, etc). But the times when the sky suddenly darkens, the wind whips up and the heavens let loose an hour’s worth of cascading water – complete with thunder and lightning – I’ve been thrilled. It’s so dramatic, so epic – Mother Nature becomes a whirling dervish of weather and you feel the pounding on your soul.
Soon enough, the water suddenly stops and the winds die down. Then you step outside and feel the fresh ions on your skin, breathing in the scent of creosote and mesquite – every cell plumps up, everything is suddenly lush and juicy and gorgeous. People complain about humidity but it ain’t no 99% humidity like Florida. It’s delightful!
Once the rains pass, that’s the true tough summer – at that point, it never cools down. it’s always just HOT. You’ve been through four months of summer at this point and even I get tired of it. People get grumpy, a bit snipey or just hangdog depressed. But then you realize, it’s almost fall (ie, October, September’s still pretty cookin’)! And that’s the BEST time to be here. So if we can just hold out a little longer, bear the last searing hours, it won’t be long til we feel some sweet breeze on our face again and start relishing what the rest of the year has in store. Then you pat yourself on the back, cause you’ve survived! And you treat each moment the rest of the year with the respect and love it deserves. Coz before too long, the cycle’s gonna start all over again…