“The hottest Arizona August on record” … from records that they started keeping only a few years ago. I began to wonder what if the press didn’t march up to arriving passengers at Sky Harbor Airport, thrust a microphone under their chin and exclaim, “How are you handling this extreme heat?”, that most visitors and residents alike would not fixate on the high temperatures. That they would not find the heat overwhelming. They would not lament and wax and wine. They would simply go on living and spare a thought for a remembered Winter life.
Finally a reality check; the passenger arriving from the Mid-West who countered that 95˚-100% humidity in the mid-west was “extreme heat” and Phoenix’s 110˚-16% humidity was nothing in comparison. That at least in Phoenix you could still breathe, still eat outdoors and plan things to do outdoors. And, as was pointed out to me by a fellow away-from-winter-wanderer, “at least you don’t have to shovel heat“.
The media weather drama is articulated in the same alarmed, exclamation as is real news. Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes. Really? Did they really think that Sonoran Desert living would be different? Had they not noticed a tundra of cacti and tumbleweed? More beige sand then leaf green? Was Phoenix weather expected to follow a New Jersey Spring or a Vermont Summer? Is this Summer so unusual? Had they never lived through a Summer this hot before? Were they actually surprised that it rose this high? Did they think that the winds would not wail and Haboobs would hardly happen? I began to wonder if anyone would notice the triple digit degrees if it wasn’t announced constantly like it was new news. And it’s no more news than the sun rising each morning in the East or that water is now wet and the sky suddenly blue. Really? The “Valley of the Sun” hot? Who knew?
My residency after five, full, foenix months. I have actually survived my first desert Summer and an “extreme” one at that. The high temperatures and dangerous heat exposure warnings. No more a mystery, no more wondering if I could bear temperatures that I imagined more suited to frying eggs than general atmosphere. No more wondering what 116˚ feels like out and about or 130˚ in the car after groceries. And what does it feel like? Fascinating. Yes, it feels fascinating. Your world suddenly becomes a Pizza oven, the air stunningly without even the slightest hint of cool as your hand toys with Summer’s breath through an open car window. The slightest air movement is transformed to sheer luxuriousness, like a gentle and tender caress that encourages you to tilt your head upwards in pure delight. The sweat from this dry heat is good sweat. The sweat you feel after a great work-out that evaporates quickly to a dry and satisfying after glow and not the sticky, overwhelming, humid sweat that lingers and clings and hampers your breath.
But, then, I wasn’t pouring asphalt on the route 101 loop improvements nor digging ditches under this baking sun. I was moving from a room-temperature 81˚ indoors to a cooled car 90˚ to refrigerated stores 75˚. Life is carried out here much like it is elsewhere. Children take open buses to school, walk home along dusty, dry side walks. Groceries are shopped always hunting for the slightest hint of shaded parking. Old ladies wisely drive with white gloved hands against the baking steering wheel heat whilst the less wise drive with hands futility seeking a cooler place along that round and wondering how a steering column could possibly get this hot so quickly.
And then the small things that you notice in these months of hot, dry highs. Flowers don’t grow well as they wait for the Autumn cools and the start of the blooming season with landscape gardens rich in festive annuals ready to plant. The laundry that never needs be machine dried for long, if at all, as it rack dries almost instantly. The bath sheet you can actually fold over neatly as it’s assured to be dry before noon even in this concealed state. That you can’t leave Lip Balm in your glove compartment as it surely turns to liquid. Finding your road trip zipper, sweatshirt hoodies hanging in the closet and momentarily not recognizing them and then wondering why you thought that you would ever need something this thick or indeed with long sleeves.
As days shorten, shadows lengthen, a week of temperature forecasts strung out slightly below 100˚ gave me unexpected trepidation. Thinking … ‘below 100˚! Oooh! Isn’t that going to be a little too cool? Am I ready for this?‘ The adjusted mind-set of someone finally used to average temperatures at 110˚. The new mornings at 80˚ and the recently rediscovered sweatshirts now pulled over your shoulders against the patio cool. With the shortening days, the sun following a new path, arriving over mountain tops later, and descending behind them sooner, would normally give me pause. Shouldn’t I be quickening my pace, fine tuning my schedule to complete chores and tasks and have fun whilst it’s still possible. To do all this before blistering is replaced with cool, then cold, then bitter, then impossible. But, no. This three months of extreme penance for nine months of bliss compared to the exact opposite most other places is to be rewarded with a Summer that will continue and continue and continue and continue. Aaah! Arizona.