The first time I visited Southern Arizona, it was autumn, and left Missouri in a thick red wool sweater, button-down shirt beneath it. I stepped off the plane into a world of heat, sun, oppressive blue sky and just as endless brown dust, and wondered what planet I’d landed on. It took a year or so, but then … well, I got my desert eyes, is the only way I can think of it. On a hike into the Catalinas those brown mountains turned from dreary to sharp and stunning; the blue sky from overwhelming to just as stunning; and I began to see the green amid the brown and gray that my decidious eyes had been blind to; and I began to love the brown and gray in their own right; and something in the deep desert quiet began to speak to the unquiet deep within me.
Four years later, as the flooding Mississippi River rose to lap at the steps of the Gateway Arch, I got into in a car with lnhammer (who’d already lived here most of those four years) by my side and those few of my possessions I couldn’t ship in the back, and made my way to this place of scarce rain, this young state (for all its land’s long history) that still measured its age in two-digit numbers.
Not anymore. Happy 100th birthday, Arizona! It’s been a rough adolescence these past few years, to be sure. I look forward to seeing you come more fully into yourself as you finish growing up, perhaps embracing your dual heritage more, born of two nations as you are; and perhaps, too, pulling that silly keep-out sign off your bedroom door, which really, is the sort of thing I’d expect from a far younger child; and of course, getting your finances and water overdrafts into better order as you move into the adult world. Eighteen years after getting into that car, I still love you and your deep silences and your mountains and your wildlife and even your flawed people (the best of whom often don’t seem to be the ones who make it onto TV–you might do something about that). I have high hopes for you and look forward to seeing all you can become.
Have some cake. Also, some music (if you have them, feel free to share your own Arizona music links in comments, too):
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” Kevin Pakulis
“Outside of tucson / got my groove on / in the shadow of the rincons / me and this desert man we get along / it’s hot here / it’s hot as hell here / swamp cooler and a cold beer / i ain’t sayin’ we got it made / but we’re gettin’ there”
(No video clips; click through to hear.)
“Goodnight Arizona,” Namoli
“Sometimes I think I choose this place / sometimes I think that this place chooses me …”
“Long Hot Night,” John Coinman
“There’s a freight train roaring through the dead of night / I hear it every time it rolls through town / it’s 1 a.m. and I’m wide awake / too hot for sleeping / those wheels keep spinning round”
“Down in Nogales,” John Coinman again
“Together we saw the clouds roll in / from the Gulf of Mexico / the wind was singing / and the sky was turning black”