Below is an article/blog post I submitted to Open Salon. It made the front page and editor's pick; I thought I'd share.
The air in Arizona is hard, dry and hard. It will suck the life out of a person who hasn’t slathered up in preparation for its attack. Rising into the nostrils, it peels and cuts, making the walls of cartilage thin and then bleed until the air invades once more, drying the blood into instant mica-like scabs. It attacks the feet, cracking heels, peeling toes, and crackling flesh until the bearer of these feet hides them in lotion and socks for shame. The skin turns to tissue paper or crocodile armor, depending on the person, and the hair, without the boost of moisture, hangs limply without life.
Water is scarce and precious. Even the smallest drops of rain bring relief to the Sonoran Desert and its inhabitants yet days and weeks and sometimes months pass without the benefit of it. When the rare deluge hits, the soil, bitter like a woman who has given up on love, won’t accept the moisture. Too dry, its cells close. It refuses to let in relief unless the rain is persistent, playing the interested lover, biding its time, nibbling away at the ground’s built-up veneer.
Yet, the native plants and animals have adjusted to this harsh environment. The leaves on the short trees are small or nonexistent. Some, like the Palo Verde trees, have chlorophyll in their thin bark, keeping it alive during the long, very hot summer when its winter leaves drop off from sun fatigue. Sculptural in its sparseness, beseeching the angry sun in a tangle of long stick and thorn branches, the ocotillo lets its tiny leaves take most of the summer off as well, only making them go back to work after the monsoons bring afternoon showers in late July and August. The cacti do what cacti do best. After feeding the Mexico-bound migration set in May with flowers antithetical to their appearance, they withdraw within themselves, surviving off their stored moisture until more rain falls to replenish their supply and refresh their spirit.
Reptiles abound, lizards and snakes, large and small, harmless and deadly. In the dead of summer when the nights are unable or unwilling to cool the day’s heat, they embrace the warm darkness. The people are afraid to walk outdoors during this time and, when they must, they carry flashlights and lanterns to warn them of slithering diamondback and Mojave rattlesnakes and the more elusive Gila Monsters.
Other animals worship the night as well. Javelinas, or Collared Peccaries, pig-like and musky, wander the nighttime desert, munching on the dormant cacti and agaves, drawing moisture and sustenance from them. The ever-present coyotes choose this time to raise their pups and their cacophony of yips and howls, young and old, fill the nighttime air. Owls survey the land from Saguaro tops and then swoop up the ground feast of desert packrats and mice. Yet, it is the bats, out of sheer number, which rule the skies and darken the moon with their coven.
It’s beautiful but challenging here in the desert. May has brought ninety degree temperatures soon to be followed by 100 degrees plus. Shade is a cool commodity sought by all and, even those who find it spend their summer panting and sweating. As the human population increases and more surfaces are covered in asphalt, the nights cool less and less, straining the environment to keep the multitude of houses, apartments, and condominiums artificially cool. Living in the county gives some respite, fleeting as it is, but not for long. The paradise pavers march this way, officially making them the most dangerous creature in this already dangerous desert.