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Saying Goodbye to Arizona
Happy Trails To You, Until We Meet Again
Our family is saying goodbye to the beloved American Western landscape that has become our home during the last eight years. We are relocating from the Sonoran desert in central Arizona to America’s heartland, where my husband is going to work for a big corporation well known for its green tractors.
Endings and new beginnings always carry with them a sense of adventure, but for me, saying goodbye to Arizona is like wishing farewell to a quirky, but true friend. People form themselves to the identity of the landscapes where they reside. Or perhaps they are drawn to the places that reflect their personalities best. Ask the residents of Sedona, Arizona about this theory. They will tell you that it is karma or kismet or something astrological, even. Whether you believe in such things or not, Arizona is a unique place, a blend of ancient history with the brand new. Innovation takes its place amidst folklore and myth in a landscape that is a varied collection of geographic wonders, and an inspiration to western authors like Zane Grey, Leslie Marmon Silko, Barbara Kingsolver, Tony Hillerman, and Wallace Stegner.
I am taken in by what I see of Arizona, even my last day here. Arizona’s brilliant clarity of light attracts astronomers to places like the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, and a host of cowboy artists and landscape painters in Tucson. As we drive through the last stands of Saguaro “forests” north of the Phoenix metropolitan area, I think about the way that the Sonoran desert ironically mixes a harsh kind of endurance and survival with a surprising kind of beauty that may not be easily appreciated by someone who has lived their lives in the shadows of fifty-foot sycamore trees.
Arizona beauty is often tied up in the grandeur of its landscapes. As I write this we are travelling through Arizona’s northern plateau, a region where land disappears into miles of sky. Clouds form a canopy over expansive vistas that draw your eyes across hundreds of miles of terrain in a single sweep. This land is not beautiful in itself, yet its openness gives the soul a feeling of expansive freedom.
As we drive through this area, we see the authentic American West blended with myth and advertising. A place called MeteorCity, a tiny blip on the map, sports faded Kokopellis dancing against the walls of fake tepees and a giant geodesic hogan with a flashing sign reads “souvenirs.” MeteorCity reminds me of other such places peddling souvenirs, kitsch, gas, and stale sodas. These places exist in some of the most forbidding and barren landscapes, offering an oasis of sorts from intense heat or cold. Places with names like Nowhere, SkullValley, and BloodyBasin. I have to chuckle at these names. Some places in Arizona have horrific stories to tell. These stories are fascinating, though. Other places like SkullValley are hidden oases, kept so by their formidable, if false and pretentious, names.
Arizona’s harsh beauty and its muted palettes of agave blues, olive greens, and golden yellows offer up a few surprising last-minute gifts. A momma quail darts in and out of a scrubby stand of brush next to the bank where we do business, followed by 6 or 8 tiny quail babies. And I notice the lilly-like flowers of the Cereus cactus planted along the boulevard in my new neighborhood in the Phoenix suburbs. This cactus is a collection of tubular segments that clump together in ugly pillars. Their sole redeeming value is the large white flowers that bloom once a year, but only for a few hours. It was an exceptional gift to see this one last time before we head to a land of corn rows, deep, verdant rivers, and towering trees that dwarf the sky.
Saying goodbye to Arizona means saying goodbye to unusual billboards that read “Ostrich Eggs and Meteorites, 50% off” and warnings at public parks to watch out for scorpions and rattlesnakes.
In Arizona we leave behind some good friends too. I know that we will make new friends and I’m looking forward to the new adventures our family will experience. I’m already dreaming of a white Christmas, and perhaps a white Thanksgiving and a white Halloween too! Along with that comes a whole new collection of natural discoveries: leaves bigger than my hands, lightning bugs in the summertime, and temperatures cold enough to make baking a realistic proposition.
Goodbye, Arizona, until we meet again!
Nowhere Wasn't on the Map, But it is Somewhere in Arizona!
Skull Valley has a formidable name, but it is a pretty little oasis in the upper Sonoran Desert near the headwaters of the Hassayampa River.
This locale was the site of a massacre, but I'm not sure of the details.
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