Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Edge of Summer

It's the last weekend of May. Memorial Day comes late this year, on May 30th. It's breezy and just slightly warm outside on this very sunny Sunday afternoon, and the breezes make everything feel great. We're having a bit of a cool front come through, and we're going to fall short of the normal high temperature of 98 degrees by a good 10 to 12 degrees. We will certainly take the temporary cool spell with a lot of gratitude and will enjoy the heck out of it while it lasts, which will be all too fleeting.

Nobody is being fooled, though, by the nice weather. I've been living here going on 18 years and I know full well that another ghastly, blisteringly hot Arizona summer is waiting in the wings to crush our spirit and our will to live with its harsh, unrelenting, oppressive, choking heat. We have to put up with things that are incomprehensible to the rest of the country, such as stepping outside at 10 p.m. at night to a temperature of 102 degrees and being hit in the face with a blast of hot air not unlike sticking your head into a furnace. Or a nighttime "low" temperature of 94 degrees. You just know when you wake up at 6 in the morning and it's already 97 degrees outside that your day is going to be hell.

There will usually be at last one or two days at the end of June when the high temperature will hit 117 or even a little higher, which is ridiculously, preposterously hot. Anything over 115 degrees is unnecessary overkill, and serves no useful purpose other than to torture us. In mid- to late-July the monsoon season will start, and that is when the humidity creeps upward, making everything even more disgustingly awful that it already is. Those are days when a stifling blanket of heat covers everything and lulls you into a sleepy, hypnotic limbo, not sure if you're ever going to wake up again. And finally, during late August and early September everyone is so absolutely sick of summertime and the heat that we are ready to kill each other. Right now in late May, sitting on the Edge of Summer, we are all too familiar with what will be coming our way, and some of us are not too happy about it.

But despite the murderous, hateful aspects of our summer, there are actually some good things that happen here during June, July, August and part of September. Summertime is when we get the most colorful sunsets of the year. Because of the summer wind kicking lots of dust into the air, the sunsets are remarkably vivid and glow with unexpected and mesmerizing shades of green and purple. When the monsoon moves in it brings different layers of moisture and clouds in the atmosphere and at sunset the sky is an astonishing artist's palette of colors - crimson, deep orange, royal blue, gold, cranberry, magenta, cream and light gray. Monsoon sunsets are the best, and some of them will drop your jaw open with their magnificence.

Then there are the monsoon storms themselves. You can watch them building up over the Mogollon Rim northeast of Phoenix, in big, fluffy accumulations of storm clouds that look like immense heaps of custard in the sky. If we're lucky, these storms will collapse at sunset and come screaming down the Rim into the Valley, and then everything goes batshit crazy. Short-lived but extremely intense storms, with torrential rain, violent thunder and lightning, and near hurricane-force winds can make for an interesting, albeit hair-raising, evening. But the reward for putting up with Mother Nature's little freak-outs is a very welcome and wonderful 20-degree drop in temperature. We live for those cool, damp nights after the storm.

If we're really lucky, we will be able to watch a thunderstorm in the distance, too far away to affect our local weather, but close enough to see everything that's going on inside. It's so very interesting and beautiful to watch the distant thunderhead, made up of billowy gray clouds, being laced with lightning bolts which illuminate internal portions of the cloud bank and present a never-ending light show of bizarre shapes and colors. I remember watching one particularly beautiful round thunderhead, like a giant mushroom, flicker and flash with internal lightning bolts while being framed by a beautiful turquoise blue sky, the crescent moon and evening star. One of the most breathtakingly beautiful things I have ever seen, and completely free.

Our Mexican friends and neighbors to the south certainly had the right idea with their custom of the siesta, or afternoon nap. During the very hottest part of the day, when going outside is only something that you do when the inside of your house is on fire or there are a million dollars in the middle of the street waiting to be picked up, what better thing to do than snooze through it with a nice, long nap? The rabbits do this all the time, and I have to say it has a lot of merit.

We Arizonans will always whine and gripe about our summertimes, just as Minnesotans or Wisconsinites complain about their harsh winters or residents of southern states carp about their swamp-like humidity, but as we always do, we will get through the summer and the cool, crisp days and nights of autumn will be our eventual, inevitable reward. And as always, we will find ways to extract a little bit of fun and pleasure from the Edge of Summer.

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