Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Tide of Summer

Memorial Day weekend 2012 is upon us, and we in central Phoenix are enjoying an unexpected and most welcome respite from the triple-digit temperatures that burst on to us about a month sooner than they should. The high temperature yesterday was in the mid-80s, a good 14 degrees cooler than what's considered normal. When we get lower-than-normal temperatures in Phoenix anytime from May to October, we have something for which to be thankful.

About a week ago we were broiling through temperatures that reached 108 degrees. That does not bode well for the remainder of the summer, which stretches out in front of us like 500 miles of the ugliest, most pothole-ridden, unpaved road imaginable and we're in a broken-down Ford Pinto with no air conditioning.

The tide of summer is poised to sweep over all of us, like a tsunami of horribleness that we know is coming and are powerless to stop. Last year's summer was brutal, one of the very hottest on record. It's a sure sign of advancing age when I am having more and more trouble getting through this time of the year. I know it's a consequence of living in the desert and you would think after 19 years I would be fairly well accustomed to it, but I'm not, and it's just getting worse. I find myself thinking more often of moving to a more moderate climate, like in New Mexico. Santa Fe and Taos are calling to me, and they sound better and better with each passing degree.

During the very hottest days, which are from mid-June until the monsoon season kicks in mid-July, temps can approach 120 degrees. There are no circumstances under which that amount of heat can be considered necessary or appropriate. I mean, seriously, what's the point? What does a 120-degree temperature accomplish that a 112-degree temp can't? Anything past 114 feels like hot death anyway, what's the purpose of going any higher? Coupled with the fact that the overnight temp sometimes doesn't drop out of the lower 90s, and you got yourself a little slice of hell on earth.

Sometimes I think about other seasons when it gets really hot. It helps a little (though not nearly enough) to remember what it felt like back in December and January, when I would wear my flannel pajama bottoms, wrap myself in a favorite cardigan and sit on a warm blanket on the sofa, insulated from the sharp chill outside. Or during our short autumn in early December when you wake up on a bright, chilly morning and go out to see the tree leaves turning scarlet, burgundy, lemon yellow and russet against a turquoise sky adorned with puffy white cumulus clouds. Or our springtime, which starts around Valentine's Day, when the trees and shrubs are covered with richly-colored flowers, just waiting and hoping for any moisture to come down from the sky like liquid manna.

Yes, the tide of summer is coming, and Memorial Day is just the first stop of a long, arduous and debilitating journey, not into a heart of darkness, but a heart of blinding, blazing light and heat. I know there are good days and bad days to come, and just as summer follows spring, autumn will be following summer, although trying to catch of glimpse of it over the vast, parched, desolate wastelands of June, July, August and September, it seems impossibly far-off, like a mirage shimmering in the heat waves far in the distance. You walk toward that mirage and it seems to retreat farther away the closer you get. You will reach the mirage someday, but at a pretty steep price, as it seems like summertime sucks the life out of you like a vampire that hasn't eaten for several centuries and has just been given 15 minutes in a blood bank.

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