Wednesday, July 31, 2013

20 Years in Arizona

Today marks the day 20 years ago in 1993 when I officially moved to Phoenix.  I've written about my "Arizona-versary" several times in this blog so I won't go over things that I've already talked about, but it is somewhat of a milestone.  Just short of one-third of my whole life I have lived here, and in spite of being born in Pennsylvania, I consider Arizona my home.

I have always loved the desert, even as a little kid when the only desert I saw was on our black-and-white TV.   Something about the dramatic starkness and the beautiful barrenness of the land spoke to me, and I was always mesmerized by the craggy, windswept mountains and vast expanse of sun-baked earth.  Where a lot of my peers saw nothing but brutal desolation and debilitating emptiness, I saw life, history, color, art and intricate, ageless patterns and rhythms.  This is a land that holds more ghosts than people, and the footfalls and songs of countless previous generations echo down the canyons of time right to the present day.  The desert might appear to be a lonely place, but you are never alone here.  Wherever you go, spirits walk with you.  Monument Valley, in far northeastern Arizona, is one of those places where the veil between the temporal world and the spirit world is especially thin.

Arizona is a place where cultures collide, intersect, conflict, separate and come together again, over and over.  Cultures such as the Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo have mixed uneasily at times but have still melded together to form a uniquely colorful and vibrant pastiche.  A fine example of this is the church at San Xavier del Bac, in southern Arizona.  Known as the White Dove of the Desert, it rises in hallucinatory splendor from the shimmering, heat-blasted expanse of ochre- and olive-colored desert near Tucson.

It seems, though, as time goes on the various cultures who make up this land are increasingly at odds with each other. Discrimination and bigotry are rampant in Arizona, particularly against Native Americans and Mexicans who have lived in this area for a very long time.  A lot of those doing the discrimination are people who have moved here from somewhere else, and really have no claim on the land or any of its residents.  I guess Anglos have a way of doing that, moving into a land and then taking it over and appropriating its culture as their own, making aboriginal residents feel like outsiders and trespassers.  They did that with rock and roll music of the 50s, when black gospel and rhythm-and-blues music were co-opted and taken over by white artists like Elvis Presley and thus made palatable to the presiding (white) culture, who milked it for as much money as they could get out of it.  They took everything, and gave nothing back in return.

The Anglo culture has been dominant here for a long time, but that is coming to an end. The increasing Hispanic population fairly guarantees that the white population of Arizona will become a minority, as early as 2025. What that will do to this state, its culture and its population cannot be reliably foreseen, but it will be amazing and fascinating, and it will blaze a trail to a new reality and a new state.  Maybe Arizona, as it rushes into the future, will find that it more closely resembles the Arizona of 100 years ago than anything else.

I feel that I have carved myself out a really good life here in Arizona.  I have a home which I dearly love.  Buying this house was one of the best things I've ever done, and it is a place where I feel perfectly safe, secure and satisfied, and where I can enjoy my beloved rabbits in peace.  I have made many wonderful, faithful friends who I value very highly, and a new chosen family in Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue. I've been a volunteer with BHRR for going on 13 years and it has made a huge, incalculable difference in my life.  BHRR is also one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I feel that I have gained much, much more than I have given.

The yearly parade of what passes for seasons here in the Phoenix area never ceases to fascinate me, and a beautiful desert sunrise can still imbue me with an awe and an appreciation every bit as strong as the first time I witnessed one.  The cranberry-colored clouds of a December sunset can fill my mind with a beauty and serenity unsurpassed by any other.   The summer monsoon can set the sky ablaze and turn the evening twilight into a living painting of the most amazing and intricate textures and colors.  And most certainly, a clear nighttime sky far away from the lights of the city is absolutely one of the most mind-blowing and awe-inspiring things I have ever witnessed in my life.  The sheer number of stars you can see defies comprehension and is a treasure beyond any valuation, and far beyond my ability to adequately describe.

The vast diversity of the land and the eternally-changing tapestry of the sky turns this state into an artist's-canvas of the soul, a multifaceted prism which shows you many, many different, new sides and angles of something you have seen dozens of time.  The desert renews and reinvents itself constantly, but in very subtle ways and if you don't tune your mind to these changes, you will most likely miss them.

But, all things have a beginning and an end, and I am starting to get a bit restless.  I find the right-wing, ultra-conservative politics of this state to be destructive, suffocating and toxic.  Too often these days conservatism is just a convenient cover for racism, homophobia, religious intolerance and bigotry.  American politics is fracturing along many different fault lines, not only by political orientation but also racial, economic, gender and class lines, to name a few.  People are much less inclined to open their eyes and their minds to new outlooks and opinions, and many of them opt to shut out any voices which are different from their own.  They choose to not make an effort to understand what their neighbor is saying to them, and prefer instead to surround themselves only with others who share their narrow views.  Understanding different points of view takes a little effort and so many people in this state are very disinclined to do to make that effort.

So, I am starting to look elsewhere to live, most probably out of Arizona.  I'm looking toward New Mexico or Oregon/Washington state.  I have no concrete plans as of yet, but this is how things happen in my life.  There will be a slow, almost imperceptible change in me and eventually, when the time is right, I will leave Arizona and move on to the next adventure in my life.

There will come a time when I will have no more Arizona-versaries, but I will always have memories of the great times and unrelenting beauty of my desert home.

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