“The sense of home is not the culture, not the food, not even the many relatives. It is the place: the look of early morning; the smell of juniper; the particular expected temperature for the kind of day it is, for the time of year it is; the mountains being in the right place.”
–Viola F. Cordova (1937-2002), Native American author and philosophy professor

I read that quote over the weekend in a collection of essays edited by Gary Paul Nabhan called The Nature of Desert Nature. It articulated perfectly what I’ve been “doing” these past four months since I moved to Tucson.

I usually rise around 5, in time for first light. I turn on the coffee and while it’s brewing, throw open all five doors: living room, bedroom, side ramada, door behind the kitchen to the back patio and yard, double French doors, with a decorate wrought iron gate, that lead from my office, also to the back patio.

What does the sky look like? What’s the humidity level and temperature? Is there a breeze? What are the smells? Did it rain during the night? Has the dawn chorus started?

If I had my way, all windows and all doors would be open to the outdoors at all times. That’s not a great idea when the temperature outside is 105. Also the monsoon rains have brought clouds of vicious mosquitoes. So a lot of my day consists in adjusting doors, blinds, curtains, peering out, checking the bird feeders, scanning for Gila woodpeckers or vermilion flycatchers (most of what I get are mourning doves and house finches, both of which I also love). Has the mailman come yet? The ancient casement windows in my adobe, with rectangular panes edged with metal, amazingly still crank out with a little coaxing. But September can still be hot, so though I use the A/C as little as possible, I’m not quite there yet.

We had a real deluge a few nights ago, preceded by a wind that bent tree branches practically to the ground and one of those gray-yellow glowering skies against which the leaves look almost fluorescent.

Taking my walk the next morning, I reflected that the wind is a natural groomer. So many things are down after a vigorous rain. Palm tree fronds. Huge mesquite and palo verde branches. Cacti: a whole arm will have sheared off, or a sheaf of pads will be scattered around the base.

What are the different colors of the mesquite pods? They range from bone to ivory to streaked with rose-pink to deep blood-red and finally sepia.

In late August, certain bushes or stands of flowers—purple and red, mostly—are alive with flocks of small, madly fluttering, Monarch butterflies. Through the blooms of my neighbor’s crepe myrtle yesterday flitted a large black and pale yellow swallowtail.

What are the sounds as I walk? The low humming buzz of cicadas. Birds twittering. Motorcycles, huge 4 by 4s and souped-up cars roaring up and down Campbell, Speedway, and Country Club.

How is the afternoon light on my face different in September than in June?

Just on my daily walk around the neighborhood, I could make a whole study—and maybe will!—of each of the following:

Vintage lighting fixtures
Decorative tiles
Yard art
Seedpods on sidewalk
Trees that meet over the sidewalk to form a bower
At night—the string lights that drape patios, wrap the trunks of trees, garland corrugated tin gates.

Meanwhile, just for today—the mountains are in the right place.

11 Replies to “A SENSE OF HOME”

  1. Philippe Garmy says: Reply

    When our Lord and saviour takes you gently by the hand and you, the ever humble pilgrim, dare praise his fearful symmetry…my dear Heather, the world and it’s mysteries suddenly becomes fully alive!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Philippe! I wondered where you were…lovely to hear from you…yes, the world and its mysteries are there for the taking. But I, for one, have to slow down first…often suffering…a cognizance of my limitations..brings me there…Thank you!

  2. Teresa Kleber says: Reply

    Beautiful, Heather! Mourning doves gather under our patio table during rain. I love to watch and listen to them.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      And they have that Madonna-blue ring around their eyes, Teresa! A Mary kind of bird…so glad you love them, too…

    2. Anne Mallampalli says: Reply

      I love the way you write. When I get your email I save it for a break in the action so I can savor it.

      I’m new too, to Columbus, Ohio. I moved here from Pittsburgh where I was new for 9 years having been a transplant from Iowa where my lifelong roots went deep.

      Moving has taught me this: People are generally very kind to the new girl. Homesick is a universal feeling. I’ll never not be homesick until I’m in Heaven. Snd that’s ok. I love discovering the new sights and smells snd skies too.

      Someday I will take your writing class. When the new Magnificat arrives I always go to the authors’ index to see on what feast day I can look forward to your writing! Bless you, Heather, for blessing us. Anne

  3. Anne Mallampalli says: Reply


    Savor it not savor too
    9 years having been

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha I thought you meant my post and was combing through going Where did I use the word savor?….Anyway, made your edits and thank you so much, Anne, for your beautiful comment. I have visited Columbus, Ohio! The Jubilee Museum is a hoot…I stayed in Germantown…but the point here is leaving a place where we’ve lived for a long time and starting anew…kind of like learning to walk…wishing you all the very best in your new home and I’m so glad to know I have you as a reader.

  4. I am almost speechless, but not quite! I was beside you as you opened your doors and casement windows (i have those pesky ones too!) and took your walk. Oh how you open our eyes to the magnificence of our neighborhoods… and the world. Many thanks!!
    I never would have considered “Desert Life” but your eloquence makes me reconsider. Wow!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, Betty! I’m so glad to know you, too, have those pesky casement windows? I love they way they look and it’s probably a miracle that they work at all after all these years–but yes, they’re a bit temperamental. I’m glad as well that you’re enjoying the desert posts…

  5. I love the posts where you describe your home and surroundings. I felt peace for the first time in days reading this.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh David, I’m so glad. It’s weird; I seldom feel very peaceful myself. But when I sit down to write, and in particular to describe my surroundings, I sometimes happen upon a well of it down there deep somewhere!

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