“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
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.