I went to Arizona last weekend to visit friends, only to discover that in November, Arizona is 90 degrees blanketed with blue skies. There were palm trees. And cacti. And every house had a swimming pool.
Apparently my sheltered, backwoods living has kept me blind to this reality, although I have friends that “travel south” for the winter. I figured it was a sort of Chopin migration, something to alleviate their asthma perhaps. I did not realize it was an oasis of glorious weather.
I wondered, for a brief moment, why everyone did not live in the desert paradise.
So on a beautiful Saturday (like every other Saturday in Arizona, I assume), I ventured outside, having not yet seen anything but the route from the airport.
I hit a wall of warm air as I stepped out the door and pitter-pattered my way down the street. I quickly realized that staying hydrated in the desert is rather a full-time job. I made my way toward a park. Surely it was a gateway to some trail or scenery.
I passed dozens of houses and manicured yards. They all looked exactly the same. The yards had no lawns or usable space – just gravel and palm trees. I saw no toys, no bikes, no signs of human presence other than the blatant urban sprawl.
I saw perfectly shiny and unused pickup trucks and wondered why one would spend a small fortune on a vehicle they could not really use. I ran past home after home and did not once see or hear children. On a Saturday.
I ran to the park – one that was surely planned in the initial design of the entire suburb: a swath of desert land converted into floral pattern of streets and three-bed, two-bath homes. The park, perfectly manicured like the sidewalks, streets, yards, was empty.
I ran through the park, across the neighborhood to another park. It too was empty. I ran to the edge of the trendy-named estates, to where streets were built but no homes yet, and watched a police car hurriedly drive in and out of the side streets.
I wondered if someone had reported a runner. Maybe it wasn’t allowed in this neighborhood. I had accidentally kicked a piece of gravel onto the pavement and failed to put it back. It was the only thing out of place I had seen in two miles.
I ran to where the humans had stopped their takeover of the sands. A perfect straight line of roadway and broad gutters for flash floods. Civilization ended in an abrupt cliff of development. In front of me extended nothing but desert, jagged rocks, and in the distance, violent red-brown mountains. They were the most hopeful form of resistance I could see.
I stopped and looked into the quiet. The warm wind blew my hair into my face and reminded me of how parched I was. What was out there? Was it more alive than the silent brown stucco boxes stacked together?
I turned and ran home in the same silence and solitude.
“Do you go hike in those mountains?” I asked when I got back.
“No, those are on the reservation,” they said.
When I flew back into Spokane it was 41 degrees and raining. I drove through town and saw runners, soggy children, people walking their dogs. I saw yards being used – sometimes as dumpsters, but still – and people interacting. I saw homeless people in trash bags. I saw all the colors and all the shades of humanity displayed in their raw beauty.
I came home and put on my running shoes, desperate for the antidote to what I had seen. I found it in the trees, in the muddy runners that passed me, in the deer that crossed my path.
The oasis, my friends, is here.
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