Dust

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 24, 2017 10:27 PM

In places like Sudan and Phoenix – which this week have been scarily similar in temperature readings – violent, oppressive winds whip up giant walls of dust. In Arizona, these walls are created from the winds that rush out of a collapsing thunderstorm, with the cold air that’s in front of the storm rushing down at such an incredible rate that it picks up massive amounts of dust and sand. Eventually, as it builds, these walls – which can grow as high as 3000 feet and stretch as far as 100 miles wide – will completely block the sun. On July 5, 2011, Phoenix recorded a dust storm over 5000 feet tall. We call them haboobs, from the Arabic word for “blown.”

When this dust settles, which it does eventually, it wreaks havoc on the air in general, and people and pets in particular.

We have never experienced a haboob and don’t want to. I’ve seen video and heard horror stories about what you’re supposed to do if you’re driving, how to shelter in place, blah blah blah dust. 

One of the first places we went when we moved to Tucson, before we’d even started building the house, was a wine tasting place called Wine Depot. It was an interesting establishment that served Old World wines from Germany, France and Spain. We were desperate for a place to go, having been so spoiled in California. We went on a Saturday, late afternoon. It was hot, and there weren’t many people there. The owner, who was German and his wife, who was Mexican, were both pouring wine. Soon enough, we were the only ones there and so we fell into conversation with the wife. 

We told her we had just moved to the desert, what our plans were. She asked where we were living and where we were building. She said to be prepared for the dust. The dust? we asked. It’s constant, she said shaking her head. You cannot escape it. 

She went on to tell us that if we had a dog, we needed to be careful it didn’t get mixed up with a Gila monster because, while not poisonous, they will bite and latch on, lock their jaws, and not let go. She told us of having to rush her dog to the vet with a Gila monster hanging off its neck. We laughed nervously. 

We haven’t experience the Gila-latch, but we have experienced the dust. Have we ever. It’s impossible to remove; impossible to get ahead of. You can dust using a rag and spray, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

Even the dust has dust. 

I dusted today. As I did, more appeared right behind where I had wiped my cloth. Miscellaneous and errant dog hairs also took up residence. It’s prolific, the dust, all-consuming. It makes the house look dirty even when, technically, it isn’t because I just dusted the other day. Thank dog I don’t have a lot of stuff. It would be impossible to keep it all clean. I’d no sooner get done dusting than I’d have to start all over. It would be an endless loop, a hopeless cycle, a horrible way to spend my days, the stuff of Stephen King novels. 

Kevin has the same issue with bugs. We’ve been inundated with box elders. Thousands of them cling to the house and the deck, dying slowly from the “kool-aid” that Orkin pours along the perimeter. Each day, he takes the power blower and blows them away. And as he walks away, ten more appear behind him.

Dust. Bugs. Haboobs.

Life in the desert in June.

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Simmering

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 18, 2017 10:27 PM

As a rule, heat doesn’t bother me. Unlike Bobbi, who despises hot more than anything, I prefer it to the alternative. Bobbi prefers cold. They keep their AC set in the 60s if memory serves. Poor Roy walks around in a parka. 

Southern California gets hot, especially in the San Fernando Valley. I remember days driving from Pasadena/Glendale, west toward either Calabasas (where we lived first) and later on, toward Oak Park. Both were out of the Valley but Calabasas was closer. Calabasas actually starts in the Valley and then rolls up and over the appropriately named Calabasas Grade. Woodland Hills comes right before Calabasas. Both are tucked up against the hill, so the heat gets stuck there. Does it ever. It wasn’t uncommon in the summer, under the late afternoon sun and hanging smog to see the temperature gauge on the car climb into the low 100s. I think the highest I ever saw it was 116º but I didn’t really believe it. I figured it was the heat of the asphalt and car engines that drove it up. 

Still, it was smoldering. 

It was hot. We like the heat. So naturally we moved into the inferno known as the Sonoran desert. It’s a fascinating place, where it freezes in the winter – and sometimes snows – and boils in the summer. We’re not in summer yet, technically. Evidently someone forgot to tell that to the weather gods, however. It was 113º here today up on the hill. Absolutely smothering, smoldering, sizzling heat. The kind of heat where you really can’t go out. The kind of heat that, when you take the dog out to pee, you become very impatient. No sniffing; no dawdling. Just pee and get the hell in the house. 

Several weeks ago, we bought an air conditioner for the garage. A portable one, with a big hose that can vent out one of the high windows. In order for it to reach said window, it has to be raised. Kevin has it sitting on one of his saw tables. This morning, I turned it on early. We did some planting down at the bottom of the road, then came back up the hill. We left the Classic outside in the driveway to bake and keep the garage cool. We had breakfast. We talked to Kevin’s brother and sister-in-law, we read the paper, we cleaned up the kitchen. And then he went out to do some garage clean-up. Our little AC unit kept the area decent. Not quite cool because it’s simply too big of an area and too small of a unit, but it wasn’t horrible. Especially given the outside temps. At one point, when I took Riley out to pee in his designated area which is out the man-door off the back of the garage, and then came back in, I was amazed at how much cooler it was in the garage. 

This afternoon as the sun was drifting down to the west, alighting the smoke of a fire that’s burning somewhere far away from us, we took stock of the weekend. We watched the desert fade into dusk and marveled as it flattened out.

The only word I could think to describe the day was simmering. Something cooking slowly. And yet still beautiful, even in its infinite harshness. Worth celebrating.  

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The power that isn’t

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 15, 2017 9:08 PM

If ever there was a metaphor for how I’ve been feeling lately, it’s this: today, we were without power. This happens occasionally, though not as often as you’d think given the strain on the power grid during the summer months. And it is definitely summer even though technically it doesn’t officially become summer for six more days. In mid-June in Southern Arizona summer simmers. Last year at this time we were in California, wine tasting. We drove home on Father’s Day during excessive heat warnings. As we went through Palm Springs, the temperature on the car and on my iPhone both topped out at 121º. One hundred. Twenty. One. Degrees.

Today, the mercury was hovering around 112º when suddenly the screen on my computer dimmed. I wondered what was going on. Since I work on a lap top, when the power goes out, my computer battery automatically takes over. It’s a seamless transition. It took just seconds for me to realize that the tiny green light on my power cord was off. Then I heard the microwave beep, the clocks in the bedroom fizzed, the overhead fan clicked and slowed. Finally, the internet said ‘see ya, bye.”

Fully knowing the answer I shouted the question anyway: “Did we just lose power?”

Kevin was already on his way across the house. I heard him say “yup. Gotta number for TEP?”

One of the great ironies of us having solar panels on our house, panels that capture more than enough energy to power our house, is that our solar inverters run on electricity. The second great irony is that in order to use the solar power we create, it has to first go to the electric company in order to be converted. 

So plenty of solar, no way to capture it, and the house slowly began to melt into the desert. Welcome to Thursday afternoon.

Power runs our lives all the time but during the blistering summer months it also keeps us alive. We wouldn’t have died without power for a couple of hours, even through tomorrow, but it would have become uncomfortable. We also have no water pressure. In order to maintain water pressure, we have a pump that works fabulously. As long as there’s power. 

Power is needed to cook and clean, to open and close the garage doors, to run the ceiling fans. It is desperately needed for air conditioning and water, for music and television, for the internet. It is necessary to light the night, to keep our phones and computers charged, to run our smoke detectors and our alarm system (though both do have battery backups). When you’re powerless, it’s an odd sensation. You don’t quite know what to do, how to act. You feel out of sorts, almost confused. You feel as if you have absolutely no control.

Mostly how I’ve been feeling since November 8, and definitely since January 20.

After about an hour, our power whirred back to life. The microwave beeped again, the light lit on my power connection, the overhead fan began to spin lazily. If only it were so easy to regain power as a citizen. If only it took just an hour.

Something to think about and hope for as we power forward.

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There is a delight

by Lorin Michel Sunday, June 11, 2017 8:59 PM

On March 15, 1910, just over a year after he left office, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that “there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” He was in Khartoum at the time, leading an expedition to Africa in search of specimens for the Smithsonian’s new Natural History museum. Khartoum is in the Sudan, and at the time, was a burgeoning metropolis. It is now the capital of the region. But at the time, it was surrounded by the white sands of the desert and the rich fauna of the Nile Valley. He wrote those words about the vistas and landscapes he had encountered. I use them today to describe the vistas and landscapes we encountered this morning.

I don’t know what compelled me to move west. This magical place was just where I always imagined myself to be. I do know what compelled us to move to the desert. It wasn’t anything we’d ever even considered but when we brought Justin to school here in August of 2009, we knew it would eventually be our new home. Settling into the east side of town, we continually marvel at the vistas and landscapes. We are surrounded by rock and mountains, by saguaros and ocotillos and trees. From our house on the hill we can see for at least 10 miles and probably more. The desert, rimmed by mountains, stretches before us to infinity.

Kevin was up early this morning, by 6:15, early for a Sunday, the day we jokingly refer to as “the day of rest.” He didn’t sleep well, probably because he was overtired. Yesterday he started rocking outside, finishing the lower swale, at 5 am. He was done by 7:30 and then he switched to finishing the front brakes on the Classic. Luckily, I convinced him to buy an air conditioner for the garage so it was at least somewhat hospitable in there while the temperatures raged outside. He worked all day, and then couldn’t sleep. 

I got up about a half hour later, when I heard the coffee pot sputter and snarl and spit signaling that it was almost done brewing. My boys were on the deck. I poured two cups of coffee and went out to join them. We marveled at the calm of the morning, at the temperature just in the low 70s. At 7:30, I said it would be a great morning for a motorcycle ride and suggested we go. I didn’t have to suggest twice.

We climbed aboard the Gold Wing and took off south and east. We weren’t going anywhere in particular so we never reached a destination. Instead, we simply meandered, finding a road we’d never taken before and following it. The day was still early; there were almost no cars where we were. Even the churches we went by, and there were many, weren’t yet open for business.

We went past Saguaro National Forest east, something that often makes us smile since we seemingly live in a saguaro forest of our own. We headed toward Colossal Caves knowing that we weren’t going to stop, but it gave a place to turn around. The road surface was smooth, unlike so much in the desert. There were no stop signs or stop lights, just a wide open two-lane road. The sun was warm but not hot. I watched quail and roadrunners crossing the road; I watched for deer and cattle. We saw horses, and an osprey that landed in the middle of the road to extract something that used to be something else. In the trees to the east, huge black ravens sat perched on the branches of mesquite trees, their feathers glistening in the morning sun.

I was struck by the vastness of it, the desolate nature, and sheer glory of this Sonoran desert we call home.

The fuller Teddy Roosevelt quote says: “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.” That from a republican president. Something to celebrate on this Sunday.

Lizards, and deer, and rabbits oh my

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 31, 2017 8:51 PM

When it gets hard for me to find something to celebrate, I turn to nature. I do that a lot lately, marveling at the color of the sky, the green of the desert, the harshness of the wind. I find solace in the blooming cacti, so many of them sprouting different colors and different shapes of flowers and fruit. The saguaros have done their annual halo of white flowers. They’ve mostly all bloomed and are in the process of drying and dying, to fall and be picked up by birds. While they last, they’re angelic. The tiny cactus that flood the hillsides – I can’t recall their names – have been vibrant with red and hot pink while the prickly pear have been red, and the hedgehog cactus have been pink. The whipple cholla are currently teasing us with an amber, almost copper colored flower.

The creatures are out, too. We have deer all year long, and javelina, too. But now we also have snakes and spiders and lizards and toads. And rabbits. All of whom send my Riley into orbit. 

This morning, after our walk and is his habit, he takes wubba, dashes onto the deck and whips poor wubba back and forth, growling, barking, and generally announcing that any who would dare show their face in his desert. HIS. DESERT. should consider themselves warned. He does not take kindly to intruders, even those who came before him. 

So there he was, out on the deck, standing guard at the rail, staring into the abyss of the desert stretching beneath him. He seemed fixated on something. His tail was rigid, his ears forward, his body ready to spring. Which he eventually did, bouncing up in the air as if on a pogo stick and barking simultaneously when into his territory came a rabbit. A rather big rabbit by desert rabbit standards. And this one was brazen. Even though there was much commotion happening above him, he seemed to instinctively know that the wild animal in red fur couldn’t get to him. And so, Mr. Rabbit took up a spot just below Mr. Riley, in full view of Riley, taunting, while he proceeded to nibble on a bit of mesquite. He nibbled and nibbled, then sat back on his rear haunches, and stared straight ahead. Riley, big tough dog, could do nothing.

Eventually the rabbit got bored of his game and hopped up and over the deck. I thought we might be able to return to some quiet.

I was wrong.

A lizard, or three, each well over a foot long, shot down the hill and across the dirt below. Riley loves lizards, loves to chase them. Has even caught one or two. But again, from the deck, all he can do is whine and snarl and bark and dance. Every once in a while, he’ll look back at me, sitting inside, at my desk, watching him with a smile, as if to say: “Do you SEE what’s going on down there? How can you be so CALM?” 

Yesterday, as I was getting ready to go meet my friend Stephanie, I noticed movement in the window behind me. In our master bath, we have a pedestal-type tub that sits nestled in front of three large windows that look out onto the driveway and the hillside beyond. It had been windy but the movement wasn’t the wind. I turned to look and there, just feet away from the house, were two – no, three! – deer. They had come down the hill to munch on some cactus and mesquite. My movement made them freeze and stare, directly at me, directly through me. I moved slowly from the bathroom, tucked Riley into my office and closed the door, and then called to Kevin. “Bring your camera.”

We hadn’t seen them that close before. Just like the rabbit had never been so brazen before, or the lizards to teasing. Perhaps we’re getting a reputation for being soft on wildlife. Perhaps they know that no harm will come to them here. Kevin and I wouldn’t hurt them, and Riley can’t get to them.

There are lizards, and deer, and rabbits. And so many more incredible creatures and wonders in this desert, so many colors, so much extreme and so much majesty. Something to celebrate not just today, but every day.

And I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 1, 2017 7:53 PM

Saturday mornings are my refuge from life. Especially when it’s cool, the temperatures moderate under a cloudy sky and only the faintest of breezes drifting through the desert. This was the situation today when Riley and I set out on our Saturday morning walk. We go alone, just the two of us, mom and puppy, a woman and her dog. Saturday is Kevin’s day of working outside and I respect that. It’s his respite from the week previous; mine is the long walk with the dog. Soon it will be too hot to do this so I take advantage of it while I can.

Leash secured, I zipped up my sweatshirt, donned my sunglasses – a must even if it’s not currently sunny because my eyes are sensitive and because the sun might pop at any moment – grabbed a water bottle, slipped my phone into my back pocket and off we went. 

Riley is a good walker and like all dogs, loves it. He prances along, sniffing everything in his path, stopping to stare down any errant leaf or twig that wasn’t on the road yesterday. It’s comical to watch him as he dares whatever it is to move. Naturally, it won’t, unless there’s a sharp gust of wind. We had none of that today.

We started down Mira Vista Canyon Place, heading west. Like the canyons of Southern California – Topanga, Malibu, Decker, Benedict, Laurel – there is only one way in and one way out. It’s one of the scary things about California. If there is a natural disaster, the people who live in these canyons all must exit the same way at the same time. I suppose it’s scary here, too. We are surrounded by desert fauna, and at certain times and especially in the summer, that fauna is dry, tinder for a brush fire. There would be a rush toward the exit. But we are not heavily populated here; there are only 14 homes. 

We walked toward the gate and like most Saturdays I planned to exit through and walk further than weekday mornings. There is time; and today there were favorable conditions. We pushed along, Riley trotting by my side. We stopped for some water and continued on. There were no creatures out. We saw no deer, not even a rabbit. The only car that drove past us was the non-waving Mabes. There’s always one unfriendly neighbor in every neighborhood.

At the gate, we climbed up the small rip rap hill and walked around and out. At the end of the road, I usually go left. Left there are homes and paved roads. I went right instead. 

There is a sign just past the turn to our road as you climb north. It says Primitive Road, Not Regularly Maintained. There was pavement for several hundred feet but as we crested the short hill in front of us, that pavement ended. To the left was Ponce de Leon. I love saying that name. Ponce de Leon. Much like I like saying Kuala Lumpur.

Again, we went right, onto Coronado. The pavement crumbled into dirt and rock. There were no homes along the path, though there were the old tracks of off-road vehicles. Riley and I trudged up and down hills, carefully picking our way through rocks and brush, my eyes constantly down watching for snakes or Gila monsters. We stopped again for water and I surveyed the desert. The saguaros are beginning to bud, the ocotillos are already waving with orange flowers. Mesquite and palo verde trees, brittle bush. Everything green and lush by desert standards. To the north, more houses dotted the hills leading up to Mount Lemmon; to the south were the homes in our neighborhood and the city far beyond. 

We kept going. I worried that it might be a harder hike than I anticipated but nearly two and half miles later, we found the paved road of Winnetka Court. Again we turned right, south this time, and found our way back to Mira Vista Canyon Place and home.

We could’ve gone the normal way, the expected way. But I, I took the road not just less traveled but not really ever traveled by anyone, woman nor dog, except for maybe rattlesnakes, lizards and tortoises. And it made all the difference on this Saturday.

Prickly

by Lorin Michel Sunday, March 26, 2017 10:43 PM

Spiny. Irritable. Cranky. Needle-y. Prickly. Of or capable of sticking, biting, piercing. The country is currently in the throws of a prick who becomes more irritable, biting and sticking every day. He cranks at people, in his own party, in the country, in the world. Some of us crank back. Prickly describes a person who is difficult, doesn’t like to compromise, won’t take yes for an answer; always seemingly spoiling for a fight. A person incapable of reason.

Our architect/builder fell into the prickly category. Every once in a while he’d be in a good mood and seem to enjoy what he was doing, almost liked interacting with the people – us – paying him. But not often. Mostly he was irritable and cranky, not liking any ideas that changed his preconceived notions of how it should be; how he wanted it to be. During our numerous challenges, he won some but so did we, which usually made him more prickly. 

But as I walk through my house, with its curved walls, its stone columns and tumbled Tuscan tile; with its endless glass overlooking the immediate desert and the city in the distance; with its stainless steel fixtures and appliances; with its nestled place in the hill. With its view of the hillside above and behind us, reaching toward the sky. I am softed. 

The hill rolls up with natural gneiss rock formations. It’s alive right now, swimming in yellow flowers atop brittle bush, the pink of Regal Mist, the creosote bush, the coyote bush, the wild juniper, the errant bougainvillea, barberry; the apache plume. Atop the ocotillos, blood orange flowers tower. The prickly pear, the flat paddled, low to the ground cactus, are beginning to bud. Soon, their fruit will appear in deep red and pink. You can make ice cream or gelato from prickly pear fruit. You can drink a prickly pear margarita. There’s prickly pear licorice. 

The saguaros stand majestic, tall and thin and numbering in the hundreds, thousands. Most have spires, or arms. These are what give them the look everyone knows from the old Spaghetti westerns. Cactus that look like they could hug you, but don’t be fooled. They’re beautiful, rarely angry, but prickly nevertheless. The saguaros are the definitive plant of this Sonoran desert. It makes sense, since this is the land of the Native American and legend says that: 

Quehualliu was the most handsome Indian of the tribe. He was always picking up flowers for Pasancana, the beautiful daughter of the chief. Together they learned how to walk and to play, in the most beautiful places of the mountain.        

One day when they were older, they fell in love. But Pasancana's father wanted his daughter to marry another boy in the tribe. When Pasancana and Quehualliu heard this, they decided to escape.        

The next day they were walking in the hills and they made a plan: on the following day when the first star came out they would run away to the mountains..         

When the chief found out that his daughter had defied him, he called together a group of men and started looking for the couple.          

Pasancana and Quehualliu were tired, so they sat down to rest. Thanks to the light of the full moon they saw the men coming and asked the Pachamama, the goddess of the land, to hide them. She took pity on the young lovers and opened a hole in the mountain and hid them there. The chief shouted "They can’t hide forever!" and he and his men stayed there all that night. The next day the lovers had changed into a cactus, Quehualliu, protected by Pasancana. 

Definitely a prickly situation.

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Anadotal. The evidence is in.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 28, 2017 8:47 PM

My husband loves to mispronounce words. He does it on purpose, mostly to aggravate me. And mostly I let him do so. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, and an English major before that, but I’m a stickler for proper spelling and proper pronunciation. I strive to do both; sometimes I succeed. Usually when I don’t it’s not on purpose, as opposed to the husband unit.

We’ve been engaging in this dance for quite some time. Whenever I bring it up he usually tells me that it has something to do with some comedian named Norm Crosby who evidently made a fairly decent living mispronouncing things. In fact, Crosby was known as a master of the malapropism, the use of an incorrect word resulting in a “nonsensical, often humorous utterance.” So sayeth Wikipedia. So sayeth my husband, too, a man well-practiced in the art of the malaprop. 

Yesterday, in the shower, he started talking about anadotal evidence. I don’t know what the original conversation was about, and it was probably about politics, because as soon as he said anadotal, my mind went blank and my brain started to steam. 

“Anadotal,” I said in a tone so flat as to be shoe leather. 

“Yep,” he said, scrubbing shampoo into his hair. “Ana Dotal. She sat in front of me in 4th grade.” 

“Anadotal. Ana Dotal. So… the c is silent?” 

He grinned and stepped under his shower head to wash the suds away and down the drain. 

So we have anadotal evidence of things that aren’t necessarily true or based on fact, much like our current administration. There is no truth or fact because we are living in the world of alternative facts and truthy truths. 

Which leads me to today in the desert. I was in the bedroom, making the bed, or cleaning up or doing something worthwhile when I heard Kevin call to me. He sounded full of angst and/or pain. I came out quickly, wondering what could possibly be the matter. He was grimacing, standing in a weird position, with his body thrust forward, his butt pushed back. 

“What?” I asked, concerned. “Are you ok?” 

“Is there something…” he turned around… “here?” Stuck to his pants was a rather chunky piece of cholla. 

“Yep,” I said, laughing. “Want me to remove it?”

He glared at me. I grinned back.


The cholla I pulled out of the husband-unit's butt

Anecdotally, the husband unit had a piece of cactus stuck to his butt. It meant something, likely that he should stay away from cholla, and that he shouldn’t put his butt in places it doesn’t belong.

Anadotally, of course.

108 miles and not yet to Phoenix

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 23, 2016 6:48 AM

The first thing that happened was a text message at 12:17 am. We're selling our old artificial Christmas tree on Craig's List for $35 and there is evidently a desire for a six-foot tree in great condition. We didn't answer it because technically we were sleeping and conducting business regarding a used tree at that time of the morning/night is obscene.

At 3:15 I heard the hiss and snarl of the coffee maker as it finished brewing the 12 cups I'd asked it to make last night when we went to bed. I rolled over and clutched my pillow, balling it up under my head and snuggled in.

At 3:23 Kevin's alarm went off, a melodic song that always reminds me of Japan. He likes to set his alarm for strange times for reasons that I've never fully understood and he's never fully explained. I think he just likes to think he's being unpredictable. He sat up, reached for the phone and the chime was silenced.

At 3:30 my alarm went off, a chipper sound that belied the time of day. My ring tone for the alarm is more like a xylophone and way to happy for such an early hour. I sat up, turned it off, yawned, and said I miss my dog. 

Riley is in the kennel. We took him yesterday afternoon about 4:00. We've never left him in a kennel before. Last year, we left him at our vet's office. They board a very small number of animals and while it was fine, we didn't like that he was cooped up in a small room with no way to get outside to pee or poop. He had to wait for someone to come walk him. This year, we made a reservation at a traditional kennel with indoor/outdoor runs and we fretted about it the whole time. About a week and a half ago, Kevin stopped at another place near us, took a tour and came home to announce it was probably the nicest kennel he'd ever seen, also with indoor/outdoor runs. Plus the dogs are taken out into a little park type area every day to romp and play and sniff. Naturally they were booked but they put us on a waiting list. Yesterday, at about 11, they called. They had a cancellation and now had a run for Riley. It's a veterinary center which we like because our boy has anxiety issues. If something were to happen, if he gets too upset, they can help him. He was a nervous wreck when we took him in. It broke both of our hearts. We pick him up Monday morning. Until then, I'll call every day.

By 4:29, we pulled away from the house, the Sport loaded with suitcases and coolers. We reset the trip counter on the dash and started on our journey. We had a full tank of gas and hoped to average 22 miles per gallon. We didn't buy this car for its fuel efficiency. Last night Kevin checked all the fluids and the air in the tires. We scrubbed the windshield inside and out. We prepared.

It was dark and cold. The temp on the dash read 42. By the time we turned onto Catalina Highway it had dropped to 39 and a little snowflake appeared next to the numbers, the car's way of telling us it could snow soon. I reached over and turned on my seat warmer. Might as well have a hot butt, especially since we were both in shorts. At least I wore a sweatshirt.

The journey up the 10, then west through the desert and finally north along the ocean is 715 miles. 10 hours. 

The headlights lit our way. Kevin turned on the driving lights, too. Tonight we'll be in Templeton, just south of Paso Robles. We'll have pizza and wine. We'll sit outside by the fire pit or inside next to the fire. It's supposed to be cold there too. 

But first we needed to get to Phoenix. Phoenix always seems like the official launching pad. When we come home, it always signifies the start of the final leg.

I looked over at the dash. 108 miles. I could see the lights of Phoenix sparkling ahead. Ready, set, go for vacation.

TFW

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 19, 2016 6:44 PM

The desert is many things. A glorious habitat of life and death where everything bites, and some can kill. It is not a comfortable place; it is not for the fain of heart. It is harsh landscape and towering saguaros, jagged rocks and crusty sand. It is filled with creatures that slink and those that haunt. Deer stand like statues and stare, javelinas snort and puff, ravens and falcons caw and cry, mountain lions crouch and coyotes howl at the moon. It scorches in the summer and freezes in the winter and when it rains, it destroys. 

It is the land of extremes, a place where there is 50 degrees difference between noon and midnight, where the sun rises over the Rincons to the east and sets beyond the Catalinas and the Tucsons in the west, dragging a painted sky with it. Desert sunsets are like nothing before seen, perhaps even imagined. Impossible colors mix and melt into clouds and jet trails. More times than not, your breath catches for its sheer beauty.

In the summer it is 100 plus, in the winter it is 20 degrees, sometimes colder. And when the wind blows it's with enough force to stop you in place. Up on the hill, where the house is, the wind can be vicious. Steady at 25 miles per hour, gusts up to 50, sometimes more. These winds and gusts can be frightening because they're so fierce. Like an animal that shouldn't be caged, it thrashes and scratches and tears at the world, indiscriminate as to what it touches and rips. We've had cactus uprooted, rocks tumble down. It's amazing more doesn't happen.

We have a neighbor whose house is also on a hill. Like us, they love it here. But the extremes can occasionally infiltrate the psyche and you find yourself howling at the moon, the sun and the desert. Our neighbor describes it like this: "Too fucking hot. Too fucking cold. And too fucking windy." She says it with a great deal of affection. You have to love the hot, the cold and the wind to live here. 

Last night, the winds stirred. By midnight, the air was a swirling cocktail of needles, leaves, of ocotillo branches hitting the house and wind chimes clanging outside the open windows. By this morning, it was 25 miles per hour as we walked the dog. For more than two miles we pushed, or it pushed us. All around, we heard chimes clanging. We saw leaves take flight and birds coast along without having to flap. We felt the warmth of the sun struggling to push through. Underneath, the air was cool. It was too windy even to talk. The wind carried all words and laughter away and stuck them to a cactus somewhere. 

Beyond the relentless wind, all we could hear was our neighbor’s voice and laughter, up in her house on the hill. We could see her shaking her head, and as she struggled to pull a door closed, she was saying it. Over and over again. Too fucking windy. Too fucking windy. Too.

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