Four Seasons in Arizona

When I tell people I live in Arizona, they say, “Oh, I wouldn’t like that. I have to have four seasons.” It always makes me smile. We do have four seasons, even here in the Valley of the Sun. Most people don’t know that in winter, the temperatures at the Grand Canyon hover around zero degrees. And most people don’t know that is snows in about 60 percent of the state, and that the roads around Flagstaff and Window Rock can be closed due to snow.

Most people think of Phoenix’s Valley of the Sun as representative of all of Arizona. But even here, in the Sonoran desert, we have four seasons. They are subtle, and you have to pay attention to nature. Sitting in your house is no way to experience our seasons. You have to get out in them.

Spring starts in early March. The lemon, orange and grapefruit trees bloom, filling the air with rich and invisible perfume. If you love perfumes that contain orange blossom, come visit in Spring. You’ll smell the real thing. At night and early morning is the best time. Drive past an orchard, and your car will fill with the fragrance.

Datura plant

Datura plant

Fig trees start to leaf out, as do Green Palo Verdes. The golden yellow blossoms fill the green-trunked trees. Ocotillo, those tall, long-thorned bushes, begin to set their tall red spiky flowers. The days get longer by about 3 minutes a day. Every plant that blooms, does. The mountainsides are covered in wildflowers. Birds migrate through to their summer homes. Hundreds of hummingbirds and sandhill cranes drift overhead. It’s perfect for hikinig.

Summer starts in May. It lasts till mid-September. Days are hot. You quit carrying black purses or wearing black shoes

Palo Verde with green trunk

Palo Verde with green trunk

because your purse contents melt and your feet fry. You take CDs out of the car and put insulated containers of water in the car every time you drive. The air is not always clear, and it can be really dry or murderously humid, depending on the monsoon season. Monsoon season starts in June and brings sudden, fierce thunderstorms. There are also duststorms. You don’t hike during June, July, or August.

By early May, you have painted your older citrus trunks with a special white paint, which acts as sunblock. Without it, the older-stock trees’ bark pops off from the overheated sap.  People wear sunblock too, the higher the number, the better. Pools become a necessity. In August, pools often go above 98 degrees during the day, but still feel deliciously cool, compared to the air temperature.

There are grackles, doves, and a few stubborn hummingbirds, but few other birds.

Fall starts in October. You plant tomatoes and other garden plants that can’t take

Canyon Lake in fall

Canyon Lake in fall

summer heat. Apples are ready for picking. Berries and watermelon are local and delicious. Your citrus trees are filled with green fruit. The migrating birds come back, and you hear different bird calls early in the morning. Trees stay green long into November. Nights start to cool down. We don’t have Daylight Saving Time, so it gets dark earlier, but not artificially early. We don’t have much of a twilight. Sun goes down, and it is dark about 15 minutes later.

Winter starts in December. It’s cool enough to sweaters and sometimes even a jacket. No more pool, no more sandals. The air starts to clear regularly, and you get full, high, bright blue skies. Trees lose their leaves slowly, over a month or so. But tomatoes and other container crops ripen, and you can have warm days. Rains start. The mountain tops get capped with snow, at least those over 5,500 feet. You have to rake the needle-like leaves of Palo Verde and the big fig leaves. Oranges ripen by January, but not all at once. You will pick and eat fruit off your tree through February.

Changing weather sky

Changing weather sky

One of the complaints I had living in Connecticut was the sheer amount of clothing you had to put on in winter–long underwear, socks, three layers of sweaters, a scarf, hat, gloves, sometimes boots or overshoes. You had several coats and more than one pair of gloves. I don’t miss those. I still have several scarves, but I don’t have several coats anymore. And I like my four seasons in moderation.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and naturalist who teaches art journaling and communication.

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