Phoenix’s Winter in Summer

If you live in a place where winter lasts from October to April, you know the symptoms of deep winter–that period from mid-January to mid-March. You spend more time indoors, eyeing the thermostat. Special clothing keeps you warm, you eat heartier meals, play more board games.

Bird feeder with ant moat.

Bird feeder with ant moat.

In winter, you carry a few things in the car in case you get stuck–maybe it’s kitty litter that will add traction if you slide into a snow bank. You may carry flares and one of those blankets that help you retain heat.

Well, here in the Valley of the Sun, which sound much nicer than “Sonoran Desert Floor” we take protective action, too. Except ours is in July and August, all the way into September.

We bring plants in for the summer. Those tropicals hate 115-degree heat and full sun. So in they come. We put out extra bird feeders and bird baths so the birds don’t die. My hummingbird feeders have ant moats around the top. Ant moats keep the ants from marching hundreds of yards up the tree (or feeder pole), down to the feeder and then into the feeder to reach the sugar water. Before ant moats I had to clean the feeders daily, to get the ants out of the drinking spouts. After moats, I have to refill the moats two and three times a day because the finches who drink sugar water will also drink the moat empty.

Birds do die from excessive heat here, I’ve seen two Mexican doves do exactly that,  particularly if the highs stay above 110 every day and the lows don’t go below 90. Which is much of July and August.

Some animals even go through aestivation–a sort of summer hibernation. They don’t gear up for it, but they do go into a stage of inaction during the hottest part of the day. Aestivation is more for amphibians and insects whose ponds dry up, but I’ve seen birds stay in the shade without moving for hours at a time.

Some trees drop their leaves in July and August, and there are almost no flowers on trees on

Ocotillo without leaves.

Ocotillo without leaves.

cacti, either. Octotillo, a thorn bush, will get leaves back quickly if it rains, but for the rest of the summer, it’s a bare thorn tree.

You can’t plant a vegetable garden in summer because the heat simply wilts veggies, no matter how much you water them.

You carry water in the car, and a hat and long-sleeved shirt in case you have to abandon the car for some reason. Visitors who go hiking, thinking themselves fine athletes, often have to be rescued because of heat stroke. Last week, two hikers died from over-exposure to the sun.

You can’t walk barefoot; even flip-flops get very hot if the walk from the car to the mall is more than a short sprint.

There are places that close in July and August–petting zoos, balloon rides, desert exploration hikes won’t risk their clients’ lives.

So we stay indoors, glad for pools (you wear a hat and sunglasses in the pool) and board games. In September, the night time temperature begin to drop, although we generally have triple-digit days till early October.

Which is when life becomes the envy of the rest of the nation again.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches communication skills, including writing and giving presentations as well as how to make and use an art journal, even if you can’t draw.