While the rest of the country is busy settling into a much-anticipated summer; Australia (along with parts of Africa, New Zealand, Brazil and Argentina) are heading toward winter. Phoenix, however, is set on “broil.” The local joke is that Phoenix is where hell spends the summer.
Snow birds (mostly Midwesterners, Canadians and Germans who bought houses here when the prices were in the dirt) head home. The huge RVs that are parked on residential streets and serve as winter in-law apartments vanish. Suddenly, those of us who stay can get a reservation at any restaurant. Movie lines are short enough so you have a chance at staying alive while you wait to buy a ticket to a cool place. Parking places open up.
And then, it is summer in Phoenix. So hot you bring a tote bag with you to carry your CDs, GPS units and anything plastic (handcream, phone chargers) into stores with you. They won’t last long if you leave them in the car. Windshields explode out of their frames, shattered by the temperature difference between air conditioning on high and the direct sun. Between the two of us, we’ve gone through five windshields in five years.
My favorite plants to watch are the giant agaves that bloom just once in their lifetime, so they make it worth the effort.
They start by sending up a long stalk, anywhere from 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters) tall. The stalk is nubby, and then, almost overnight, it is covered in yellow blossoms.
And I do mean covered. In yellow blossoms.
The stalk and blossoms stay beautifully in bloom for two to three weeks, feeding bees, hummingbirds, and fruit-eating bats at night. And then, before they die, they sprout the next generation up and down the enormous stalk. The tender shoots drop off, complete with the long “hairs” you see. Birds use the hairs as nesting material, and the agave goes with it, slowly growing. Other plantlets hitch a ride on coyotes or bobcats and are scattered into the ground, where they set root. Some just drop and tumble into a new home.
The original plant dies. Even that is an elegant sunburst of neutral colors. Here in the desert, there are few plants that bloom in summer. It’s our gray season, our stormy, humid seasons. We get Monsoon Rain storms that bring us half a year’s worth of rain in eight weeks. We get dust storms. Each summer several tourists die while hiking because they don’t believe the heat or the power of the heat. When it’s 117 degrees F (47 degrees C) you don’t want to be exerting yourself. So we estivate. Estivating is the summer version of hibernating.
We stay inside, we swim in too-hot pools, and we wait for September. At night, when you swim in the pool, your face can feel both the coolness of the night sky and the warmth of the heat radiating from the brick wall. A small gift in the hot season.
––Quinn McDonald waits for summer with a sadness she discovered only in this climate.