Summer comes to the desert like the sudden entrance into a new world. Gone are the days when many of us stood in the lightly sun-kissed breeze and shared that “this is the reason I’ve stayed in Arizona.” Not so long ago there was the scent of spring upon the air – a memory of childhood anticipation of bright things to come. All of sudden, it seems, summer-time heat burst into our lives, turning cars into furnaces and rendering western kitchens unbearable when the evening sun streams in. All of a sudden, we find ourselves debating whether we love the heat or hate it; telling ourselves and everyone else, “Well, at least it’s a dry heat!” The conversation has turned to swimming pools and trips to the mountains even before school has let out the masses of young souls it has kept at bay these last nine months.
For those who grew up here and know no other way of shifting time, it is no news of import. For those of us who have lived in other climes, however, it is a moment of wondering: where are the great harbingers of summer? We remember the advent of certain flowers and buds upon trees becoming bouquets of sweet color. We recall late snows falling wet upon the ground resplendent with tiny seedlings, faces popping from the soil and telling us spring has come. All this before the thought of summer heat had a chance to break through the reverie of wonder that new life returns to us, year after year. In other parts, there is time to relish the scent of spring sun upon newly turned soil. Here, though…here in the desert, we may have missed it.
Dashing here to there, from work to home to errands and home again, it is possible to miss the onset of spring. It is possible to drive by the wildflowers, subconsciously noting their beauty yet never finding a moment to realize we are passing the early greetings of approaching summer. So quickly it passes, and then one day we are kissing the fingers of our children burned by the seatbelt as we load them into the car along with the groceries we must rush home to the freezer.
When I walk my labyrinth at this time of year, slowly making the imaginary trek from my busy daytime world into a place where I can reflect upon the shift in time and the changes in my mundane world, I sometimes remember my young adulthood in Massachusetts, where May was colored purple with Lilacs and Wisteria. I recall my joy at seeing the dappled sunlight play upon the ground beneath bushes and trees, even in the old city that grew so close to the Connecticut River. I think of walks I would take down past the park at the end of Elm Street, wandering into the woods that lined the river. The path was bursting with Queen Anne’s Lace and cornflower, Lady’s Slippers and curled up fiddle-heads.
I remember walking back home and rejoicing at the trees in bud and the Lilacs along Elm Street perfuming the city like a regal old woman remembering her playful youth. As I walk around the circle of the labyrinth, I remember how spring made way for summer; when I sat by my window in the evening listening to the song of the whippoorwill, writing wistful poetry of the death of the Lilacs. I wonder, as I walk, exactly what the Lilacs up north and back east are doing – are they still bright, are they still fresh, or had they begun their fragrant demise?
I had my answer a few days after one of these late spring walks, when my sister, returning from a business trip to Michigan, brought home a bundle of Lilacs given to her by a Michigan coworker, taken from her own bushes. Most of the flowers were still fresh, but among them could be seen the wilted petals of those that had died along the way. I knew, when I leaned in to reminisce in their fragrance, that in their own environment, they had another week or so of vibrant life. Here, though – here, they would last but another day. Spring had come and gone in the desert. The northern Lilacs had little chance to cling to life. I was prompted to look for some equal measure of spring’s passing, appropriate for my desert abode.
That year my daughter and I walked a few mornings a week, forcing ourselves from our beds to walk the dog in an attempt at fitness – she to retain her teenage strength, me to regain what I once had. Not long after the death of the Michigan Lilac, I found my measure. Passing a yard, I spied a white flower blooming large upon a small, round-topped cactus. “How pretty,” I thought, and pointed it out to my daughter. We looked at it a moment, then moved on.
Suddenly, I began to see with new eyes – the small cactus must have been a very young Saguaro, for even the tall, many-armed plants, serving as home to cactus wren and woodpecker, sported the same fresh-faced blossom. Doves sat upon nests, nestled in the arms of Saguaro and Palo Verde alike. Bird-song filled the air and the scent of the desert night still hovered as the gentle arms of the morning sun reached out to welcome us to the day.
Now, though we have not yet reached the date to mark the season, summer is here. I wax nostalgic about days gone by, recalling plant and animal life that would not survive our desert climate. It matters not, for cool breezy nights and hot sun-soaked days of the Arizona summer brings a special wonder of its own. Listen – night-birds call and doves coo. The breeze dancing through the leaves of the ironwood are the whispers of new memories.
I stop in the center of the labyrinth, and remember...the spring has passed. In this moment, I stand in the Presence of Promise. It is in the here and now that we find adventure. Is there any better time? Is there any better place? Right here, right now, I am thankful for the beaming sun and the warmth of the land, reaching toward one another to meet in my heart. For I know now that it in this desert summer, my heart has been strangely warmed.
This story first appeared on Newsbreak; an earlier version was published in the Gold Canyon Ledger in 2008.