To many who have never visited or lived in Arizona, the state conjures up images of the desert, where life is difficult, and water is scarce. Dry. Dusty. Brown. Dead. Much like the deserts depicted in Old Western Movies.
As a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest where everything was green and there was plenty of water, the desert did not seem desirable. Or livable. As a young girl, all I could picture was a brown, dry, harsh environment where life was difficult and not much survived. Much like my own life felt….
And then I visited Arizona the summer after my mother’s death. My dad, 2nd stepmom, her daughter, my sister and I took a road trip from Washington, traveling south through Nevada to Arizona and then back to Washington via Hwy 101 through California and Oregon. It was a long trip in a very hot car with the windows rolled up and cigarette smoke swirling through the air. Thankfully we did not spend long days on the road, that would have been hell! Us three girl’s road in the back seat together and took turns being the one in the middle, because the unlucky one who sat in the middle ended up with the other two laying on her while they slept…..yes, a very long road trip.
The BEST part of the entire trip was the drive through and the stops in Arizona….the usual stops like the Grand Canyon and Phoenix and then the unexpected stops to see ancient ruins, enjoy a lunch along Oak Creek and a night in my favorite spot, Sedona.
It was my first time in the southwest and I loved all the things we did and the places we saw in Arizona. As we drove along the highway I would stare out the window, the others sleeping beside me. I was mesmerized by the rocks, the shapes they formed, the colors all so varied and unique. And I felt I would miss the beauty and natural art if I fell asleep. Next to the ocean, Arizona became a favorite place.
But it was the RED that drew me in. The red in the rocks that contrasted beautifully against the blue sky and green of the pine trees. The red in the dirt that stained my feet as we walked along the trails. And the red of the sunset, that fire in the sky.
Yes, I fell in love with the southwest that summer and though I did not live there, my heart desired to be free, living among the red that permeates this state.
Nine years later, my husband, our oldest son and I drove through Arizona, stopping at the Grand Canyon and other National Parks, as well as historic sites along Interstate 40, heading east….we were on our way to his first Air Force assignment in North Dakota. Again, I felt the pull, the longing to be in the southwest, to let my heart sing amid the red.
We did not return to Arizona for another 24 years and it was a road trip that brought us back here. Just my husband and I. And it was that road trip that changed my husbands view of the state that had long ago captured my heart. He, like so many others, thought it was just a brown, dry and dusty environment. And he loves his trees, all the green of the northwest, and his mountains. We drove to the Grand Canyon and then south through Flagstaff to Sedona, just so I could show him what I loved here. He was surprised by the forests of pine trees. He enjoyed Oak Creek… yes, there is water in this dry state! And he began to see what I saw. Yes, this mesmerizing place was drawing him in, too.
And to my surprise, when he retired from the Air Force a few years later, my husband chose Arizona as one of the states we could live in…. and then we moved here. He was still thinking that the Phoenix area would be flat and dusty…. and he was pleasantly surprised to see mountains around the valley.
But the desert is a harsh environment. It is dry here. There is not much water. It is HOT in the summer! And yes it is dusty. A very harsh environment where it can be hard for life of any type to survive, let alone thrive.
But life does thrive here. There is beauty in the desert. What once looked dead, thrives when it rains. Plants and animals adapt… not just surviving but thriving in this harsh environment.
Here in the desert, in one of the harshest and at times ugliest environments, beauty grows, beauty shines, and life can thrive.
Every place has its own beauty. And though I love and miss the Pacific Northwest, I know I was born to live in Arizona.
I was born to live in a place where I am reminded that despite the difficult challenges, despite the harsh environment, despite the lack at times of the components necessary to live and to grow, there is still life. There is beauty among the spines and beauty in the dusty arid climate. We just have to look for it.
The desert reminds me that we too, can bloom. It reminds me that even those of us who have grown up in the harshest of environments, in abuse and neglect can still thrive. The desert shows me every day that even without all the things needed to thrive, and with the thorns and spines that a challenging and harsh life has us growing in order to survive, we can still bloom where we are planted. We can still thrive. Despite the ugliness of the harshest life, there is still beauty.
It does not matter where my life began. The loss, the abandonment, the challenges, the abuse… none of that keeps me from growing, blooming and shining. Just like the wondrous and amazing life in the desert.
There is so much beauty in the harshest climates. And when we look beyond the brown, beyond the dust, past the thorns and spines, we can see the beauty all around.
Out of the harshest of environments, beauty shines.
The desert is proof of that!
I am proof of that!