Arizona, I’m sorry. I’ve been a bad friend talking about you behind your back. It’s not that I don’t love you. You’re great. You just have this tough exterior that makes it hard to get to know you. But I’ve been meaning to write and tell you how I really feel about you, so here goes.
The day before I left Arizona for four months, I went for a run. Running is not out of the ordinary. People do it every day, everywhere. What made this jaunt a little unusual was that despite being somewhere around 105 degrees, I considered it to be a perfect day to run. I was alone on the trails as most people have the good sense to get their cardio in more hospitable environments. But no one has ever accused me of being reasonable.
To understand my relationship with Arizona, I must first explain my love affair with my home state, Colorado. I spent the first thirty years of my life in Colorado, not just the state, but the same area near Colorado Springs. I looked on the same mountain, Pikes Peak, nearly every morning of my existence. Having never traveled, I did not comprehend that mountains were special. I thought they burst out of the ground just about anywhere, providing equal opportunity for all to hike, climb, and experience breathtaking views. Ho-hum.
In high school, I briefly dated a guy stationed at the Air Force Academy. He described enlisting in the service, and said he got to create a dream list of five places he wanted to be stationed. Colorado had made his list. This tidbit of information flabbergasted me. If you could pick anywhere in the world to travel, why would he pick my boring, un-hip state? Why not New York or California or somewhere cool? His response was simple- the mountains. He had never seen a mountain. I looked at my state a little differently. I didn’t take it for granted that everyone started their day gazing at a peak.
I come from a large, boisterous family. I am the fourth child in a family of six- four boys, two girls. While I had friends growing up, I didn’t really require them. From the day I was born, I had playmates at the ready. As our family grew up, this phenomena only became more so. As my siblings began marrying and having children of there own, my big family grew to obscene proportions. Seriously, we can easily play a legitimate game of baseball with players to spare.
My family is not just large, it is colorful. Perhaps this is the case with most large families- you have to develop a big personality to stand out among the crowd. My sister is a hairdresser by trade, with a ‘do so huge and firm with hairspray, you can physically bounce a quarter off of it (I’ve done it.) My brothers are indeed a motley crew- a biker, a musician, a redneck, and a stoner (ok, that sounds more like the Village People than Motley Crue, but I assure you, the resemble the later.)
They all possess the one trait I wish I had- they can talk to anyone. They are the guys that walk into a bar they’ve never been to before, and within minutes have all the regulars laughing and buying them drinks. Ok, they might also challenge someone to fisticuffs, but that’s usually a little later in the evening.
Whenever, I go out with them, I am treated like the Queen Bee. Once it is known I am the sister of a Forsythe, my doors are opened, chairs are pulled out, drinks are paid for, and I’m being hugged by complete strangers.
In Colorado, I was cocooned in comfort and safety. I could navigate the streets by the landmarks rather than the street names. I knew to expect snow until May, to always carry a jacket- even in the middle of July. My friends had become extended family, invited to holidays and family gatherings. And then, there was my actual family. My rock, my north, whatever cliche phrase you want to use. They drove me crazy, but life without them was beyond the realm of my imagination, until it became a reality.
Rumors began to circulate through Ben’s office that the future of the Colorado branch was not looking so good. Like most industries, the company had been hit by the economic downturn and were being forced to close some sites. Ben asked me if he should apply for jobs at other locations, just as a backup plan. I gave him the go ahead, figuring it would be months before he landed another job. He had an offer three weeks later.
As we drove out of Colorado Springs to begin our new life, I allowed my gaze to fall upon Pikes Peak. I took one last look, trying to memorize every detail, and began to cry. “Hey Jude” played over the radio. I listened to the familiar words, and decided they spelled out what I needed to do- take a sad song and make it better.
My first impressions of Phoenix were not great. It was brown. Even the parts that were supposed to be green, like leaves and grass, had a dead brown tint to them. The sun was relentless. There were no giant forests to provide shade. Just sporadic trees to offer an unsatisfying sip of shade before resuming blistering heat. As a hiker, I gazed on their mountains with disdain. Any summit that can be reached in under an hour should not be called a mountain.
My social calendar was as barren as the landscape. I have never been gifted with making friends easily. I did not know anyone. My best hope was to engage my coworkers, and they were a bunch of geeky workaholics content to sit for fourteen hours a day at their desk writing endless code. If I was going to survive in this town, I was going to have to take some chances.
Arizona crept up on me. Under the heat and rocks was a sweeter side. The fruit on our tangelo tree ripened a few weeks after our arrival. I had never even heard of tangelos, but they looked kind of like a misshapen orange, so I gave them a try. That first burst of sweetness had me hooked. I began gorging on tangelo- making juice, salad dressing, pies, muffins, cookies, anything and everything flavored with tangelo. I began exploring my neighborhood, and discovered more fruit- the house with grapefruit on limbs hanging over the fence, the apartments with lemon trees lining their paths. I was in citrus heaven.
I had found food for the body, but I needed fuel for the mind. I needed friends. I took a chance and went on meetup.com. I felt a bit pathetic, like some lonely heart searching the persona ads, but I was desperate. I found a craft group titled “not your grandmother’s super hip craft group.” The group had not meet in few months, so I posted an offer to meet at my place. The first gathering, three ladies showed up. At the next, six attended. Before long, I had a whole posse of friends of the best kinds- ones who could teach me to sew, knit, crochet, cook, and a whole bunch of other skills I always wanted to learn.
The last hurdle was learning to love the landscape, Arizona itself. The parts that resembled Colorado, like Flagstaff, were easy enough to love. But Phoenix is much tougher to hug.
After the birth of my first son, I began running. I quickly became bored running through my neighborhoods, and took to the trails. The mountains I had once scoffed at proved to be fantastic for jogging, gently sloping up and down without too much incline. The trails were plentiful and well kept, but heavily populated in the cooler months.
As the temperatures rose, I noticed less and less people on the trails. Instead of conversations, I heard the distinct buzzing of cicadas. I initially found the buzz disturbing, likening it to the sound of a biblical plague. But over the years, I have come to associate that sound with peaceful solitude.
Three weeks ago, I stopped in the middle of my jog to spend a moment of reflection on the trail. The rocks were still sharp beneath my feet, the sun beating down without even the hope of shade. The cicadas were singing their disconcerting tune, and I felt right at home. Yes, this landscape was tough, but learning to navigate it had in turn made me tougher. I was going to miss this place. I had learned to love Arizona.