In Deference to the Heat

When I lived in Tucson, Arizona over a decade ago, I realized summer in the Sonoran Desert is much like winter in the Midwest. A desert summer is a perfect time to stay indoors and wait for the harshness of the weather to pass. Instead of hot cocoa and Christmas cookies, I learned to embrace the floral refreshment of agua de jamaica and the creamy comfort of cinnamon-infused horchata. I learned how to wait until the evening when the desert temps dipped and nightime became the well-deserved balm to surviving the day. 

Back in the early aughts, summer in Tucson meant 100-degree-plus temperatures consistently all season long, bringing your own water bottle into the inviting dark of air-conditioned movie theaters, and restaurants not offering water to guests unless asked for.

Back then, I biked all over town on my three-speed because the air conditioner in my pick-up truck went out shortly after I arrived. I could not afford to fix the AC, so I turned to my pale yellow Chicago-made Schwinn and commuted to campus in the early mornings or later, much later in the day, when the sting of the sun was less pronounced. 

I also learned to embrace the sweat, to savor my body’s ability to stave off the heat. That and to pack an extra stick of deodorant in my backpack. 

Like most of the animal world, I adjusted my life in deference to the heat, and in that sacred routine, I found a small degree of human comfort. 

We could all learn a thing or two from Tucson and other desert places in the dog days of summer, so named after Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star of the nighttime sky. We could better marshall our reserves, not expect July to behave as November. We could implement more heat-readiness programs such as those in Phoenix and plant more drought-resistant shade trees to create a bigger, more comprehensive tree canopy. We could dampen our bedsheets as our grandparents and great-grandparents and the Egyptians did, covering ourselves in wet cloaks of cotton. 

We could read Louise Glück’s poem, “Midsummer,” with a popsicle in hand and imagine swimming in the quarry, too. We could also imagine sitting on the front porch in the early morning eating a peach. We could then read Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “A Sunset in the City,” and be consoled by the coming of fall, by the woman who rushes through her prayers like most of us try to rush through the persistent humidity of summer.

We could imagine the ice-cold sweetness of all those blush-colored cherries and melons and garnet-red strawberries come winter, and all but forget the hardship of the heat.