Americans just say prickly pear


This morning, Nelson and I made our rounds in the neighborhood as the morning sun peaked over the eastern Valley’s mountains, greeting us with rays climbing high through wispy clouds. Phoenix in July is, to put it mildly, rather toasty. Today’s high is expected to be 109. The desert being hot in summer is no more news than Stockholm being darn right chilly come January.

As we wandered, I considered what makes this time of year different — if you stop to notice. For example, those morning clouds. By this time of year, there are typically only two types of clouds: those thin, barely there streaks of white so high, they trace the sky like faint cobwebs. Or, their alter egos: the fat, gray to pearl white, angry monster monsoon clouds that grow and climb like waves, higher and higher, like smoke rising. With any luck, these beasts crack — sending a flood of water and relief to the desert floor, shaking us all, temporarily. During an even brief monsoon rain, the temperature can drop 15-20 degrees in a matter of a few minutes. It is not at all uncommon to see children playing and screaming outside in puddles, soaking up the change in an otherwise hot routine, like the typical summer New York City photos of children in the boroughs delighted by an opened fire hydrant.

The canal system that circles Phoenix, otherwise known as the turquoise necklace, is stocked with fish. The carp help keep the muck down, being bottom feeders. And there is muck. And rusting shopping carts. And other detritus, as public waterways go. Occasionally, you see fishermen on the banks — but not this time of year. The ducks, too, are gone. They’ve fled to cooler waters, even locally, with their gaggles of babies who are now starting to look more like petulant, curious, teens. The canals are shallow enough I can imagine the water temperature is hot by now. As such, the fish rise to the surface, flopping like miniature humpback whales. It is the oddest sight, but there they are: olive green, whiskered fish, flopping and carrying on, rising and diving, seeking comfort of the morning air on their scales, I imagine.

There are the other lovely desert-specific gems of summer: prickly pear fruit coming into season, the smell of wet desert after one of those rains — oh creosote! You bewildering, enchanting smell!, the jewel-toned bougainvillea and birds of paradise blooming everywhere, with their sprays of red, pink and hot orange.

As a city dweller (who dreams of a country life), I am also terribly fond of how easy traffic is this time of year. Phoenix in late July may not have many perks, but one is fewer people are willing to ride out the heat. My commute is half as long, which is much appreciated considering there is only so much a Civic’s air conditioner can manage at 109. Also, I am thankful for how casual this city is by now. While I still do not agree with flip-flops and shorts in the workplace unless you are a lifeguard, it is nice that no one expects heels and a dress, or a suit. Manhattan last summer was squelching hot in an entirely different way, but that city does not relent with the fashion. The men on Wall Street were dressed to the nines and there was always some woman on 5th Avenue who looked like she had superior genes, allowing blown out hair and gorgeous attire when everyone else was trying to hide sweat stains.

Phoenix is many things, but rarely dog-eat-dog. Which is a good thing, because right about now, my dog has pancaked himself on the kitchen’s tile floor, pressing as much of his belly against the cold as he can. And while he knows he will have to rest this way, panting for an hour or so after our morning adventure, he still wakes me each morning with expectation and excitement to go! Let’s go now!

That’s Phoenix in the summer time – finding the good and excitement where you can, and finding a cool, quiet spot in between.