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Struggling to Appreciate an Ugly Part of Arizona

Most people do a fair -- or even a large -- amount of physical and mental exercise, during the course of a lifetime. But what about our ability to appreciate places, when so much is stacked against them?

Every year, during my annual visit to Yuma, AZ, I try to build my muscles when it comes to appreciating this gawd-awful thermal hell-hole, and I'm happy to report some success.

The endeavor is so much easier during the two month window in mid-winter. Unfortunately all it takes is a little bad luck with the heat and I have to beat down an absolute detestation of this place.

Yuma is one of the few places in Arizona that doesn't have lots of obvious natural beauty. That might be the place where a visitor can really exercise their muscles.

Consider all the agriculture in the area. Yes it is irrigated and petrochemically-addicted. The soil does nothing other than provide mechanical support for the roots and soak up the chemicals. Still, the plants are green, and they do make food out of it, if you call lettuce 'food'. That is a rare prize in the arid West.

I like to push aside the usual notions of tourist scenery and think of the unique beauty of all this agriculture.

The winter traffic in Yuma tries to compensate for the decline of heat-misery. I have good luck shopping at 0500 hours. My favorite grocery store opens then. For about an hour, the shopper can be relaxed. 

The balminess of Yuma nights is sweet, compared to the chilliness of most places in the Southwest. It seldom falls much less than freezing, or the winter agriculture would stop.

Then I try to mountain bike in the moonscape...and it actually works a bit. Just don't fall off the bike and land on those rocks! There is virtually no organic content to the soil. You have to just stare at the ground and tell yourself, "This really is a part of planet Earth."

Think about river valleys as the cradle of civilization. But that didn't really happen near Yuma, did it? 

What about wildlife? Migratory birds sure love the Colorado River fly-way. How do coyotes survive summer here? They are canids, and canids are always hot.

The luckiest critters are the rodents. They get to live underground. I wonder what the temperature is, three feet underground. Why did humans (and Yumans) ever get it into their heads to live above the ground? 

Most of the ocotillos are leafed out this winter. Normally they are a lifeless pole of needles. But now they are green and give your mind soft, kind thoughts to work on.


Ted said…
I suppose it’s all in what you’re used to. My father took us to the Colorado River often in the summers, near Parker usually. Or Joshua Tree, Borrego, or various other Mojave & Sonoran desert destinations. I grew up appreciating it as “normal”. I like it, even in the oven heat of summer. As a teen, this was THE place to go in the summer to get away from Southern California crowds. Water sports helped, of course, but often we’d hang out deep in the desert away from any water.

Summers meant either beach or desert, rarely anyplace with “green”. I miss both if I haven’t visited lately. I need to swing by the coast again next year, I think. It’s been two years since I walked barefoot on the sand with salty Pacific waves washing over them. Such things say “home” to me.
Ed said…
The ocotillo are leafed out because of recent rains. They loose their leaves as they dry out but will leaf out again after a good rain. Maybe 3-4 times during a year.
XXXXX said…
The problem is that we tend to view and judge our environment through human experience which, in the big picture, is severely limited. "Green" is good because it connotes food in its prime, moisture, life; the ground is "soil" when it can support organic growth, "dirt" when it cannot; temperature is "good" when it is compatible with human comfort, etc.
However, we have the option of observing our environment from a different perspective. Heraclitus, from about 500 B.C. saw everything around him in terms of "becoming". Not for a microsecond is anything ever the same. There is a constant motion of inflow and outflow. Even the waves of the ocean that Ted mentioned are no two alike. The leaf of a tree changes constantly in shape, form, and color until it reaches its demise. The entire movement of the universe is one of becoming and unbecoming. Every small change that occurs has a cause. There are perpetually opposing forces clashing which eventually harmonize to create this process of becoming and unbecoming.
So instead of looking at one's world through limited human experience, open to the greater picture of the everlasting movement of the universe. On a personal note, this helps me back off from my human ego, my human judgment, and instead enjoy the greater order around me, always coming and going. Frankly, it also helps me to prepare for my own ultimate unbecoming, which is not an easy thing to do as long as I allow myself to stay in my human ego. Staying in that ego ultimately does not serve us well.
George, that was an interesting comment. It might be too philosophical for me, though. I don't want to dehumanize nature into something cold or mathematical. But I am all for looking at nature from a less personal perspective, as long as it stays anthropo-centric.
Dave Davis said…
There is a simply beautiful place near 22nd Street and water Street. It's a wetlands park, and very close to the river. You can almost forget where you are.

Other than that, after 7-10 days I'm ready to leave.
Dave D, yes there are some nice areas in the park. I like the bicycle path that goes right by them.