I used to watch the summer monsoons as if they were a picture show.
Our house was perched at the top of a hill overlooking Tucson. Every August, thunderheads would roll over the bluish hills and send their pencil-sketch lightning bolts down over the glittering city.
I’d turn off all the lights, spin the barrel rocking chairs around to face the gigantic picture window in the living room and watch the lightning touch down. Their eerie glow lit the city for a moment, all the houses and buildings bright as day. Then rain would come, its thrum steady on the ceramic roof.
I could almost hear the plants slurping up each drop.
In the desert, rain is always a gift. It changes everything. The morning after a storm the landscape transforms. Shrubs sprout new leaves, soft green shoots come out of what looked like dead twigs. Days later, the tall tips of the ocotillo would be crowned with orange-red flowers that I would pluck and drink for nectar.
The soil would give thanks for rain with softness and green and the great exhaling scent of water mixing with humus.
I have lived almost all my life in deserts: Phoenix and Tucson and now San Diego.
I was astonished, as a new transplant, back in seventh grade to discover that San Diego is a desert, its annual rainfall less than Tucson. Come here and you might miss that too.
People have forced it green.
Hawthorn shrubs, related to blueberries, grow in front of every tract house, lantana and ice plant the de rigueurgroundcovers, green and pink, pink and sage, green green green.
I love my hometown, but sometimes it lies about who it is.
I’m at The Mudroom again this month, talking about how being honest about living in the desert can be opening ourselves to unexpected desert beauty. Join me there!