Monday, July 23, 2012

Summertime Blues

When I was a kid, I remember a science teacher telling us that the Earth would gradually keep moving closer to the sun until it eventually burned up.

Are we there yet?

I must confess that summer is my least favorite of all the seasons, with fall and spring being my favorites. I have a sometimes-contentious relationship with the sun, both too much and too little of it.

In my early adult years I lived in San Francisco. There is a reason why San Francisco is called “America’s Favorite City.” It is absolutely beautiful, sometimes breathtakingly so. But the picturesque fog and I didn’t always live in joyous harmony. Day after day of gray skies dampened my mood. Summers there also aren’t like summers in most places. I can speak to that. I remember the tourists, in their shorts and T-shirts, freezing in San Francisco’s cool, frequently foggy and windy summer weather, looking for sweaters to buy in department stores. Remember the quote that's usually attributed to Mark Twain? "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco." Twain wasn't exaggerating.

I discovered when I moved to Southern California that I’m a natural sun person. Too many days of not soaking in those rays makes me gloomy. But even still, at this point in the summer, like many of us, I often grow heat-weary. When I happened to be feeling particularly grouchy about the summer weather, I used to say when I lived in Southern California that I lived in the part of town where we made heat for hell.

Then I moved to Arizona, and I discovered what it really takes to make heat for hell. Though I live well north of it, where we just make heat for Purgatory, the last time I had a speaking gig in Phoenix in late June, the temperature reached 115 degrees. Really? Sure, it’s a often dry heat, but so is an oven, and I don’t climb into mine. Even when Phoenix temps go down to a saner 100-107+ tell me that’s not a sign that my science teacher’s prediction was true, and the burning up process is well under way. But this year, record temperatures have been recorded over large parts of the country. It's getting harder to say where heat is actually made for hell.

But there is a phenomenon here in the Southwest that I’ve come to enjoy, and which has made me fonder of the hot, late summertime. That is the monsoon rainstorms that strike some days here, simply because of their sense-stirring might. Huge gray clouds build up to the heavens, while the air turns a distinctly yellow-green color and smells strongly of ions. When the storm hits, the raindrops can easily exceed an inch to an inch and-a-half in diameter and the swirling winds are fierce. Within moments, the temperature can drop 30 to 40 degrees, and even after the storm moves on, the temperatures rarely rise as high earlier, so it provides a break from the heat.

What’s odd is that the storms are so localized. Recently, we drove up to a high peak outside of town with a 360-degree view. No less than four or five localized storms in different directions draped the ground with wide sheaths of misty gray walking rain, while off to the west, the sun shone brightly through a stretch of far thinner cloud cover. Awesome!

Sometimes these storms are quite destructive — a section of my own roof had to be repaired after one last summer, as did quite a number of roofs in my neighborhood, and I sure don’t welcome that. But short of their creating havoc, it can be quite wonderful to watch them build.

There might not be any cure for the summertime blues, but sometimes there’s a respite. To my great surprise, since I’m not too keen on gray skies, I have come to embrace these wild, raging storms.

What do you like — or dislike — about your summer weather?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dream Totem

In Sedona, and other spots around the world that some people regard as sacred, people build little stone totems. Here’s a photo of a common example of a rock totem:

People build rock totems to honor a place that touched them, and allow them to leave a bit of themselves behind when they have to move on.

I came across a really special one some months ago, on a trail at the Airport Mesa vortex. You might have heard about our energy vortices, and you may or may not believe in them. But vortex energy only factors into this story peripherally. As I was saying…I don’t like the airport vortex too much. It’s the most easily accessible of all the vortices — doesn’t require any serious hiking from the trailhead — and that might explain why it seems to attract the most ill-behaved of all of Sedona’s tourists.

Most of the visitors to Sedona are respectful of the landscape. But too many of the people who flock to this site don’t seem to realize that other people hike to find peace and solitude. Instead, they sit on the knoll where they’ve been told they should feel some unusual energy flow, and their screams and laughter and cell phone conversations echo for miles.

I don’t know why I went there that day. And my hike didn’t start out well. A family of three males — a father and two burly preteen boys — along with a simpering mother, had cornered a lizard in the brush and were shirking in glee. I don’t usually say anything, but the sight of the family Cro-Magnon on their lizard safari annoyed me. I snapped for them to leave the wildlife alone. One of the boys spat at me, in a tone of fierce anger, that wildlife was supposed to be hunted down. His parents looked so proud.

So...I wasn’t in the best of moods when I walked on. But then I came upon it, one of the most magnificent totems I’ve ever seen. It was huge — probably more than two feet high and three feet wide, and clearly took quite some time to construct. Its spectacular design was not a matter of stacking rocks on other rocks — no, this person had build an edifice with actual chambers.

The totem builder had also sprinkled money on all the crossbeams. Not a lot, just pocket change. I spotted one quarter, lots of dimes and nickels and a whole mess of pennies that glistened in the sunlight. While I doubt it totaled much more than a dollar or two, the sprinkling of coins struck me as such an extravagant, grand gesture

I was so moved by it that I came back every week to check on the totem. And despite wind and rain and countless people passing that way, the totem remained week-after-week.

Then this week, I discovered it gone. Someone just dismantled it, stacked the stones, and with a marker and a girlish hand, wrote on the rocks about who loved whom, and decorated them with hearts. And, yes, she took the change.

As a hiker who loved that totem, I grieved for its loss. But as a writer, I felt a need to explore the mentality of the one who had to dismantle it.

As desecrations go, it was minor. Those rocks have endured for eons, and will remain when we are just specks of dust floating on the wind. Even the early amateur archeologists who explored this area used to carve their names onto the rocks near their discoveries, and they stole the treasures early tribal peoples had left as offerings in those areas. So, maybe whatever impulse the heart-drawer felt wasn’t any more out of line than what countless others have done before her. Maybe she thought that money was wasted there, and she considered it only right to put it to use.

Even after thinking about it, I don't really understand. Given all the many rocks scattered around that area, I can't imagine why she simply didn't choose some of those loose rocks on which to draw her hearts. I can't fathom why she was willing to take all the time needed to dismantle that unique totem. Why she needed to see it dismantled.

Maybe I’m just too sentimental, but still, I don’t think I’ll be going back there anytime soon.