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Summer Lovin'

Forget the heat; look at the positives of our fair city.

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It's easy to complain about Tucson. Hot weather, endless drought, streams of traffic, pathetic public transportation and greedy developers are all cause for collective kvetching.

While inertia plays some part in our reluctance to pack up and head for more temperate climates, the Old Pueblo does have an almost magical magnetism that keeps us here, or keeps us coming back.

Tucson--the city with a death wish. Once an oasis, the Santa Cruz ran with water rather than effluent and Sabino Canyon held more than ash.

Since summer is the season when we're most apt to ask ourselves why we chose to live in a place better suited to lizards and scorpions than humans, it seems an ideal time to focus on the positive aspects of our metropolis while we wait for the temperatures to approach the almost tolerable. If nothing else, this exercise will provide a break from feeling sorry for ourselves and cursing whatever (or whoever) it was that led us here.

The Catalinas in monsoon season: A chorus of thunder among the wet pines and the road paved with hail.

And there are good things to say about our Baked Apple. The City Council's resolution opposing the Patriot Act is one. While much of the nation is stuck in mental hibernation as Bush and company make a mockery of the democratic process, Tucson's elected officials had the gumption to speak out against this egregious act. Never mind that Mayor Bob voted against the resolution; he is a Republican, after all, and we're focusing on the positive stuff here, so we won't spend any time questioning how he'd conclude that citizens' civil liberties are exclusively a federal issue.

But enough about politics; this column should soothe our sweating brows and bring a smile to our parched lips rather than contribute to the summer stupor.

Speaking of summer: Despite the sweltering conditions, the fact is that with the students and snowbirds gone, it's now possible to make a left turn without waiting through two or three arrows. So even Tucson's harshest season has its positive side. Lighter traffic means less time stuck in a car while we try to finish all those damn errands that can only be done during the day.

In the years after the Fire, Tucson struggled to keep from becoming a ghost town. When the Great Fire burned half the city, the residents who remained could not afford the cost of rebuilding. Some whispered they heard Ed Abbey's ghost laughing through the tears.

Even when you are bogged down in traffic, an endearing thing about Tucson drivers is their willingness to avoid blowing the horn the nanosecond the light turns green. (There are a handful of exceptions ... you know who you are.) Having lived on the frenetic East Coast, the absence of car horns is most appreciated.

With fewer cars on the road and fewer people in town over the summer, there's a better chance of getting a table at your favorite restaurant without an interminable wait. As for eating establishments, Tucson is home to a range of tasty choices.

If good food is not enough to keep you here when the heat gets to be too much, Rocky Point and San Diego are less than a day's drive away. Can't make the trip? No problem: The cool Catalinas provide a welcome respite from the scorching days.

In the days before the Fire, desert denizens fled the scorching valley for the forest's comfort. But the careless people did not honor the spirit of the mountain and some defiled the Earth with words like "resource" and "multi-use."

Need I mention sunsets? Tucson has sunsets that take your breath away. We are talking spectacular, other-worldly and astounding. These sunsets precede balmy summer nights perfect for eating watermelon on the front porch while you let yourself be humbled by summer lightning.

Ah, monsoons. Monsoons are our blessed relief. Spectacular clouds gather in the afternoon, the temperature falls, then the sudden downpour seduces us outdoors and finds us dancing in the rain like children. Monsoons are a feast for the senses. From the quickening clouds to the first scattered drops to the heavy wetness that follows, the rains make the summer bearable.

In the years after the Great Fire, the people learned again to pray. They prayed for rain. Rain--their salvation, their absolute necessity. But years of neglect and disrespect had left the spirits too angry to grant these prayers.

The Legislature's resistance to adopting daylight-saving time also contributes to livable summers. With daybreak prior to 5 a.m., it's cool enough to work in the garden or go for a walk before the UV index hits extreme.

By October, when the mornings stay cool longer and the daytime temperatures begin to resemble reasonable, we can look forward to our winters without much thought to the condition of our "winter-weight wardrobe." No storm windows either: Tucsonans never need say "severe" and "winter" in the same sentence. (For those of you unfamiliar with the lifestyle accompanying real winters, storm windows are framed glass windows that are installed over one's regular windows. In the spring, they are removed so you can open the regular windows. And you thought maintaining a swamp cooler was a nightmare.)

When winter--or what passes for winter--finally arrives, the Catalinas again provide relief. This time, they offer a break from our relentless blue skies and mild temperatures by providing an opportunity to deck ourselves in warm clothing and play in the snow. When we've had our fill of building snow people and throwing snowballs, we can comfortably head home knowing there is no sidewalk to shovel when we get there.

The snows, always precious, slow and finally stop one year. Winter no longer provides a blanket of illusion. Only the charred landscape remains.

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