The Tucson summer is like labor and delivery: It's horrible, but afterward, you forget about the pain by virtue of the marvel you've got a hold of.
In autumn, gentle oblivion descends.
When the woodpeckers and the thrashers return, when the vermillion flycatcher on the fence disappears so fast that you're never really sure you saw it at all, when the rattlesnakes have crawled back into their holes and the coyotes once again dare to venture out during daylight hours, the world comes back to life again, and everything that retreated from the heat of the day emerges from beneath whatever shady scrub it dove under nearly five months ago.
When within a week's time, nighttime temperatures go from 70 to 49, and you forget all the suffering. When the angle of the sunlight changes almost imperceptibly, and there's something in the air like hope delivered in the softening of color and lengthening of evening shadows, things start to feel OK.
This is the time of year when I am ruined by the same feeling I used to get standing at the ocean's edge--only it's the sky this time, and illusory or not, it seems to go on forever, presenting infinite possibilities. The clarity of the atmosphere--the colors it creates as cool breezes defeat hot winds, the grays, the mauves, the oranges and purples, they cannot be bested by anything. They are beyond our reach.
My father, stuck in the San Fernando Valley like a buck on a barbed-wire fence, always had a fixation for Arizona. Some relative used to send us calendars, and the old man would paint pictures. I thought they were fantasies, some magical land like Oz, some place of alternate physics and bent prisms. The idea that clouds rained over one patch of desert and ignored the other was as surreal as the Road Runner dropping a boulder on Wile E. Coyote.
Of course, surreality is all a trick of the light, or the gods, or whomever. Back in May, when the shadows got shorter, and your dread of the horror of it all wouldn't let you turn on the air conditioner because, damn it, it was just too early, you wanted to believe like a kid in Santa Claus, that there was such a thing as spring, that summer was still weeks away. The solstice, after all, was still a month off. When June came, denial was swamped by sweat and headaches borne of heat prostration simply because you worked in the garden after 9 in the morning or took a 2-mile hike. The headache, you reasoned, must have come from somewhere else. It simply couldn't be this hot yet. Perhaps it was something you ate or that second beer the night before. Maybe you'd contracted brain cancer. Anything but the crippling fact that summer was already here.
July came, and denial wilted just like every single plant in your garden. You hid in your house like a hibernating tortoise, only unlike the tortoise, you couldn't shut your brain off. The solstice was past, so the days were getting shorter. You knew this in your head, even if it was impossible to see.
Finally, toward the end of July, the monsoons came. And while it was still hot and sticky, while the mosquitoes still wanted to eat you alive and the no-see-em's peppered you every time you went outside, at least it wasn't boring anymore. Stubborn golfers, like the priest in Caddyshack, refused to come in out of the storm and got hit by lightning. Drivers who didn't believe in nature plowed into gullies marked "DO NOT ENTER WHEN FLOODED." The evening sky flashed black and white, and if you were smart, you backed away from your computers and TVs. If you knew about Faraday cages, you pulled over in your car and kept your hands off the wheel and your feet on the carpet.
September dried things out. The spadefoot toads quieted down, digging themselves back under the soil. You waited and hoped and swore, because damn it, weren't we supposed to have an equinox around now? Autumn here is like an annoying friend, always and forever late.
Then the soft rains of October arrive, and like a mother with a new baby, we forget all the pain and marvel at the newness of it all.