Each year, it's the same story: September arrives, and we foolishly expect summer to gracefully make its exit. All the signs are there: The ocotillo, last month a blinding green, now fades to a faint shade of chartreuse; the tarantula, each spring revealing its sheltered home in a hole under the steps, now shores up the opening in preparation for the coming months; the roadside flora glows with the yellow hues of autumn.
But the temperatures still tickle triple digits, and the air at dawn still mocks us with its unfulfilled promise of cooler days. Where once we wore turtlenecks on cool evenings spent watching pale New England sunsets from the beach, today we wear tank tops and shorts long past the fall equinox. The desert's seasons will always seem foreign to us, their harsh intensity a measure against which we are annually doomed to fail.
In June, we tell ourselves the same lie: We only have to get through this month; come July and August, the blessed monsoon will bring relief to the desert as its rains humble us. And though we know it's a lie, we cling to it anyway; it's all we have during those brutally hot days following each other relentlessly with their sameness.
By September, we recognize the futility of our ritual self-deception and replace it with hope: hope that the Tucson summer will not linger, and one morning soon, dawn will greet us with an unmistakable whisper of cool air rustling through mesquite. What gets us through these last days of summer is the inexorable certainty of change.
Our resident lizard is going through its own transformation. Perhaps it's seasonal; perhaps it's coincidence. Today, the wind carried the remnants of its shedding scales as we witnessed it scurrying away, looking like an unkempt child having trouble getting properly dressed.
The bobcat that makes its home in the dense overgrown brush passing for a front yard no longer comes to torment our house cats. Summer mornings, before the sun gained its ascendancy in the white-hot sky, the feisty feline would perch on the deck and taunt its domesticated distant cousins. No more. These days, it may be emptying its den of summer detritus in preparation for fall. Or perhaps it has moved on to more suitable digs. There's no telling.
Evenings are cooler now, though still warm enough that we can venture outdoors giving no thought to a sweater or jacket. The cicadas, which only a few weeks ago overwhelmed us each night with their frantic symphony of desire, now sound resigned to their fate. Maybe we are simply hearing fewer of them, the rest having found mates and successfully met their seasonal imperative.
At the height of summer, three wolf spiders competed for assorted insects that found our kitchen lights a foolish enticement. One morning, after placing a skillet on the stove, we were startled by a spider desperately scurrying across the pan's edge. The arachnid, active at night but invisible during daylight hours, had evidently decided the hollow handle could serve as a convenient place to hide out when it wasn't busy feasting on hapless bugs. We returned the unused skillet to its hook on the wall, and the wolf spider is now back in its appropriated home.
Mice are beginning to scout out the viability of moving in for the cooler months. Silly creatures, they have yet to learn we have six cats to dissuade them. One day, we found our entire feline family crouched by the opening under the wood stove. An unfortunate mouse, likely believing it would be safe, had found refuge there, only to discover it was trapped. After some persuasion, consisting of a broom handle and a strategically placed box, we succeeded in catching it and returning it to the outdoors.
The signs of seasonal shift tease our senses with their unhurried pace. At the market, fruits from the fall harvest gradually replace the lush summer bounty of berries, plums, peaches and nectarines. Before too long, though it will seem like forever, we will be giving thanks for persimmons and blood oranges, their colors mirroring autumn's.
It is September in Tucson, but even the desert must soon let go and fall into nature's rhythm.