Monday, March 16, 2015

In the Desert, You Can't Remember Your Name

Nothing else seems more of an example of contradiction than the desert. Something so empty and featureless is yet so teeming with life. A place so hot and dry, and yet still snows and floods.

I don't know if I've become attracted to the desert just because I've lived in Southern California for so long, or if there's just something about it that I identify with.

The past couple of weeks, Sash and I have managed to mix business with pleasure here in the desert city of Tucson, AZ. At 520,000 people, it's effectively a "large" city, but yet it feels smaller. By contrast, the city of Phoenix to the north, along with its surrounding towns, commands 4 million.

riding a motorcycle on the interstate
Eastbound along Interstate 8, Arizona

But Tucsonians don't seem to see themselves as playing second fiddle. They're not really trying to be influential in the Grand Canyon State. They instead prefer to let the crazies remain up north, while they enjoy their own brand of insanity down here.

Since arriving here, we've had the opportunity to meet Mike & Chris, a couple of Royal Enfield riders. Chris had been following Sash on social media for the past couple of years, and when she heard we were headed to Tucson, she and Sash had arranged to meet at a nearby restaurant.

Later in the week, Chris and her husband invited us to their home for dinner.

The couple live on the west side of Tucson. Tucson is split between west and east by Interstate 10. The west side tends to embrace the desert landscape, with roads that curve and twist, whereas the east side is the older part of town that still embraces the traditional grid pattern of downtown and suburb.

Their home is very much nestled within the desert landscape, almost as if the structure itself was just dropped right in the middle of ocotillo, creosote, saguaro, and palo verde trees. They have an up-close view of the Tucson Mountains and the spectacular sunsets over Gates Pass.

"I just really love the desert", Mike said in his native German accent, as he was showing me his backyard patio and desert garden. "I don't know what it is, but I just feel at home here."

I had to agree with him. But for me, it's more like empathy, and thereby, compassion. There's something solitary about it, lonely yet still teeming with life, deadly yet still sensitive. I feel a fondness for it, which somehow attracts me back to it.

The desert is almost like a child holding on to its emotional scars. It can take a decade or more for sets of tire tracks to completely smooth over. Meanwhile in coastal areas, plains, and lush forested hills, plant life grows so quickly that the ravages of mankind are easily overcome. At the same time, the desert kills dozens of wanderers who come unprepared.

"There is no shortage of water in the desert, only exactly the right amount." wrote Edward Abbey, an author who died here in Tucson. Yet mankind continues to tame it, and change it into something that it's not.

Sash and I still have another week to spend here in "The Old Pueblo". We hope to see Mike & Chris once more, and hopefully meet some other riders too.

Me riding east along Interstate 8, ArizonaSash riding along AZ-83
Saguaro Cactus add the signature visual that
makes Arizona's desert landscape unique.
A tiny plant rises through the delicate, pebble
top soil of Arizona's Sonoran Desert
An indian reservation near Tucson doesn't want
outsiders poking around.
My bike parked in downtown Tucson, along the
4th Avenue shopping district
Chris & Mike, and myself, hanging out over
coffee in Patagonia, AZ
Chris and Sash getting friendly ouside the local
Royal Enfield dealer.

6 comments:

  1. I grew up wth America, the band and that line is powerful. I also grew up in the desert, but different only by elevation, the high desert of eastern Oregon. Life, death and everything in-between all in a day. Thanks for the post, looking forward to some, "warm" desert this riding year. Peace


    Don

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  2. Beautiful! You totally "get" the desert. It is such a special place and we missed it terribly, when we lived somewhere else. It speaks to me, to my heart, to my soul. Living in the desert made us better people. It helped us to see the beauty in the "little" things and appreciate and value simplicity. Just a few raindrops is all the desert needs to come back to life ... It is a place that you either love or hate, there is no getting used to the desert. You either belong here or you don't! Thank you Steve for sharing your thoughts!

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  3. Sure looks like nice and toasty weather. I've never really been to the desert, but I think my Oregon blood might shrivel in the heat.

    And thanks for the ear worm too.

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  4. I have not ridden very much at all in desert areas (although some consider West Texas a desert :) ) I have heard people talk about riding in the desert, but it never appealed to me. Reading this post has made me reconsider. I need to check it out for myself sometime.

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  5. I fell in love with the desert the first time (of many) I visited Phoenix. And, I agree, Tucson is even better. But I'm smart enough to know that I would wither during the summer heat, so for now I'm quite content to visit on occasion - preferably in the spring or fall. But it is certainly beautiful country.

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  6. The desert seems like a fun ride. I might give a visit to phoenix one of these days. Great pics.

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)