It’s somewhat confusing referring to the current season here in Phoenix. By our position relative to the equator and the sun, it is winter. The deciduous trees, having finally turned color and shed their leaves in early January, also proclaim that it is winter. On the other hand, the wildflowers are beginning to bloom around the valley, heralding the spring. And here in my garden, the harvest is overflowing – dill and cilantro reach higher than my head, the broccoli plants that have put me off grocery store broccoli for life are sprouting countless side heads for the secondary harvest, and the peas are persevering through the late frost to round out the last few weeks of their pod production. I suppose that would be late spring/early summer in most of the country?
But here it’s just the brief unnamed transition between the cool season and the warm season: the final ripening of all the plants that thrive in the chilly winter weather, and the first stirrings of the short-lived beauty that is the spring wildflowers, and the preparations for the summer planting in just over a month.
Now is when some days are cloudy and windy and we have to bundle up well against the cold, layering jackets upon jackets – but now is also when we can spend all day outside, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze, climbing and running and imagining and snacking on the bounty of the garden.
In between shelling peas, the kids pretended they were giant spiders and the climbing dome was their web: the teal bars were the sticky threads to catch prey and the grey bars were the non-sticky threads that the spiders could safely travel across. Aubade kept getting her skirt hooked on the handholds but was quite adept at getting herself unstuck by the end of the afternoon 🙂
So whatever this season may be, we are definitely enjoying it!
People who don’t know Arizona well speak of our weather dismissively (particularly the summer weather). It’s hot enough that significant numbers of people head north for the summer, while compensating for their insecurities by arguing that their northern humid summers are actually worse. Even people who live here but have never had a chance to really get to know the seasons tend to treat the summer as a penance to be endured, a payment for the gorgeous winters, spent holed up inside thankful for air conditioning and swimming pools.
I will not debate the wonders of air conditioning and swimming pools 🙂
But I do think that Arizona summers are inherently beautiful and wonderful – they are just a lot more difficult to understand and fall in love with than most seasons in most other places. Maybe I identify with them a bit…
And now, we are fully entered into the most glorious part of summer: the monsoon season, the summer rains, the desert’s wet season. So to celebrate, here are seven quick takes about this season that I feel is so sadly neglected, forgotten, and dismissed.
April, May, and June are without a doubt the official “dry season” here. The average monthly rainfall drops to 0.25 inches for April and plummets to 0.04 inches for June (which is another way of saying that every few years there will be rain in June, but don’t count on it). While daytime temperatures steadily climb throughout these three months, reaching 110 easily by mid-June, the lows stay in the 60s and 70s so mornings and evenings are still cool and comfortable. And as long as you stay hydrated, the highs are tolerable also. I have commuted by bike through the summer (coming home around 3-4 in the afternoon) and never felt more alive.
Right when you start to feel that the heat has been going for too long – when the ground is cracking and the plants look thirsty even with irrigation – clouds start to blow in over the horizon. The dates are variable, but it is typically in early July. You step outside one morning and your glasses fog up like you’ve somehow teleported to Miami in your sleep. That afternoon you get an emergency alert on your phone for dust and poor visibility, and 30 minutes later when you look out the window all the trees are bowing low, the sky is slate gray, and the air is slanted lines of water. There may even be hail. This is when every child who isn’t chained down dashes outside to run and dance until they are soaked to the skin and shivering with the unexpected cold.
Remember the dust alert I mentioned above? They are triggered by impending dust storms (also called haboobs), and here’s what they look like from an aerial perspective:
When I was a kid I used to go out in every dust storm I could just to feel the thrill of the wind and dust flying into me. Granted, it’s not the best if you’re asthmatic, and it spreads Valley Fever, but it can make you feel the power of wild nature even in a suburban backyard so it’s pretty awesome. There are also some funny side effects of having so much dust in the air – this week my coworkers all had to leave the lab in the middle of the storm because a fire alarm thought the dust from the haboob was smoke from a fire and went off!
The ground, not having been rained on for five months, is understandably unprepared for such a torrential downpour. Roads flood (although they drain quickly once the rain stops), and any narrow places in the desert will also flood. Canyons or washes (essentially the drainage channels of the desert) are the worst places to be when it rains, and people have been killed in the sudden flooding. So if it starts to get cloudy and a cool wind blows, climb to high ground as fast as possible. In more developed places, you end up with lakes instead of yards 🙂
Monsoons come in systems, so you’ll be hit with a huge storm like the one above from Monday and then have smaller rainstorms for the next few afternoons. It’s sort of like earthquakes and aftershocks. This week, we had the major storm on Monday and we’ve had at least a small shower every day since. Four consecutive rainy days after five months of nothing! It’s a change in pace, to say the least. It’s also necessitated a lot more cleaning up as mud gets everywhere. If I lived somewhere with wetter weather, I think I would need a mudroom!
The wet monsoon season typically lasts through early September, although the actual storms only come every couple weeks. In between, it is just hot and humid. The humidity right now is 44% and even though it is 9:30pm and the sun has been down for over an hour it is still 91 degrees. So while June fits the Arizona stereotype of “dry heat”, we definitely see more of a humid heat in July – slightly lower highs because of the clouds, but significantly higher humidity.
I have discovered that while there are many, many good picture books about the changing seasons in other parts of the world – books about leaves changing and falling off, books about animals preparing for hibernation, books about the first snowfall of winter, books about flowers blooming in the spring, etc. – there are very few picture books of any sort about the desert seasons or even the desert animals inhabiting those seasons. It is to the point that I am seriously contemplating writing my own to try to fill the gap! It’s like me as a woman reading a book with a strong female lead, or an African American child reading a book where the people in the pictures look like her. This is the place, the environment, the habitat that my children know, where their roots run deep, and while all the other places are fascinating and the books about them are wonderful, a book that resonates with their lived experience – with their home – would be special in a different and treasured way.
I’m joining the SQT link-up at This Ain’t The Lyceum today so head over and read the other blogs! Also, if you live in a place with under-appreciated or non-standard seasons, please share! I’d love to hear other people’s experiences 🙂