We woke up after a flurried New Years Eve in a lodge in Tucson. I had that moment of “where am I” as I opened my eyes…but I quickly settled, remembering that I was somewhere different than yesterday. My 30-something body struggles to stay up late these days, even for a ball drop (through a swirl of cheap champagne and flat beer). Today we checked into our Airbnb home for the next few nights to explore the Sabino Canyon area of Tucson, picking up a batch of groceries and some savory tamales from Tucson Tamale Co. to make the place feel like ours. Our Airbnb was perched on top of a hill in a quiet development with twisting roads and a distant view of twinkling downtown lights. It was slow and still. The light in the sky after sunset turns the shade of pale denim for just a few moments after the orange and pink hues have faded away. It’s different from every angle of the house.
Sabino Canyon was experiencing an unusual level of flooding while we were there, which meant that most of the upper canyon hikes we’d planned to take were blocked, and the shuttle would end its route at Stop 2. It was a disappointment – I was craving that panoramic view of the valley that my mother always raved about on her almost yearly trips to Tucson. Before my grandparents passed away, they lived in Tucson for my entire childhood. There’s something that keeps drawing our family this way.
We wandered through trails along the lower canyon, snaking through cracked desert paths and infinitely tall saguaro cacti. Parts of the trail were totally silent except for the swirl of wind through the dusty hills. The sun was piercing and intense, even in January, without an ounce of humidity. Walking into a patch of shade felt like dipping your toes in a cool pond.
The next day we decided to day trip down to Bisbee, AZ, a funky town 2 hours south of Tucson that I’d been to once with my family. Katie had never seen it, and we couldn’t keep ourselves in one place too long. The antsiness was especially grating after the intensity of the past month. As soon as we got far enough into the wide-open space of Southern Arizona, away from everything, I felt my focus return like turning on a light switch. It’s like I woke up. It’s been such a struggle to stay present in the world right now. A daily struggle. Those moments when it comes back to me are like Christmas presents. But I don’t expect them to last forever.
Bisbee was surprisingly quiet – our fault for choosing to visit on a Monday. The town has several breweries and a series of art shops. Peoples’ houses sit atop unrealistically tall staircases which seem to shoot into the sky. The whole town is shaded by the hills alongside it, and cell phones don’t always transmit. I went to buy a bottle of hand lotion in the most unusually themed store – vinyl records, jars of salsa, and skin products. Oh well. The lotion brand, Udder Delight, was from a shop that my family and I had stumbled upon in rural New Mexico years ago and I’d never seen it sold in another store. The man checking us out managed to rope us into an endless and convoluted discussion about the top 75 things on his mind. His hands rolled the bottle back and forth along sheets of wrapping tissue as he rambled on, and I wasn’t sure if he’d ever surrender it to a shopping bag. Even as we inched towards the door with polite but impatient smiles, he followed behind us, weaving tales about politics and pranks his neighbors play on him and the history of Michael Jackson.
On our final afternoon in Tucson, we left Sabino Canyon in the afternoon and ended up at Three Canyons Beer & Wine Garden. Outdoors was a sprawling lounge space with heat lamps and clusters of chairs with cushions. We sipped beer while watching the band play live music in the center. Along a roped off section of seating was a sign that read “65+ Meetup Group”, where a group of chatty older folks were spilling onto the dancefloor mixed with a few scattered (lost?) 20-somethings. Retirement goals.
It quickly became a nightly ritual to take a sunset walk along the shuttle route in Sabino Canyon, after it had finished its route for the day and was surrendered to pedestrians. Locals mixed with visitors who were casually strolling along the path, walking their dogs and carrying babies. As the sun sets, the air begins to feel crisp and bright. The saguaros cast shadows onto the hills behind them, and everybody shares a relaxed breath as the day comes to a close. Nothing is rushed, and there is nowhere to be.
The hot tub at our Airbnb didn’t work for the first 2 nights of our stay – our host graciously tried to troubleshoot it via video call from afar. I thought that the heavy rainfall had overflowed it into the adjoining pool and diluted the temperature, so I stood out on the icy deck for several minutes contemplating whether I could fashion a siphon out of the garden hose and drain water into the dusty wash behind the house. After futzing around awkwardly and freezing my hands solid from dipping the hose into the 50-degree pool water while my wife looked at me through the screen door like I was an alien, I gave up and poured myself a glass of wine. By the next night the local “pool guy” managed to get it working. Needless to say, the view of stars and deep blue night while sitting in the tub was worth the wait and concerted effort to perform pool maintenance with an old garden hose.
On our final morning, I went outside to do a quick meditation on the patio. Meditation has saved my anxious butt from a lot of turmoil these past two years, helped me cope with things I’d otherwise bury. But I live for those times when I can sit and think in a naturally peaceful place (as much as I’ve gotten used to tuning out the sounds of taxis honking and people cursing). This morning, a set of birds sat at opposite ends of the railing, chirping at each other like an echo on either side of my ear. I tried to focus on the idea of hope. Being someplace fresh or new does not guarantee you that you will feel release. You can have heat on your hands from the sun and feel either irritating discomfort or calming warmth. Or nothing at all. Presence is a journey, even in a specific moment. This morning, I felt my roots in the stone ground. My eyes teared as emotion rose and then fell. I let myself be without trying to change it.