My flight left Chicago at 7am (in order to be at the airport by 6, having woken up at 4:30, which is INSANE) & travelled back in time (Mountain Time, that is) to put me in Tucson only two hours later. Judy picked me up at the airport, smiling & waving & hugging & laughing. Thirty seconds onto the road, I saw this:

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It made my day.

I was horribly, horribly overdressed, by which I mean I had worn pants instead of something far more Tucson-appropriate. Like nothing. The heat there is incredible. There are no trees, though there are shrubs & cacti a-plenty. There is also no grass, so everyplace looks like a “bad neighborhood” – an observation Judy quickly refuted by pointing out that, in lieu of greenery, people landscape with rocks. How inviting.

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We made our way up the first of many mountains I was to scale during my trip. (“Scale” is something of a misleading word. “Rode up smoothly in a blessedly air-conditioned vehicle” would be more correct.) Half-way up we pulled over to the side of the road – a crazed bicyclist flew past us, careening down the mountain on two slim wheels, a mist of sweat lingering in his wake.

“Oh look!” said Judy, “that’s my boyfriend Peter!”

Peter slowed his bike, then turned & began to ride back up the mountain, coming to a stop beside us. The three of us spoke briefly, & Peter lamented that it had been just too hot for him to reach the mountain summit – he’d have to try again tomorrow. He then pointed out that I was burning.

“Yeah, I do that,” I said. He had legs like two giant hams. I began to imagine pineapple rings dotting each one I had to make myself look away.

After chit-chatting/roasting, we parted ways, Peter downhill (quickly) & Judy & I up to the top, where the extreme elevation created an entirely different, much more hospitable climate. One with hummingbirds!

We ran around like this all week, ascending & descending & riding bikes through the desert & talking about nature & history & culture. Tucson is a great place to spark conversations of that sort: it’s a city of every sort of environment, ethnicity, concept & cultivation. Art ranges from the Ansel Adams collection at the U of A to the glittering shrines that spill across the sands with candles & roses & stones. The phenomenally wealthy literally look down upon the impoverished, building their second homes on the mountaintops & living beside the deep-space telescopes of Kitt Peak & the Tohono O’odham Nation at elevations of nearly 6,000 feet. The University of Arizona rises up from the middle of town, its uniquely open architecture a bold testament to the 300+ days of sun the city receives each year. Judy is a PhD student there, & her research consists of painstakingly tracking microscopic molecules & finding methods of practically employing solar power across the United States. She will probably save the world.

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Everything about Arizona was beautiful in a way I’d never experienced before, & I am so, so happy to have gone ahead & taken the trip. I’d missed Judy, more than I’d even realized, & having her show me around her home threw me into a deep romance with Tucson’s arid terrain. By Sunday, though, I was happy to be on my way home, looking forward to crawling into my own cozy bed, sunburnt & freckled, deep in the heart of my own rainy city on the lake.

You can see more pictures from my Arizona adventure here.

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