April in Paris, it ain't. And yet the start of summer is always a relief.
The best thing about the big heat is that I can stop worrying about how hot summer is going to be. All winter, we Southern Arizonans dread summer—every little spring hot spell feels like the beginning of the end of everything good—but once June arrives, the dread evaporates along with the last trace of ambient moisture. It's replaced by intervals of extreme discomfort, of course, but more and more, I prefer the real thing to the anticipation of it, the mind being the tireless generator of self-torment that it is. Once summer is decisively under way, we're faced with the simple reality of 100-plus degrees, not a murky internal representation of a limitless urban hellscape.
And there's nothing like 100-plus degrees to snap you into the moment. This, getting into my car in a parking lot at midday, this is how hot it gets. This is the worst; this is what it's like, and it's not that bad. The windows roll down, and if I've really got my act together, there's ice water in the cup holder. (Bag ice is a Tucsonan's best friend.) Also, it could be worse. I am not on a roofing or road or fire crew. I am not some deluded hiker or desperate immigrant wandering in the desert. I am not a soldier in Baghdad or Kabul wearing 80 pounds of gear and facing the possibility of imminent death in Yuma-like conditions.
My car will cool off once I start it, because I no longer drive an air-conditioning-free Beetle, or a similarly unequipped Pinto prone to overheating and stopping abruptly in the middle of intersections. (Ah, youth.) Nor am I, thank God, in Phoenix, where I spent my adolescence. The spread in average temperature between the two cities represents the oh-so-significant difference between experiencing actual pain every time you touch your car for months, or not.
The feel of chromed metal that's been soaking up the sun in a 114-degree parking lot is, for me, the defining sensation of my years in the Valley of the Sun.
What I'm saying is that it's important, if you live in Tucson, to get your mental game together and not be a big baby about the heat. Let me repeat that: Big Baby. (Did anyone make you move here? Did no one tell you that it got hot in Tucson? Well?) The poet Wallace Stevens once remarked that we are not wax roses poised forever on the decorative fireplace mantel of life. (Indeed, we are not, and if we were, we'd melt.) Nor do we reside in a San Diego or Honolulu of perpetual indoor-outdoor comfort. Which I would never want to do, by the way, because, as a friend of mine who tried living in Los Angeles once observed, in such places, there are a million people between you and the beach, and they're all smiling, and they all want to screw you over.
Also, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, because anywhere else isn't Tucson. I love it here, even in June. In a way, especially in June.
There are, in fact, many good things about the hottest month of our year, and it's useful sometimes to name them: First, everything is less crowded. The early mornings are beautiful, and the soft, quickly cooling evenings are pleasure. The days are long, so hours of daylight remain when it's time to leave the office. By night, Scorpio, the snazziest of constellations, rides high in the southern sky.
There's more. The bird of paradise and crepe myrtle around town are blooming madly, and the saguaro fruit is bursting open, much to the delight of birds. Sleeping with the windows open is delicious. The happy sounds of swim-team practices and meets pour from the neighborhood pool, and my kitchen counter is crowded with ripe tomatoes that redefine the concept of locally grown—these come from my husband's jungle-like patch in the backyard. Also on the produce front, those luscious little Willcox peaches will be showing up soon, and summer squash is tender, young and cheap, cheap, cheap. And so on.
Finally, they say that sweating is exercise for your skin: It keeps it young and beautiful. June is doing wonderful things for all of us.