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A Tucson September doesn't mean the start of autumn; it means the start of the non-season

There's something bittersweet about September in Tucson, especially if you have memories of growing up in a place where the last month of summer brought with it a real sense of change. But in the Old Pueblo, September seems like a milder version of June: Though not quite as hot, there's no rain in sight.

Labor Day may mean a day off from work and an excuse to use the grill, but at the end of the festivities, the barbecue and the outdoor furniture stay put. There is no need to stow them away when you live in a place where they can be used year-round, unlike, say, New England, where September heralds the end of summer and ushers in the beginning of a real fall.

Sure, the calendar's the same, and we celebrate the equinox on the 21st, but the sense of a subtle shift in time, the ineffable feeling of something ending while something else begins is, for the most part, missing in Tucson.

With the exception of the monsoons, we lack seasonal rituals that serve to remind us we are subject to the vicissitudes of climate. In September, we don't anticipate raking leaves, putting up storm doors, breaking out the winter wardrobe or making sure the snow blower is in good repair. All we do is wait for October and the first hint of cool, carried on an early morning breeze.

The exception is gardeners, who, instead of harvesting summer's bounty (by now long gone), are busy planting their winter crops. It all seems so seasonally lopsided, and so extravagant to have a perpetual growing season.

Oh, there are a few subtle indications that our torturous summer is slooowly vacating center stage, to be replaced by the non-season running from October through December. Perhaps we should call these three months "the triad of void"--devoid of anything but monotonous blue skies and boringly balmy days. They are certainly not autumn, no matter what the calendar claims. Tucson's fall is relegated to a three-week period in January when, for the climatological equivalent of the blink of an eye, our deciduous trees finally lose their leaves just long enough to begin the budding process before you have a chance to appreciate their nakedness. But I digress.

Should you take the time to look around and observe, you may notice the signs of summer's long adieu: The lizards are fewer; the barrel cactus is finished blooming; the mice are starting to think about moving indoors (OK, you can't see this, but you can imagine it); the shadows of sunlight are longer; the day's brightness is a smidgen less severe; the dog has stopped shedding.

If seasons had qualities such as soft or hard, Tucson's would always be the latter. As desert dwellers, we never experience awakening to a landscape sculpted by several feet of snow. We miss its startling serenity and stillness that gifts us not only with beauty, but also with an opportunity to humbly acknowledge our human limits.

One of my most vivid memories dates back to a winter morning in New England following a heavy snowstorm. It's early, and the plows haven't yet arrived to disturb the pristine snow. And it is a quiet that goes beyond the absence of sound.

From the living room window, the monochromatic scene is white on white: no hint of color anywhere. Then, in a flash, a brilliant cardinal, its red plumage made more vibrant in the absence of any competing hue, lights on a snow-covered tree limb. It is one of those rare, perfect moments when time stops. It takes my breath away.

Yes, Tucson has spectacular sunsets and magnificent monsoons; but all of our weather phenomena are relentlessly yang, hopelessly in your face and lacking the slightest hint of moderation. When it rains, it pours. Then it floods. Then it's over. There's no such thing as an entire day of gentle rain. What a treat that would be!

Of course, there are trade-offs: We don't have the splashy show of a New England fall, but we are spared months of gray days so bitter cold it hurts to inhale. We lack lush, green summers, but we don't have to contend with endless days of 90 degree humidity.

On the other hand (there's always another hand), we don't have forsythia's sunny yellow to signal the start of spring, nor purple crocus peeking through the snow. But we do have sun; God knows we have sun. And maybe for that, we should be thankful.

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