Desert Dawn: Greeting an Arizona Summer Day

Dawn over Glendale AZ
Dawn Over Glendale AZ

It’s 5:30 am in the suburbs of Phoenix. Summer is days away but the heat has arrived. Next Tuesday, the first day of summer, the temp will rise to 120º F (49° C). It’s the season of the dawn for those of us desert dwellers who wish to venture outdoors before the sun cracks open the oven door. So goodbye Stephen Colbert and Noah Trevor, you late-night purveyors of the politically absurd. It’s early to bed for me. You cannot compete for my one chance of fresh air.

Of course we here in the “Valley of the Sun” pride ourselves on our stoic endurance of the 6-month summer. Like people everywhere, we comment endlessly on the weather. “Hot enough for you today?” “It’s gonna be a scorcher.” Those who were here on June 26, 1990, when the hottest day on record hit 122º F (50º C), claim their bragging rights, their merely having been here validating their membership in an exclusive club of extremes.

Nonetheless, we natives shake our heads and wonder why the hell we are still here. We vow this is our last summer. As the heat rises from the pavement to drive us back into our burrows, we dream of moving to Seattle and fantasize about the rain. Some of us head north to the relative cool of Payson and Flagstaff. Sensible snowbirds fly the hot coop by the end of May. Only those who once suffered in snowbound lands and planted themselves here for good boast of their love for the heat. “Try shoveling snow in Chicago in January,” they say. “This is heaven.”

What the Desert Dawn Brings

Still, we natives find a stark beauty in the season. Dawn brims over the encircling mountains just after 5 o’clock with the cool promise it always holds—the chance to start afresh. When the sun climbs, each shade tree offers a small oasis. The  bougainvillea and lantana spill opulently over stucco and sand. The utter stillness of the afternoon (when all sane people stay indoors) rings like a cosmic chime. Pale, flat geckos take shelter on patio walls; long lizards dart in the bushes. The dry air breezes like silk on our skin after a twilight dip in the pool. Doves sing their plaintive laments and cicadas rev the Palo Verde trees as the shadows deepen.

Bougainvillea and lantana
Bougainvillea and lantana

Maybe I’m still under the thrall of returning to the warmth after a cold and rainy stint in Connecticut. Maybe I am waxing romantic. No doubt I’ll be cursing the heat next week. But as long as I wake with the dawn this summer, I’ll be ready to embrace the day.

Thanks to guest host D. Avery at Charli Mills’s Carrot Ranch for providing the prompt of “dawn” for this week’s flash fiction challenge. And to blogger Irene Waters’s Skywatch Friday post for inspiring me to dig up my picture of the dawn. Here is a flash memoir.

A College Dawn

The night already a blur: the party at Esperanza’s house; the beer and tequila; the bilingual chatter and rock music; the cousin, Hector—hot, handsome, strong—pressing me against a wall in the yard.

I should stop the car. The road through Papago Park is dark and curved, the mountains impossible to see but for the absence of stars. I nod off. Once, twice.

I crack the window. I blink, keeping my eyes closed too long. There’s a brightening in the sky. I step on it.

I arrive home with the dawn, relieved. My father will be up soon.










11 thoughts on “Desert Dawn: Greeting an Arizona Summer Day

  1. Great to see you back, Jeanne, and with such a beautiful description of the Arizona dawn and a fabulous flash. But hey, that’s hot! We have forecast 28 degrees in the Uk today and we’ll be withering by the afternoon. Hope it’s not too hot for you for writing.

    1. Thanks Anne. Glad to be back. I wrote a piece referencing your review of The Natural Way of Things, but haven’t posted it. (So many things tie in with the general topic of misogyny right now, the latest being the news that Bill Cosby’s trial came to a hung jury.) So thanks for spurring me to action! Your 28 C is 82 F here, the temp when I took my walk at 6:00 this morning. I’ll no doubt stay inside now until a late-afternoon swim. Happily, the air conditioning will keep me alert. I do remember that 82 in England could feel unbearable. The combination of humidity and heat is just as enervating as the extreme temps here. Keep blooming!

  2. Nice to see you back Jeanne. I loved your beautiful description of my favorite place on earth. I’ve spent the last 2 winters in Scottsdale and I’ve also been there in the dog days of August and love every single minute of it. I don’t see why people complain about the beautiful dry heat when we here on the east coast get sweaty humid bits of summer and long months of 20 below zero. I’ll take Arizona in summer any day as long as there is air conditioning and a swimming pool it’s all good. 🙂

    1. Hi Debby! Thanks for dropping by. Yes, the AC and the pool make summer bearable. Swimming in high humidity does not refresh the way swimming here does. Sadly, the water will be lukewarm soon . . . nonetheless you actually shiver in the breeze after a dip, despite the heat. When you head back to AZ, we must meet. I lived in North Scottsdale for a decade. So beautiful over there! Been dropping in on your blog but have left no comments. Bad me! Loved the review of Fierce Attachments, a theme close to your heart!

  3. Your description Jeannne makes me want to come visit. There is something compelling about a desert that grabs you and makes it hard to leave. A friend lived in one of our deserts and had an evaporative air cooler which was so effective I don’t think I have ever been so cold anywhere else (even Greenland). Your photo of the dawn – just superb and the sky against the red of the bougainvillea adds to your picture. Your flash had some perfect pictures drawn such as “pressing me against a wall in the yard.” A scenario many will recognise although the drink may be different.

    1. The evaporative cooler is something I could write about on your Times Past section. I grew up with one of those … we called them “swamp coolers” … and I remember coming in from the heat and standing in the moist breeze from the vent as a child. I reveled in the chill. I expect there are many similarities between AZ and parts of Australia. I would love to come and see the Outback some time. Again thanks for the inspiration for the post. I felt a bit sky about the flash, not that it was all that racy 🙂 I need to return to writing memoir and all that entails as far as honestly expressing those moments in the past that stay in our minds.

  4. I marvel at your bravery before the heat, feeling relieved we escaped it before it even began to hint at warm! We shivered in New Mexico then got slammed in the humidity of eastern Kansas. Back to shivering, blissfully, along the shore of Lake Superior. And yet I know the beauty you experience despite the heat. It’s magical in the Southwest and diverse in its places and people. How I long to feel the radiant warmth of Zion’s sandstone while feeling the cool spray of Superior. If only I could bridge both worlds. You’re going to have to keep it alive and vibrant for me until I return… for a visit! Great flash to express a common college party in an uncommon place.

    1. So good to hear from you Charli! When you do come back to Arizona we should go to Tonto Creek, about an hour and a half northeast of Phoenix. There, at Tonto Natural Bridge, we can find that “bridge” between the cool spray and the heat upon descending a long staircase to the creek at the bottom of a canyon. But for now, I can only dream. Got up even earlier this morning, at 5:00 to get a walk in. I will hold visions of you at Lake Superior in my head. Miss you at the ranch, but like all the writers, I thrill to your adventures. So glad to see you enjoying some respite from the recent travails on the road.

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