Thunderstorms and Sunsets.
There are states in this country that have enormous, expansive skies. Skies that feel as though they reach beyond 180 degrees and bend like an hourglass, encompassing you in their vastness. Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico have these “big”skies, these places that render you inconsequential as you contemplate your humanness against them.
Tucson, Arizona is nestled in the flat planes between a series of spiky, vertical mountains surrounding it in each direction – the Rincons, Santa Catalinas, Santa Ritas, and of course, the Tucsons. The land is a flat expanse of beautiful desert, mirrored only by the giant enormity of the skies around it.
On the roads, the vehicular landscape is ugly in my eyes, a harsh flatland of ever-widening roads, of pavement and asphalt cooking unnecessarily as people drive 40 miles per hour on roads with signs that say 25 mph but were designed for autos that can drive easily 100 mph or more. The white lines and crumbling road edges layer the landscape with crude interpretations of mechanized mobility; our cars are but a relic of thoughts from the decades of 1920 through 1950 about how transportation should work. Lest I delve further into a litany against the automobile industry, I’ll skip the tirade about public and useful transportation (fact: 90% of automobile trips are taken by people driving alone in vehicles over 10,000 pounds designed to carry 5 or more people) – and instead, I’ll focus beyond the road, beyond the Chevron sign, beyond the ugly yellow strip-mall-esque Shell sign, beyond the blast of the air conditioning trying to make all environments the same, within a sheltered cocoon of a vessel of metal –
And I’ll step outside of the car, into the world, and sit on the porch with my Grandpa, and stand up at 7:25PM when he tells me to watch the sunsets, and listen to his weather stories. Something tells me to try to see the world through his eyes, through his routine schedules, through his excitement that mealtime comes each day at 5PM on the dot (I was late the first day; he started without me) – and we’ll talk about one of his favorites, the weather.
He points out the cumulous clouds coming across the mountains, and points northeast towards the Catalinas, and draws a long, thin line between the rising moon and the setting sun and talks about the recent summer solstice. He watches outside for thunderstorms, as they roll in across the desert valley and back out again, bringing brief flashes of rain into the valley. Hundredths of an inch of rain at a time, but enough to satisfy a parched cactus, sufficient to provoke a blossom from the saguaro cactus at the end of the driveway.
The desert, away from the ugly black asphalt, is a rich set of pastel hues that range from warm purple-browns to oranges and ruddy brick colors. The plants are light green, many of them spiky, but from afar – their spikes look soft, fuzzy, warm. Each plant staunchly defends its territory, carving out space against the crumbling brown rockbeds, staking its claim on the sparse water resources available. Occasionally, bright pinks and oranges from bold flowers pierce the sky, thrusting upwards in layered half-circle blossoms.
The heat of the desert makes everything stand stiller, quieter, buzzing briefly. Away from the highways, tucked into my grandparents’ old home, I watch my grandpa walk stiffly, slowly across the concrete with his walker. He does the same as he’s always done; he takes care of the pool, the house, the bills, the mail. He works studiously on his Sudoku puzzle, teaching me each step of the way, sitting in his chair, the weather channel on mute in the background. Each temperature change, each rain cloud, each percolation is noted and stored in his massive cerebral brain; stores of calculus and physics and rules and systems built into his mind. This is how he understands the world.
And outside, at sunset, he takes me up to the fence post, leaning against it with both arms, knees bent in an effort to stay upright. At 87, he’s challenging me for quick wits, but he’s not making it around in mobility as quickly anymore. He points out the sharp streaky sky, the brilliant colors of the sun piercing through the atmosphere’s layers, the sky effortlessly changing from baby blues and whites to stunning yellows, oranges, and red hues. I marvel at the color, at the sheer freedom the sky seems to possess, and I look at my Grandpa and I think, man, I am so glad that you got married, and I’m so glad that you’re here still, and I’m so glad that you went and done had my mom and your family, because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.
And we stand, watching the luminous skies, and he grabs my hand, his wrinkly, spotted, brown old-persons hand, a hand that would scare most people away - as old people seem to scare so many people, perhaps just because we’re not familiar with them - and his hand, surprisingly soft to the touch, clutches mine. He smiles, in his deep voice, and says, “Glad you could make it out here. We are sure glad you could make time to visit.”