My mom came to visit for a few days. I was happy to run around with her, showing Flagstaff to her, taking a trip to Rabbit Run Farm and Jerome, and eating plenty of fine food. She enjoyed herself and appreciated the effort made on her behalf. Her visit threw me out of a rhythm, but it was well worth it, and now I am trying to get back into a regiment of research, writing, and work (interning and plant-sitting). As one might expect, we conversed on many things and one such subject comes to mind just now.
She was unable to place it, but my mom had a strange feeling here in Flagstaff. Perhaps it was the dry weather or the altitude, or the way housing and renting work out here (something I think outsiders can perceive rather quickly), or the amalgamation of people that Flagstaff attracts. After a fine evening out, she commented on the intelligence and experience that my friends here have. Not only do people here seem to come from all over, they come with histories and stories and knowledge from all over the place. Flagstaff seems to be a locus for synthesis, for splicing together the peculiarities of our experiences into something more coherent. Well, maybe not more coherent, but stitched together.
Three weeks ago, when driving out to Rabbit Run Farm in Skull Valley, Becca asked me what it was like coming out here (Flagstaff? Northern Arizona? Colorado Plateau? The West? Arizona?) from Nebraska. It seemed both astute and odd; ultimately I couldn't say what it felt like, responding sardonically that the answer would have to be extraordinarily metaphorical to get it right. I let Sarah in on Becca's query at the farm, and she more or less agreed. Out here is different, but how it is, all the ways that it is different sort of hide from language. That said, I think my mom was as aware of it as anyone.
Coming from the Midwest, a assume a sort climatological norm. Hot and humid summers, cold and brutally dry winters; cloud bursts after days of overcast skies, sun and wind that seem to be trying to scramble you like an egg on the pan; and the clear but definite transition of seasons from one to the next. Up here, I was shocked by the comfort of pre-monsoon dry heat and cool nights on my first visit. It seemed deliciously comfortable. The sun - over a mile closer here than in Nebraska - has an impressive intensity, usually clear and welcoming except in direct sunlight at midday. I burned the first few days I was here, unaware that my skin could burn so quickly in such an otherwise mild clime. And at this altitude there seems to be an absurdity of seasons: frosts in June, temperate cool days in February and March, an arid and empty yard that explodes into green between May and June, and nights in mid-July that require a sweater or jacket after a mean, sunny afternoon in the 90s.
We seem to be blessed by manic conditions, by a rapid change from one thing to the next. I have always admired - as long as I can recall, at least - the honesty of weather in Lincoln. If it was cold, it was cold; when it was hot, it was hot; and when you needed to be outside, something about the day could call you out into it. (My mom might argue that I had to learn to listen to such a calling after a lethargic childhood and early adolescence inside, to which I cannot seriously argue. Lincoln, to my ears now, has its odd beckoning calls regardless.) Flagstaff has many blessings and beckoning calls, but you would be wise to pack a raincoat if you're going out in the afternoon, a sweater if you'll be out later. Oh, and if you're headed out in the morning, be sure you have somewhere to stow your early morning garb for when that mercury begins to rise.
Honestly, I think that such upsets make and attract the peculiarities of its residents. How can you expect an homogeneous crowd when the season shifts so radically over the course of the day? People reflect their surroundings and this place has plenty of idiosyncrasies to emulate and admire. It is a little funny that I have landed on housing and planning for my thesis, I can quite rapidly consider a dozen other subjects around which I might right a hundred or two hundred pages. That richness and variety reflects the richness and variety of where I find myself, the people and passions all around me, the needs and potentials hidden beneath the thinnest of skins out here.
Not to say thin skins are common here. I am under the impression that one develops a fortitude from this thin air and this sharp sunlight. I have met and worked with those people who seem capable of letting an emotional or conversational sleight bleed for days, weeks, months. That is not the case here. I have an abundance of strong, determined, and wizened (sometimes harshly so) people to inspire me, not to mention a fickle place to repeatedly suggest a change of perspective.