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Monday, February 14, 2011

Two Weird Hazards of Living in Arizona

... that no one told me about and I never could have guessed on my own.

My husband was commenting on my oversensitivity to heat at certain times of day, joking that I must have Valley Fever. His mother felt too hot all the time, he says, and she always blamed it on Valley Fever.

It turns out that as many as half of the people who live in Arizona at any time in their lives have, will have, or have had Valley Fever, also known as the potentially fatal Coccidioidomycosis. Its symptoms can be similar to a bad flu, or a person can have it and never realize it. There is no specific treatment. The really weird thing about it is that the mold that causes it lies dormant, then flies about helter skelter when the soil is disturbed by things like the perpetual construction not 500 yards from our apartment.

I guess this is news to me because I've lived in the Northeast for the last ten years, and the news that half the state of Arizona gets deadly mold in their lungs just didn't make it through my filter. Did everyone west of the Mississippi know about this already? Was there a conspiracy to keep it from me? Because I am no fan of anything that reproduces by spores, the very idea might have freaked me out enough to keep me from moving here.

But we had to move here. The alternative was to flee to fairyland, where the palace is given to the couple most in love and nobody has to get a job.

Hazard number two concerns my husband's swing shift job. Because Arizona is a desert -- a living, breathing ecosystem brimming with diverse creatures, just not humans -- when the city expands, it displaces indigenous wildlife. Or we think it displaces those species. People shoot at javelinas (ferocious wild pigs) who dig through their gardens, knowing all the while that the javelinas were there first and don't understand the concept of ownership. The building where my husband works is new and at the farthest edge of the developed city, and so the animals haven't quite moved on. In fact, when he went out to the end of the parking lot at the end of his shift one night, he found packs of coyotes looking for thrown away food where the other cars used to be. Supposedly, coyotes don't attack humans, but it's still enough to get the blood really pumping. "I looked at them and they looked at me," my husband said, and I understood the power of the encounter. I try to remind him to move his car closer to the building after most of the employees leave around 6 pm, just out of respect for the coyotes' nightly routines. He's not likely to forget, or to disrespect the coyotes in any way. Nevertheless, it's one more Arizona hazard to think about while I wait up for him in the evenings, breathing in the killer mold spores.