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Friday, July 1, 2011

Memoirs for Monsoon in Arizona

My most vivid memory of Arizona before my husband and I came to live here was a few seconds during one of my family's road trips. We were between the car and the restaurant and in the distance, over the mountains, beyond the palo verdes and creosote, a black cloud rumbled with sudden flashes of white electricity. At the time, I knew with the firmness only a child can feel that California was the only place to be. The dry electricity falling out of the sky to zap innocent girls was much more sinister to me than the natural, expected occasional realignments of the Earth that were earthquakes.

So we've come to the "monsoon season" in southern Arizona. That dry lightning I'd met so many years before rumbled throughout the valley and over the mountains. Wednesday, I watched with wide eyes as water came from the sky. A drop would evaporate off the sizzling pavement before another could come to replace it, and it wasn't that the rain was slow. In my experience, water only evaporates that quickly when it's boiling. It was astonishing to see outside of the kitchen! That night at 4 a.m., the loudest thunderclap I think I've ever heard failed to wake up my tired husband. I went to the glass doors to watch the downpour in the strobe-like light. This time, the parking lot was able to hold on to the precious fallen drops and after 81 days without rain, it looked like a swimming pool to me. I couldn't resist opening to door to test the air. It was like inserting my arm into a long sleeve made of mud and soaking concrete odors. The air surged so strongly into the apartment that my computer came out of sleep mode. Ah! Rainfall! Life! It was enough to make me cry, if I'd had enough water stored up. Thursday morning my husband commented that he should have left the car out in the open, to give it a wash, but there was no trace of the deluge only hours before.

I object to the use of the term "monsoon," which I became familiar with in the context of the truly incessant deluges that happen yearly in Bangladesh and Southeast Asia. Nothing that evaporates in the breaking dawn should really be compared to what happens there, even when there are mudslides and the washes fill up and drag debris and silly people's cars away to the sea. "Rainy season" would be more accurate than "monsoon," and perhaps we could go as far as "moister than usual season," for what's happening now, or the desert climatologists could advocate better for whatever technical term they've developed.

Because the Sonoran Desert at its wettest -- I'm guessing -- won't even approach a typical day in coastal Oregon (the location of my biggest fans). (If you're a fan, tell me where you're located!)