I’m not exaggerating when I say that I return from every one of my trips changed. The same holds true for my most recent trip to Arizona. As soon as my plane touched down, I was flooded with emotions, my bones beckoning to be once again baptised by the desert sun. Though I love Berlin tremendously, there is no denying my Southwestern roots and my insatiable craving for burros, creamy pinto beans layered with chunks of avocado snugly wrapped in a warm, handmade tortilla.
I was only there for 2 weeks but it was a visit that shook me to my core. I spooked old haunts, reconnected with old friends, and binged at familiar places (I'm looking at you, Güero Canelo.) Not much had changed to the surroundings that I called home for many years, but internally I felt a world apart. It’s unbelievable how much I'd changed in such a short time. Though it had only been three years since I too had lived amongst the lizards and the coyotes, I felt much more settled now, more at peace, and probably most importantly, happier.
- For now I could truly appreciate the desert and all its splendor.
- For now I could empathise with my family and friends who chose to stay instead of taking the more drastic approach to life that I did of selling all my belongings and starting completely over in a foreign land.
- For now I could take pride in the native heritage that continues to influence anyone who has ever considered themselves a desert rat.
It’s not that I didn’t feel those things before, I did. But it wasn’t until I had lived in a completely different world, an ocean away, that I could fully comprehend the desert's magnificence with every inch of my soul.
Once I drove to a rave in the desert on Halloween night, well past Gates Pass. I was dressed as Richard Simmons, afro and all. Because I had planned on imbibing in several potions that evening, I decided that sleeping in my classic Buick Century would be a smarter move than trying to make the trek home after the music faded. The party was subpar and though I had several people pass out in my comfy car (including my crush), sleep never came for me. It wasn’t long before the sun was beating down on my face, converting my car from an ice box into a rotisserie oven almost instantaneously. I hadn’t slept the night before, but I wasn’t drunk anymore and felt fit enough to navigate my way back up the desert mountain (though my gray skin said otherwise.) On the drive home there was a forest of long and lean Saguaro cactuses waving goodbye to the gringa who thought she could survive a frigid cold desert night. "Until we meet again, friend," they cackled.
At the time, I was more focused on not careening off the winding mountain than the Saguaros dancing around me. After all, I had precious cargo with me (yes, I kidnapped my crush. No, he was not harmed in the process -- though a bit discombobulated once he woke up and realized what I'd done.)
A few weeks ago, I visited this same scenic area with my father. My priorities had certainly changed in the decade or so that spanned, but my insurmountable love for the desert had certainly not. If anything, it had grown much fonder in the meantime, the way a couple settles more comfortably into one other with each passing anniversary. At the time, the desert had just been a backdrop for my shenanigans, a playground for my adolescence. While I'd been busy dancing freely under the blanket of stars, the creosote laced air, dry heat, lightning storms, towering Saguaros, brutal sun, howls of the coyotes, and monsoons flooding my streets had all along been shaping me into the wild woman I am today.
You can always tell when a woman is from the desert. There is something in her eyes that says that she knows more than she’s letting on. Though she’s polite, she keeps her distance before letting you into her sacred place. You might be intimidated by that spark in her eye, the spark that suggests she is not from this world. That's because she's not. Instead, she's a wild woman, sprung from the same hardened earth that her spiny Saguaro sisters had once emerged from decades before.