A State of Ice and Fire

To keep everything straight, clear, and neatly color-coded in their brains, people tend to prune concepts down to their bare, dominant essence. We like simplicity, not complexity. People unfamiliar with Arizona, for instance, like to think of the state as one sprawling desert wasteland with a few scattered cities flashing in the sun. Throw in a couple of healthy saguaros, and you have your stereotyped vision of the state, just small enough to fit within the boundaries of a postcard picture.

This conception of Arizona breaks out the pruning shears and snips clean off the beautiful icy region of the frozen North—a region I lovingly christen “Arctic Arizona.” It’s hard to square in our minds the idea that one unified geographical region can be so diverse, so complex, and so much of a self-contradiction. When perusing the menu, many of us like to order our Arizonas with fire, hold the ice, but that’s a silly thing to do. This happens to be a state of both ice and fire, and when we take such a reductive view of it, we end up degrading its natural richness and variety.

As someone who summers in Phoenix and winters in Flagstaff (a backwards policy, you can be sure), this variety is never lost on me, and I often find myself ping-ponging between the freezer and the furnace. My highs are high highs—a feverish 110° F, 115° F, sometimes even 120° F. My lows are low lows—10° F, 5° F, sometimes a round zero, or even less.

I shift periodically from snowman to sunscreen and then right back again. In cold weather, I practically hyperventilate, because I want to see my breath published on the frigid air. In hot weather, I drop like a stone through the deep end of a swimming pool and sit like a petrified Buddha on the concrete bottom, exhaling a vertical stream of rising bubbles. The fact that both of these experiences can occur within the same state, in cities no more than two hours from each other, is delightful. The fact that I happen to live in this particular state delights me more. Arizona is a beautiful place, and it's beautiful in its entirety. We should admire the whole of Arizona and recognize it for the impressive potpourri that it is.

#travel #flagstaff #reflections

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