13 Jul Living on Arizona’s Grid

Jill and I went to Phoenix last week to see my mother, who is 83 and “still on foot,” as she likes to say – and smoking Pall Malls. She said, ,”Nobody comes to Arizona in July.” It was 110-115 degrees every day.   It’s remarkable that people live in heat like that. More remarkable that they did so before air conditioning.

We visited a couple of friends in Tucson. They live in an adobe-style house on a rise west of the city. You take a dirt road to get to their place. Their yard is a wilderness. If you haven’t been to the saguaro desert, where cacti grow twenty-feet high and the creosote bushes are as tall as you, which means it wouldn’t take but a few missteps to get lost, you don’t know how wildly overgrown these places are. It’s not just sand and rock.

Our friend’s mom was a nature-lover. She had a few dead curiosities in her freezer — animals she’d found, like the gila monster that drowned in her pool. We petted the monster and a frozen rattle snake but not the bat.

Our friends’ house has evaporative cooling instead of air conditioning. It’s old technology, patented in 1906, and consists of a fan blowing air cooled by evaporated water — a system that costs about 1/5th as much as air conditioning.

We shook our head in wonder at how our friends were living in that hot, wild, prickly place. They collect rain water in a cistern and raise chickens for eggs but they’re not anywhere close to being off the grid, though they dream of it. A bobcat got their first brood of hens not long ago. Coyotes and hawks and great horned owls will pick off incautious housecats, they told us. They had dwarf owls nesting in the car port recently.

You’ve probably seen one of those cheapo horror movies from the 1950’s that features a giant tarantula or mantis or ant. The story always takes place in the desert. There’s a reason for that. We were walking to a Tucson taco joint and encountered a monster insect on the sidewalk. It was dead but totally intact and worthy of its own horror show. Jill didn’t flinch when I placed it into her cupped hands. You go, girl!

When we returned to Phoenix, we told Mom about the critters but she didn’t seem impressed. She’s a country girl from an Appalachian mill town. She’s seen plenty of critters in her time. We couldn’t leave Phoenix without going to Pizzeria Bianco. It is, believe it or not, one of the best pizzas you’ll ever eat. Go later rather than earlier to avoid the crowd. And ignore the heat: coal-fired crust is good no matter how hot the pavement is outside. At dinner we talked about living off the grid, which seems appropriate to Arizona’s quirky inclinations. Then Mom revealed that when she was growing up she didn’t have a flush toilet until she was ten. I never knew.