By Tanner Weigel, Staff Writer
Valentine’s Day is upon us once again. As a member of the chronically-single club, I spent last week thinking about the wonderfully cynical things I could write about this holiday. But as an Arizona native, it dawned on me that I could instead strike a more positive tone and celebrate my home state’s 107th birthday, which also happens to be on February 14th.
Now, I could give you a rundown of the state’s history, it’s famous sites and its contributions to wider American culture and society. But you could just as easily look at a Wikipedia page and get most of that information.
No, I want to be a little personal right now and speak from my own experiences. Because Arizona kind of gets a bad rap sometimes. People from greener areas arrive and bemoan the lack of water, the spiny foliage and the poisonous critters. And yes, we have the occasional crazy politician who we wish we could hide from media microphones. And yes, the summers are hellish. I get it. I really do. Arizona is not everyone’s cup of tea. But we are so much more than the many caricatures out there.
Arizona was the last of the contiguous states to be admitted to the U.S., and is truly a frontier. I am proud of a state where people of so many backgrounds have faced the harsh terrain and planted roots, no matter how difficult it may have seemed (to be fair, native peoples have been doing just that for generations). I think on the Bisbee miners who risked life and limb in the Copper Queen Mine. I think of pioneers from any generation who saw hope in finding a new home. I think of the visionaries who engineered dams and canals to bring water to parched valleys. Yes, we are a state that values innovation and isn’t afraid to try something new (although not everyone likes the Waymo autonomous vehicles that frequent the Chandler area). In the desert, bold ideas will indeed be essential to face the state’s drought challenges.
We are an independent state that has actually been quite amenable to strong female leadership. More women have served as Governor in Arizona than in any other U.S. state (four), and we are currently represented in the U.S. Senate by two dynamic women with impressive backgrounds (although, I don’t think they like each other very much). Though women have not reached parity in state legislative representation, Arizona still ranks as having one of the highest percentages of women in the state legislature (close to 40%). I know it would be ideal to be in a place where women’s advancement is so commonplace that it doesn’t even need mentioning. But I’ll still celebrate in the meantime.
I love that in Arizona you can experience beautiful forests in the northern ranges, ruggedly beautiful cacti in the south, and enjoy natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Kartchner Caverns. I loved growing up in Tucson (shoutout) where I could head up the Catalina mountains in the summer and immediately be in a whole different world. Arizona is more than the scorched parking lot that is Phoenix.
There are also lots of small niceties that make Arizona great. Hate the Department of Motor Vehicles? No problem. Your license won’t expire for a couple of centuries at least (I’m only being slightly facetious). Love California but can’t actually afford to live there? Good thing they’re next door, because all the nice things in California (i.e., In-N-Out Burger) make their way to our state eventually. Yeah, we might not have the beaches, but Mexico’s Sea of Cortez is just a short jaunt southward. Oh, and speaking of Mexico, I love the Latino culture and influences present in our state. Whether it’s the diversity of food or music, our state is just that much more vibrant as a result.
Let me finish with the Sonoran Desert. You see, the desert landscape may not be everyone’s definition of classical beauty (you know, babbling brook, peaceful glade, wildflowers gently swaying in the wind). And cacti don’t change colors like the leaves in a New England autumn (also, if you’ve had a run-in with cholla cactus, you will never forget it).
But there is something powerful about the desert.
There is always a moment deep into the summer months when you feel like you can’t quite take the oppressive heat any longer. The saguaros seem to melt on the horizon. No living thing moves.
But one afternoon, it happens. The winds pick up. A smell of moisture arrives. And then out of nowhere, the heavens open and the rains fall. It’s usually quick and sometimes violent, as if the pent up tension of months of drought have finally ripped the clouds apart. But finally, after that first rain passes, the parched land can sigh in relief. And the sweet smell of rain lingers on the creosotes as if to remind us, “it’s worth it.” And then, more often than not, a sunset unlike anything you have seen will serve as a fitting denouement to the day.
I try to liken life in the desert, with its physical implications, to my own life. There are difficult times. And the heat can be searing. But do the rains not come eventually? True, our personal droughts may exact a heavy toll; I certainly don’t discount life’s hardships. But if we can make it work in the seemingly inhospitable desert landscapes, we can make it anywhere.