Signs of change

Winter-at-ZionA week ago — two at most — I was sweltering in my office as the temperatures outside pushed 90F. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, fall finally arrived here in the desert southwest, much to our relief. Today is one of those gray, overcast days common in other parts of the country and so rare here. The overnight temps got down to the 40’s and the house was chilly when I woke up this morning.

On Friday I finally drained our evaporative cooler (better known locally as a swamp cooler) for the winter — to keep the water line from freezing and bursting — then covered it with a canvas tarpaulin and prepped our gas furnace for the winter.

Desert trees keep their leaves during most winters here, so the fall doesn’t produce the color (nor the litter of falling leaves) that it does elsewhere in the US. The southwestern desert grasses and wildflowers die and turn brown, the cacti lose their blooms and fruit, and the last of the bean pods dry and drop from the mesquite trees.

Perhaps the most striking sign of winter is the disappearance of the animals. There were no rabbits in the garden this morning, no ground squirrels, no lizards, not even many birds. Life is in retreat and the animals are in their burrows, keeping warm.

As it gets colder, I switch from drinking orange juice in the morning to hot tea. (I never learned to like coffee.) I’m even wearing a long-sleeved shirt today. Unheard of!

The sun will probably be back again tomorrow. Even in the dead of winter, our Tucson weather is usually sunny and warm during the day, cold at night. In a few weeks, we’ll probably get our first dusting of snow on the Catalina mountains, and the skiers will begin to make pilgrimages north looking for powder.

These colder temperatures are a nice change.

(The photo is from a hiking trip my wife and I took to Zion National Park in February, 2006.)

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  1. It amazes me how such vastly different climates are all part of our one country. Growing up I never understood why people were so loyal to my home state until I moved to the midwest for college and experienced just how different other places are.