I love the way the words “Autumnal Equinox” roll off my tongue. It is all hummy and soft at first, and then becomes crisp at the end. The light of Autumn lengthens and there is a golden glow to the late afternoon air here in Tucson that gives me the first confirmation of seasonal change here. Unless 99 degrees Farenheit is cool, which it isn't, then the cool crisp nip of air is not a major part of the Autumn experience for those folks who live in the southwestern United States below 4000 ft. elevation. But Mabon, the celtic name for the equinox, arrives none the less though the stereotypic piles of leaves and heavy sweaters have little to do with the season I have experienced in the Old Pueblo for the last, oh my goodness, nearly 25 years.
I arrived for a visit to Tucson in October of 1988. I married here on the top of Mount Lemmon in '89. My daughter was born here at the University of Arizona Medical Center in 1990. While at times it seems like I am treading water, I seem to be moving through this time stream rather quickly. Mrs. Urquides, my next door neighbor for 20 years, lived to be 105, and described the ever quickening passing of time as “at first the days go by quickly, then the weeks and months, and then the seasons come and go in the blink of an eye, and finally the years cascade past.”
While I grew up pouring over copies of Arizona Highways Magazine, and its gorgeous imagery of fall colors that line the canyons and ridges of Northern Arizona, it was listening to Mrs. Urquides tell her stories of Arizona in the early 1900s that really gave me an appreciation of seasons in my new home. Journeys to higher elevations to collect the fruits of the season from Sedona in the north and Wilcox in the south were recounted as grand family adventures of buckboards and bushels of apples. And hidden within her stories were attitudes about the seasons that were very different from mine that formed in the geographic context of the Lower Great Lakes Basin. In the Primeria Alta, the northernmost part of the Sonoran Desert greets Autumn as respite from the extremes of Summer just as Spring is greeted as the ending of Winter extremes.
With climate change increasing weather fluctuations it is difficult to anticipate what any season may bring, decades old trees and plants died when Tucson had extreme cold for several days in a row in early February 2011 where a record low of 18 degrees was set. The growing season in Tucson averages 324 days, with first frost usually happening on December 18th and last frost occurring on January 19th. But Autumn is arriving, not Winter.
So as the days begin to top out below 100 degrees, I'm thinking about spiffing up the patio with some flowers, putting some tomato plants out and maybe some peppers, and some herbs. Sort of inverse of back east, but it is the cycle to which I have become accustomed. When I have a Fall/Winter garden I usually keep sheets handy for covering plants should a cold snap occur. So I will need to do some prep work.
But no matter what I decide to do this season, October is the most gorgeous month of the year in Tucson. It is hiking weather, perfect in that it isn't hot or cold usually during the day and a bit coolish at night. I first came to Tucson in this weather and it is absolutely perfect for exploring historic places and open to the public archaeological sites.