On cactus, and living in the Valley of the Surface of the Sun

Purple Cactus flower_feistyharriet_April 2016

In my short time as a resident of the American Southwest I have come to appreciate some of it’s thornier and more beautiful parts: the desert plants that thrive under the harshest of conditions. In the early spring I loved taking my camera with me on walks through my neighborhood to photograph some of the spikier and thornier specimens in people’s yards. Then, you know, temperatures soared and I retreated back to the air conditioning, where I have stayed.

Agave teeth_feistyharriet_San Antonio Botanical Gardens

I see my northern neighbors celebrating cooler temperatures, the coming of fall fashions, pumpkin spice everything, and exhaling that the heat of summer has passed. Meanwhile, it’s still 100+ every day here and my cabin fever continues to rage. Locals keep telling me that Arizona’s fall is coming, and looking at the weather patterns I only partially believe them. It will be in the 90’s through October before finally cooling off to temperatures where I can breathe, but for me, 70 degrees is a perfect summer day, not appropriate for November and December. I truly don’t know if I will ever fully adapt to life in the low desert; the high desert where there is frost and snow and plummeting temperatures at night? That I can do. But without the elevation of those ancient plateaus, Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs just bake, and bake, and bake, for MONTHS on end.

Red spike cactus_feistyharriet_April 2016

The soul-sucking heat, the neverending blistering sun, the subsequent cabin fever…it makes me anxious and irritable and, in general, makes everything worse. I somehow feel that a few days of truly cold temperatures would solve a fair number of my internal turmoil, the cool temperatures calm me and help me think more clearly. I am sharper and more logical, more productive and happier when my body is not fighting itself and my surface-of-the-sun environment.

Hairy Agave_feistyharriet_April 2016

I have had to negotiate a lot of adjustments since I moved to Arizona: new work routine (which just changed again), new dynamics with Mr. Blue Eyes and his kids, new dynamics with my own family and friendships to accommodate the distance, and new relationships with friends and colleagues here. Those are the pieces that keep my going, the beautiful desert bloom, the cactus flowers…but the damn heat is the always present spikes and cactus spines, the constant that must be negotiated multiple times per day. When walking to the mailbox has the potential to give you heat stroke, the weather doesn’t just disappear into the background. Perhaps it does for those who are used to the fire-breathing sky, and perhaps in time I will adapt. If my love of Charles Darwin has taught me anything, it is that species will always adapt to their surroundings (or they will die out, but let’s not focus on that option, mmmkay?)

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4 thoughts on “On cactus, and living in the Valley of the Surface of the Sun

    1. Feisty Harriet Post author

      Yes…but no. I can get myself across the pool fairly well without drowning, but I actually don’t know how to swim laps. I can’t do the move-your-arms-and-breathe-occasionally thing, and I don’t know how to turn. It was never weird for me, a grown-ass woman, to not know how to swim until I moved to the middle of the Southwest sandbox where every other backyard has a swimming pool. Ahem. Perhaps a resolution for 2017? Learn how to swim properly? (To my credit, I can do a killer dive, I was on a diving team for a few years as a kid and my form is, well, not terrible!)


  1. WhenInTurkey

    Humidity isn’t bad though right? Like, it’s 110F in the sun and 90F in the shade?

    It was pretty humid and oppressive here today. Tuesday had a refreshing autumnal breeze and the sky was cloudy for the first time in months. I got a little excited…. But that means winter is coming! Ugh! I hate the cold!!!

    1. Feisty Harriet Post author

      Actually, for 2-3 months, July-September, is “monsoon” season where there are tremendous desert rain storms on the regular, and bring with them horrible humidity. I also have not found the shade to be any cooler than the sun, with the exception that your skin isn’t burning, but you are still melting.


      On Fri, Sep 9, 2016 at 10:10 AM, Feisty Harriet wrote:



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