The Tucson Weather Advantage and Frightening Wildlife
It is 11:30 a.m. in New York and 9 a.m. in Tucson. Today is December 30, 2011, the day before New Year’s Eve. I have both cities’ temperatures on the laptop, one of the gadgets I’ve loaded. Its 39 degrees here and 45 degrees in New York. That’s right, it is colder here. However, later today we will hit about 70 degrees. Now that’s an advantage you won’t have in the Northeast.
People on the East coast associate Arizona with relentless hot dry heat. On the nightly news, anchors report temps in Phoenix, (the only real city in Arizona in the capitol’s mind), which are notoriously high in summer. We have friends and family in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. They think whatever the temperature is in Phoenix is what we are experiencing in the Old Pueblo. They are surprised when I say it’s colder here at different times of the day and year – in the fall and winter. And, some, okay, many winter and fall afternoons when they’re suffering under gray skies, inches of snow and freezing winds, we might be luxuriating in spring like temperatures. My husband likes to call his parents when they are snowed in, you know, to check on them he says. He then gives them our weather report. He casually mentions that we plan to barbeque later.
Now, I’m not saying come on out, the water’s warm or anything. It’s not. The pool is freezing. I wouldn’t go in right now. Solar heating doesn’t work well as the days get short. When the sun goes down, temperatures drop rapidly. Overnight they’ve been running in the low 30’s and 40’s for weeks now. It’s like living in Alaska this time of year, kind of. The sun comes up 7 a.m. – 7:30 a.m. on your way to work. At 5 p.m., it’s already dark as you drive home. Once it’s dark, it gets cold. This is a desert after all. Now it’s not get your parka out and pull up the fur trimmed hood or wet, bone chilling cold, but a dry shivery cold. If you’ve lived here a few years, your blood thins. Temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s warrant pulling out winter clothing, i.e. sweaters and cute scarfs.
We have a few overnight freezes a year, enough to kill some plants and it really does snow annually. I use the term snow loosely. White flakes come from the sky and land on the ground. They are wet, cold and briefly coat our streets and yards in a translucent cover before evaporating. Nevertheless, this is very satisfying and enough to give weather anchors hours of exciting updates and on scene reports. Plus, at least a few times each winter, La Encatada, our version of an urban shopping center, manufactures falling snow. We all go and ooh and aah. One year some woman loudly complained it wasn’t wet like real snow and therefore a rip-off and major disappointment. She had an accent from somewhere mid-western like Wisconsin or Nebraska where they take snow seriously. Since it was free snow, most of us just used a little imagination and bought hot chocolate. We’re easy to please.
We see snow on the mountains surrounding town. A 45-minute drive will bring you to Mount Lemmon and skiing. They get the type of snow that is powdery and accumulates in inches. If you can deal with narrow, winding mountain roads with treacherously high drops into oblivion, it’s your place for a winter wonderland romp.
As I was saying, you wouldn’t like it out here anyway. I look out my sliding glass doors and spot a woodpecker pounding his beak into the knob on top of my patio umbrella. Is he mistaking it for – I don’t know - a cactus? He’s managed to knock off a round thing at the base of the knob. I hope the umbrella opens in April when I need it.
We have scary wildlife. Morning doves are so loud; they almost coax me out of bed when the sun comes up in the winter…but not quite. My husband calls them pigeons, but they are not. They kind of look a little like them but they’re mostly gray, slightly more refined and have a more stylish name. They compete for bird food meant for pretty finches. They fight like cats and dogs, with each other. In the warm months, they start their day at 5 a.m. with a loud cacophony of song as the sun rises. You must get up. Their coos grow stronger in summer, perhaps their little throats like the hot air.
Quail run around in herds, like lunatics. If they see you, they panic and run away screaming loudly. Hollering, really, as if they’re being attacked. If they’re on the road, we brake, they’re so adorable and stupid. They forget how to fly when startled. They cause numerous crashes. If you’re a runner, and you approach a herd, you will scare the bloody heck out of them. They will scatter, leaving their young ones spinning in circles. You might feel guilty, but it’s kind of a comical sight, so you’ll probably get over it.
In addition, another hardship is that it costs a fortune to feed the finches, cardinals and hummingbirds that we have to provide for. No sooner will you fill your various feeders, to come out a day or two later and find them all empty. You will hear an angry, hungry crowd of small birds tittering in the branches of the closest trees and bushes...waiting.
I laugh every time I read articles on encouraging birds to feed in your yard. I don’t fill mine for a couple of weeks at a time, and the moment I do, the word gets out. I do plant to tempt butterflies, so far, they haven’t done anything to annoy or frighten me. Although sometimes I’ve been startled when one has flown quickly by the side of my head, just out of peripheral vision and I thought it was something scarier like a big moth or dining needle. We have bees here too, but so many they don’t even faze me anymore, seriously. I think something in native plants calms and focuses them. I could be within inches and they just go about their business.
Rabbits terrorize new plantings which must be protected or of a special type as to not appeal to them. They will take little nibbles to sample appetizing tastings. If they really like something, they will eat it down to the ground quicker than you can say, “I thought I saw a bunny rabbit.” Luckily, there is a spray sold here to discourage them. It has a potent garlicky smell, which they do not prefer. They will run in front of your car and you have to slow down. No one wants to kill a bunny. But the driver behind you may not have noticed.
Late at night, in the wee hours, howls of coyotes carry on the air. You can’t see them and have to wonder what they trapped. They run across the roads, but they’re fast. I’ve never hit one so I don’t brake. This makes them safer than the deers back east which will total your car and smash through your windshield. The coyotes live almost amongst us in washes and desert areas. If you have a small dog or let your kitty outside, beware. Do not leave it alone in the yard. Between the coyote, owls and hawks, your little pet is a goner.
I recently noted huge owls habituating in my neighborhood. We used to have miniature ones. Maybe the big ones ate them, I don’t know. Now I love owls, but these things are a little scary at night. Their glowing eyes haunt you. They’ll watch your every move from a treetop or roof, as if sizing you up for food. They are serious birds. Hawks are cool looking in the sky, but I hear they will grab up loose small animals.
Javelinas are another charming inhabitant. They are a pig like type of mammal. I don’t see much in my neighborhood, but I have friends who wax poetic about nightly visits and their attempts to get into the garbage. We’ve only seen one on my street. He was clearly lost and high. He sauntered very slowly up our block, which is on a hill, out for a casual stroll, alone. He was huge and old, hunkering along. Everyone out stopped and stared, but he ignored us. Javelina meander in packs with their young and they will kill you if they think you are approaching one of their babies. Moreover, they smell bad. That’s what I hear; I wouldn’t get that close if I were you.
We had a mountain lion in our front yard lying under a tree once, one hot summer afternoon. My husband was puttering in the garage and our neighbor spotted him and pointed. By the time my husband got his camera, returned and situated himself to take a picture, the big cat said the hell with this. He ran around the side of the house and jumped into the back yard never to be seen again. That was about six years ago. I still worry about one visiting when I’m lying on my lounger alone in the back, and wonder if it will follow me if I jump in the pool to escape. Oh, there are bobcats out here too; luckily, not where I live and some bears have been spotted…but out in the sticks and they’re lost.
Therefore, for the record, Tucson is dangerous and you shouldn’t move here.
However, back to my original point, we have the advantage of our Tucson weather. In addition, despite what some people think, namely my relations back East, we do have actual weather events out here sometimes. Even when we don’t, weather is reported endlessly. If there is a rain shower or even a threat of one, this is a major weather event.
A hint of snow in the city will bring hours of special coverage and news interruptions. This is because the slightest degree of slickness on a road will result in endless traffic tie-ups, rear-enders and people driving 40 miles an hour on the freeway. You see, people here haven’t much experience driving in wet or snowy conditions, and don’t like the cold. Therefore, they drive with big leather gloves wearing hats pulled over their forehead, squinting, in terror. Most of our visitors don’t drive much at all in their hometowns. When they get here, after being bottled up back in their frozen province, they drive everywhere, feeling their freedom, usually during the height of rush hour with folded maps on their laps, looking for road signs and javalenas.
It’s now 10 a.m. in Tucson and we are already at 46 degrees, the same temperature as it is in New York. We’ve warmed up seven degrees in an hour, while they’ve gone up one full degree. Give it four more hours, and we’ll be basking in 60-degree warmth. Dollars to donuts it will be 48 degrees in New York, probably the high for the day. Yup, we got the Tucson weather advantage.
You only have to turn on the nightly news to hear any weather anchor say, “... it’s going to be another sunny day tomorrow and it looks like that will continue for the rest of the week with temperatures staying warm and pleasant. Aren’t we glad we live here?” Just remember, we do have wildlife.