Climate Change

I’ve been everywhere, man.
I’ve been everywhere, man.
Crossed the deserts bare, man.
I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I’ve a-had my share, man.
I’ve been everywhere.

                                                                ~ Johnny Cash

I chatted recently with a friend about her days married to a park ranger and all the places she’d lived and the adventures they’d shared. It got me thinking about the places I’ve lived and the adventures I’ve had.

This friend had lived primarily in remote places or small towns, usually in decrepit, or at least old and rustic cabins or government housing. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a variety of living conditions, but, regardless, I’ve usually had comfortable places to live.

There have been a lot of hotels or rental apartments or houses, and some rather sketchy places that I, thankfully, left pretty quickly. I rented, but bought and sold a few places as I moved around, usually losing a bit in each transaction. 

One thing that our conversation reminded me about was the different climates I have experienced. Being from Texas, my college time in Norman, Oklahoma was not that different from back home. It was windier, and dustier and a lot flatter. The winter wind was cold and bitter, something I wasn’t used to. But the humidity was about the same, and folks had similar western/southern speech and habits.

After graduation, I moved to Winslow, AZ to work for the Indian Health Service on the Navajo Reservation. First, they put us up temporarily in an old house on the hospital grounds that had been built in the twenties, or maybe even before. It was drafty and a little shabby — not perfectly suited to the red sand storms that blew through regularly. When we moved into permanent housing — a modern home we purchased — the red dust still sifted through any crack in the windows or doors. Once, when returning from a shopping trip to Flagstaff, we couldn’t get the front door to open due to the small dune of red sand that had built up behind it during the several hours we had been away. Vacuuming and dusting were common chores.

Winslow, in the high desert, has very low humidity. Coupled with the presence of that red dust, everything dried out very quickly — including us. Trees were scarce and lawns were mostly brown. We backed onto the so-called ‘country club’ golf course, that had red sand fairways and semi-green greens, where the rattlesnakes were common. Once we watched a guy in a golf cart careen past our house with a number two wood circling over his head. He was chasing a stray buffalo off the fairway.

I had to give up on aftershave or scented shampoo, since the fragrance attracted desert bees hungry for anything that might have pollen. And, anyway, the alcohol in the aftershave dried my skin out and a soothing, unscented lotion worked much better for both me and the bees.

When I was up on the reservation, I could sit on a hillside and see for a hundred miles across the lower ground where the Little Colorado River ran between the Hopi Buttes to the north and the Mogollon Rim to the south, and, in the distance, Mount Humphreys over by Flagstaff. I could watch the shadows of clouds cross the desert, and even the occasional rain storm come from the southwest. The rain often evaporated before it reached the ground.

After a couple of years in Arizona, I was accepted into graduate school at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA. Now, that was a transition. The near infinite horizon we had grown used to was replaced by trees that obscured any distance vision. In addition, if a rare vista did open up, the humidity haze kept any distant details at a minimum. The relentless summer heat was exacerbated by the humidity, and I had to get used to sweat marks on my clothing. In Arizona, sweat evaporated quickly and was no big deal. But in Atlanta, once I started sweating, I stayed wet for a very long time. It was also uncomfortably chilly when I went from the outdoor heat into “refrigerated” air conditioning.

Upon graduation, I took a job in Alaska, where we bought a modern log cabin in a wooded subdivision just outside of Fairbanks. The place lacked running water, but we had a well put in — just before we moved on. Fairbanks was great most of the year — well, maybe just a few months in mid-summer and some in the spring and fall. Summer had lots of daylight and it made you want to do things outside and not sleep very much. But winter came quickly, and with dire intent. Of course, it was cold, and dark and very closed-in. No, I mean really cold. Killing cold. If you didn’t plug your car radiator and battery heaters in when not driving, your car froze up and wouldn’t drive. It was the kind of cold such that a person kneeling to change a tire could freeze to the ground and have to be cut out to get up again. So cold that when you started to drive, your tires thumped due to being frozen into a shape with a single flat side — until the action thawed them out into a nicely rounded shape again.

With the cold came even lower humidity. Basically any moisture, even in your breath, froze instantly. The fringe on your parka usually frosted from your breath, and some parkas were designed with a snout shape on the front of the hood to allow the incoming air to warm up before it reached your lungs. The cold air froze even the minimal moisture in the air, often creating a heavy, dense ice fog that was nearly impossible to see through, making travel on the icy roads more … exciting.

Of course, being able to cross-country ski right out your front door was a plus, as was the frequent grocery store parking lot sale of frozen foods. And there were always the Northern Lights. They weren’t always brilliant, they were constantly mysterious and captivating.

In the midst of one winter, we took a chance on a six-month temporary assignment in San Francisco. Talk about a change! We went from a relatively rural, frigid environment to a busy, crowded metropolis on the ocean and bay with temperate weather. It was sunny, mild and joyfully alive, and people weren’t wearing layers of scarves and parkas and heavy snow boots. Did I mention there were a lot of people?

We would take a walk in the park in short sleeves, and sit by the bay to watch people carousing on the beach in nothing but shorts and halter tops. Restaurants and bars were everywhere, and there were untold options for groceries or any other goods we might have required. You could ride the bus or tram or take the cable car across town.

I also lived for six weeks in Downtown Boston with the same sense of normality. The weather was nice, the accents were different, but being in a northeastern city in the fall was pleasant, and New England has a totally different vibe from any other. Crisp, clear, occasionally brisk, it seemed very civilized and very buttoned down.

At that point, we took a permanent assignment in Denver, actually Golden, a small town on the edge of a booming metro area. Here, there are four actual seasons — each with unique weather, but almost always good in its own way. Winters are usually sunny and cold; summers are hot, but not too dry; and spring and fall are bright, beautiful and just about right.

I like it here. I think I’ll stay.

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