Edana at Sycamore CreekEdana at Sycamore Creek

Summer is the best. Born in summer on this day, this is my time. I’m free and whole in summer. I live for three months without a trace of the bitter pain of the cold. I watch the monsoon clouds wisp into fantastical shapes. I go swimming with friends in creeks flanked by red rock cliffs, bubbling springs and towering cottonwood trees.

Swimming: A Child of Water

Growing up partly in Redding, California, I knew water. Whiskeytown and Shasta Lakes, and swimming spots on the Sacramento River beckoned all summer long.

Whiskeytown was our local Caribbean, with crystal-clear water and white sand beaches made from the decomposed granite that got washed down from the mountains by Brandy Creek. With our family’s boat, we could even claim our own private island, populated by pines, manzanita scrub, and our little clan. Whiskeytown is where I first saw the wonders of the underwater world in full focus. With a kids diving mask and snorkel, I saw fish and the smooth white sandy bottom set to a backdrop of turquoise water.

Shasta was bigger, louder, and not as scenic, but we had plenty of good trips there too. Sometimes my dad would stop the boat out in some deep spot, and we would just jump in and swim for a bit. I wondered what was down there, way down there in the deep. But I felt safe in the water, in control of my fate.

But the Sacramento River was scary. Very wide but with rocks and rapids, its surface was not calm. In the wild stretches, I never went in past my knees. Older kids walked in up to their waists, but they seemed to have trouble holding on. There was an alternative, a safe kid’s beach framed by long arms of filled earth. The water was very warm and it was a great way to cool off.

Flagstaff has no water, save for some artificial ponds and occasional runoff in the poorly named Rio de Flag. A Rio it is not. Ditch better describes it, for the channel is not natural. The original flow wound through prime downtown real estate, so 100 years ago after dealing with floods the city redirected it in a half-measure that still needs to be brought to full resolution.

So we drive to water. The natural creeks sit 30 to 50 miles away, where the snow-fed high elevation aquifers exit the earth in deep canyons: Oak Creek, Beaver, Clear and Sycamore. Mostly shallow, the creeks that flow through these canyons sometimes pool up in to deep ponds and small grottos. Here one can lay on perfectly horizontal slabs of red sandstone, to bake like a lizard in the sun, then jump into pleasantly cool water. I like to sleep in the open on these stones, the slip into the water for an after-dark swim before curling into my sleeping bag.

On one magical evening I will never forget, just after dark enveloped my campsite, fireflies began to light up around the pool, reflections in the water doubling the effect. I was in awe. Fireflies in Arizona? But yes, it was true. Some quick online research verifies this. There are about two dozen species of fireflies that can be found in this state. More information: http://fireflyforest.net/firefly/faq/

Let’s Talk About the Weather

Fresh and dripping from monsoon rains, the mornings sparkle. The sky is impossibly blue, the mountains incredibly close and sharp with detail. It’s cool, not hot. I’ve waken to 90 degree mornings in the South, or in the sweltering valleys of California. Here the mornings always bite cool, more like spring or fall. But it quickly leaves as the heat and clouds build up. By 9 or 10 am, the clouds mass around the San Francisco Peaks, looking like giant cotton candy. A couple more hours, and you hear thunder and start thinking about how to time things that must be done outside. Then anywhere from noon to 3 pm, it rains. Usually it pours. And then it stops. The air has cooled. The sky opens up. Sometimes, the rains go late into the evening, with spectacular lightning shows that go on and on. You can spend quality time on a porch, just watching the display.

People complain about summer weather in Flagstaff. It is remarkable. I see monsoons as the best possible mixture of weather. Cool, warm, then cool again. Dry and wet. Just enough rain to green up the fields and invite wildflowers to bloom, and to keep the air impossibly clean. The rain keeps the wildfires at bay, and feeds crucial aquifers so we have water to drink. It is perfect, absolutely perfect.

A Birthday

A year has past. What did I accomplish? What did I learn? What opportunities were lost? A certain amount of reflection may be useful. But after all, I am alive now, this moment, and may not be tomorrow. So my birthday is a good reminder of my mortality, and focuses me more on today. I can be a better person today. I can be more focused on tasks. I can be a better friend. I can call up someone just to say hi. I can cook a delicious breakfast for my wife and I to enjoy out on the patio. Which is what I’m going to do right now.