REVELATIONS FROM SONORA

I’ve been here 16 years and in just the last year I have begun to understand the depth to which a love of place can go. First impressions of Sonora especially in summer leave you gasping, if not for air, then for water. It is dry, dusty, that particular gray that only the seemingly dead saltbush can conjure up as a bitter taste on the tongue in an empty mouth. At 117 degrees your thoughts of Sonora encompass only the idea of leaving. And no matter how soon that is, it is not nearly soon enough. If you make the mistake of staying on, of surviving, you begin to believe you can survive anything and that you can come and go as you please. But it’s not true.
Right from the beginning you know it won’t be easy to live here. You work in the city and maintain a house there and you might even love it, but you live in the desert. During the day the sun rings your head like an anvil. The sky re-defines the term horizon; it is so large that you understand the line is really a circle and can be found in any direction. You begin to wonder what the taste of rattlesnake is like. You develop the reptilian gaze of a roadrunner, the defenses of a jumping cholla, and the cunning of a coyote. Your skin becomes beaded like a gila monster. And every summer when you begin to dream of the ocean, you realize you are in a desert that was once undersea, and that Sonora is forever your destiny.
I didn’t consciously come here to learn the ways of the plants or the rocks or the animals. I was just passing through with a wife and a young son who is now grown and married. It’s all subconscious how Sonora slowly invades and conquers your being. And, so simple, how like a saguaro seed dropped on the caliche, it puts in roots that completely surround and engulf until you are no longer who you were; you are now Sonora, just as the saguaro is Sonora. And like the saguaro you throw your arms up all around to find yourself so shallowly rooted but so firmly bound to the spot.
Finally, when you find out in the middle of your life, by some stroke of luck, that you are a painter, even though for years you struggled and thought you knew it already, Sonora takes hold of you like a brush and begins to use you in ways you never thought possible. You forget everything you’ve ever learned or stole and who you learned or stole it from. All the plans, deals, and daily grinds disappear and what you have become through the hot, dry desert nights and the muggy monsoons takes over and Sonora paints itself. And you can only suspect that Sonora finds you worthy while it recreates itself in you.

- Don West 1990 Tucson AZ


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