WP-Diff-Desert.-Twilight

A Different Desert

The déjà vu moment caught me by surprise. It happened last October on a road trip to Tucson to see my friend, Juni Fisher, perform at a place called SaddleBrooke, a community located about forty minutes northwest of downtown Tucson.

I’d left the nerve-wracking, 80-mph, bumper-to-bumper, auto-and-18-wheeler traffic of I-10 to take the scenic Phoenix bypass over to I-8, a much less traveled stretch of freeway. About fifteen miles east of Gila Bend, my mind was adrift in the stark beauty of the Ocotillo, Cholla, and Palo Verde spread out against a backdrop of the Sauceda and Sand Tank mountain ranges. In a split-second flash of recognition, I saw myself dressed in a prairie skirt, horseback, beside a covered wagon heading west. In the same instant, I heard the whispered words, “I’ve been here before.” At those words, an emotional floodgate opened, and I began to cry. Based on prior happenings of this sort, I knew I’d been here in a former lifetime, and that my exploration of Arizona during the past couple of years was a result of a deep-seated need to return. Could this be the reason for my interest in the poetry of the Pioneering Women of The West?

Throughout recent years, thoughts of Arizona have flitted about in my brain, like a butterfly landing on a delicate flower, before taking wing to land on another. During road trips with Cort, we’d intended to spend a few days in Tucson because its old west atmosphere appealed to us. But after six to eight weeks on the road, like a barn-sour mare, by the time we reached Tucson I was chomping at the bit to get home. As a result, we never spent more than one night there, in a motel adjacent to the freeway, ready for a quick departure.

Benicia, the town in which I lived before moving to Palm Desert, is a waterfront community. Most of the homes are painted in typical coastal colors, in varying hues of blue, gray, or white. When it was time to paint our home in 2007, I wanted something different, something brighter, and more southwest in color. To my neighbor’s dismay, I chose a color that I referred to as “Arizona Orange,” though it really wasn’t a bright orange, rather a soft, peachy tone.

While reviewing my journals during the writing of my book, Angel on My Doorstep, three years after Cort’s passing, I came upon another reference I’d made about Arizona. I discovered I’d written in my journal in December of 2010 about “wintering in Arizona” because I was tired of the wet, damp, bone-chilling cold of Northern California. Was I subconsciously writing about a date with destiny?

Last August, while on a riverboat cruise in France, I met Joyce from Minneapolis who wintered in Tucson. When I inquired about the lifestyle in the Tucson area, she said she loved it, and that there was an active arts community as well as many excellent restaurants. She assured me there was plenty to do. So when I decided to go to Tucson in October I contacted Joyce to see if she knew of a real estate agent who could show me the area and a few homes, just to get a feel for the lifestyle. By this time, I’d explored several towns in Arizona, crossing them off my list: Sedona―no shopping other than touristy stuff; Wickenburg―too remote; Prescott―too far from an international airport; Scottsdale―I’d have to drive through the mess of Phoenix traffic to get to the airport; and Mesa―too flat. I was ready to see what Tucson had to offer.

In researching SaddleBrooke prior to my trip, I discovered it is a 55+ active adult resort community of about 5,000 homes, located in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, just off Hwy. 77 after passing through the towns of Oro Valley and Catalina. Arriving at SaddleBrooke I was greeted by undulating hillsides dotted with Palo Verde and Mesquite trees, Soaptree Yucca, Prickly Pear Cactus in shades of lavender and sage-green, and a scattering of Teddybear Cholla. (You do not want to hug these bears, I assure you.) I was surprised at how green the landscape appeared. Some homes had yellow roses thriving in their front yards. I’d expected dirt and sand with a sprinkling of cactus varieties and perhaps a few desert trees. But at an elevation of 3,285 feet SaddleBrooke is a bit cooler than the city of Tucson. I discovered that there are four golf courses, tennis courts, pickleball courts, three clubhouses complete with swimming pools and fitness centers, five restaurants, two theaters, a day spa, and lots of activities to enjoy. I was intrigued by it all.

On that fateful Friday night in October, after Juni’s performance ended, she and I stood in the parking lot chatting. I could hear the howl of coyote and the hoot of owl in the still, black-as-ink night. A slight chill filled the air, but I was comfortable in shirtsleeves. I could envision myself living there.

On Saturday morning, I met Marilyn, my real estate agent and new best friend. We spent the day looking at homes for sale. I even made an offer on one home, which the seller countered. As I reviewed the seller’s counter offer, I placed my hands, palms down, onto the document. It just didn’t “feel right.” Then I recalled a dream I’d had back in August. In my dream, I’d found a wonderful home to buy, and had made an offer. But the words, “It’s too soon,” echoed in the dream. So I passed on the deal, confident that when the time was right my home would be waiting for me.

During the previous months, I’d had discussions with Mom about her moving in with me and perhaps the two of us moving to Arizona. In November, Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer and another precancerous condition, both requiring surgery. We were told the surgeries would be extensive, that she’d probably spend the next six months either in the hospital or at home recovering, with the possibility of lifelong complications, such as incontinence.

Mom had had enough of doctors and surgeries throughout the last fourteen years. Three years ago, during neck surgery, her vocal cords were injured. She hasn’t been able to speak much above a whisper since, despite two corrective procedures. Mom said she wasn’t about to have “one more damn surgery.” She was prepared to die.

In December, Mom came to spend the Christmas holidays with me, to decide where and how we would spend whatever time she had left. We drove to Tucson to see if she would like it there. We scoured the entire Tucson area, in all directions. I couldn’t find a community that I liked better than SaddleBrooke. However, with Mom’s health issues, I didn’t feel it would be in her best interest to move to Tucson. We decided that she would move in with me in Palm Desert.

In January, we went back to Sacramento, made arrangements with an estate company to buy up all but a few of her personal belongings, sold her car, and stuffed my car (Thelma) to the gills with what she had left, after having brought one load to Palm Desert in December.

Once she settled in, I had to get Mom established with a doctor who would take her through the end-of-life process. However, new doctors gave a more optimistic diagnosis. To make it short, she had the surgery for colon cancer and recovered quickly. Neither radiation nor chemotherapy was required. The other issue didn’t appear to be as serious as the Sacramento doctor had indicated. Go figure.

We put plans to move to SaddleBrooke on the fast track. I bought a home in March, closing escrow on April 11th. Everything proceeded without incident, as it should when the timing is right. Because I still had belongings in storage in Benicia, such as seventeen boxes of Christmas decorations, and cooking utensils from not only the house but the motor home Cort and I’d once owned, I made arrangements to move it all to Arizona.

We made a couple of trips to Tucson to purchase basic furniture: bedroom sets so we’d have something to sleep on, family room furniture so we’d have some place to sit, and kitchen furniture so we’d have some place to eat. On May 24th, I stuffed our last minute belongings into every nook and cranny Thelma had to offer, placing the three cats in their pet taxis atop suitcases. The thought was that, number one, we were short on space, and, number two, if the girls could see out the window on the six-hour trip, perhaps Chianne wouldn’t meow constantly. However, despite using Peace and Calming essential oils, Chianne still voiced her displeasure the entire trip, though it wasn’t as loud as normal, and it was a bit slurred. Can a cat slur a meow? Yep! Perhaps I used a bit too much of the essential oil.

And so . . . here we are. Mom is content, having settled herself into the casita adjacent to the main house. The cats are happy, as they race from room to room, as if running on an oval track. There’s also plenty of wild life for them to watch out the windows, their tails a-twitch and teeth a-chatter.

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While I haven’t seen a resident coyote or bobcat yet, there have been deer across my two-foot tall, wrought iron fence, peering in the window. I’ve seen evidence of a javelina rooting in the soil around a young cactus. I’ve watched a quail family, complete with a dozen chicks, pecking at fallen pods from the Screwbean Mesquite. To Mom’s horror, Western Whiptail lizards skitter through the courtyard. One day, a Common Kingsnake dropped in for a visit. Such is life in the country. Though I have to admit, this is about as country as I want to get.

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As to why I’m here, in SaddleBrooke, Arizona, I have no clue. A few nights ago, Mom and I were sitting on the back patio enjoying chilled glasses of Pinot Grigio. We looked at each other and said, “What in the hell are we doing here?”

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I’m not sure. But I’m confident all will be revealed in time.