Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fear and Loathing in Havasu

This weekend, my family vacationed in Sacramento where summer is the finest time of year. The world is a proliferation of green. The trees have burst into floral abundance; the lawns are bright and lush. There are tall maples, shorter flowering trees, fruit trees, weeping willows, tall coniferous wind breakers: more trees than a desert dweller like myself can even imagine. My girls look out the car windows, "Mom, look at all those purple flowers." "Mom, look they have roses in their yard." "Mom, can we pick flowers?"

Sacramento summer days can be hot, but the the nights are mild with soft, fragrant breezes. It's weather that compels a person to sit at on the back porch at dusk and listen to the drowsy chirp of cicadas.

In contrast, summer in Lake Havasu, my home town, is god-forsaken. The months of June, July, and August are so hot and withering few living creatures survive and the ones that do wish they could die. In fact, Havasu claims the distinction of being the hottest city in the 48 contiguous states rivaled only by Death Valley for its overall heat records. Needless to say, instead of lush, green lawns and flowering trees, Havasuvians landscape with gravel. My husband and I have started calling the popular landscaping of the area, "the Havasu lump." This refers to the fact that all yards here consist of the same basic plan: a base layer of neutral colored gravel raked out to cover the entire yard that is then spotted with occassional "lumps" of gravel in a contrasting color. Any variety of objects might be sticking out of/sitting on top of these mounds. It could be a cluster of short palm trees, or a rusty farm implement, or a crafty lawn (or should I say gravel) ornament, or a wooden fence post. . .the possibilities are endless. Strangely enough, due to the overall lack of water and the triple digit temperatures all summer long, people in Havasu do not generally have lawns.

When temperatures reach 115-125 degrees, it is hard for me to not feel slightly envious of my Sacramento relatives. When I see children running through sprinklers on the concrete in their parents' driveways, I do ocassionally question why on god's green earth do I live here? When I describe Havasu to someone who has never visited before, this is how it generally goes, "Havasu is a place with a history that dates back as far as the invention of central air conditioning and then to give the town an air of history and antiquity, they imported the London Bridge."

Despite Havasu's peculiarities, there is a stark beauty to the rugged desert terrain. The land is so unembellished that the beauty of the desert is found in shape and contrast rather than in rich, rolling earth. The lake itself is scintillating in the sunlight and, in the heat of the afternoon, looks vast, deep, bejeweled, and luxuriant. Perhaps the beauty of Havasu can be found in what we don't have. Only in this landscape could the thorny ocotillo or the stately seguaro be considered beautiful.

My relationship with this town is like that of a mother and her ugly child. She can point out his lopsided ears or his too big nose, but if anyone else criticizes, the fight is on.


Laura said...

I hate Havasu. Bring it on!

Anonymous said...

More than anything I miss the stars at night...

CarpElgin said...

My parents sprinklers broke while they were out of town for a week, so now their lawn is quite dead.

Don't forget creative xeriscaping. When it's done right, it looks fragile and rugged at the same time. I miss the ridiculously bright sun, the smell of chlorine, walking out of an air conditioned building into the sun -- defrosted instead of sweaty.

Here, I just avoid going outside and seeing how badly things need trimming, but I refuse to go outside to garden when I'm dripping before I get to the car when it's only 89 degrees.

mom said...

Wow! Marie, that was very enjoyable to read. Very, very, well written!

Marie said...

antigone-spit, I'm with you. Havasu does have the most fabulous night skies.

Mary Allen said...

Havasu...bleck! However I feel very at home there because of the company! It was great to see you guys. We miss you.

Tom said...

Hey, what are you saying about lopsided ears? Did you say ugly child? You're in trouble Marie.

Marie said...

I was being figurative. Rest assured, my biological children are all perfect specimans. I'm sure I'll work some more pictures in soon. So far, I only have Megan covered.

Frankie said...

Marie, you have a gift.

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