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What this is is a HOT Heat

So, how hot is it here in the cradle of global warming?

As I write this, it’s 110 outside. We’re still waiting for rain, as we have since 1992.

If I should step outside my air-conditioned house, the heat would jump on me, knock me down and wrap itself around me. I won’t leave the house until October.

It is so hot that shadows huddle in the shade.

The intense sunshine unravels barbed wire. But the cows don’t get out, because it’s too hot to go anywhere. One fellow we know took off the top strand of his fence so it wouldn’t block the breeze.

In Phoenix, a policeman was chasing a felony suspect through an alley. Both were walking.

After a fire call in Tucson, four firemen were treated for heat exhaustion. The fire was a false alarm.

It is so hot that Prentice and Paulette, the penguins at the Wickenburg Zoo, have gone back to Antarctica. They said they’d be back around Halloween.

The Arizona Clock Watchers Society reminds its members to not wind their solar watches, which run fast here anyway, even in winter.

Some of you have told me it’s the hottest summer you can remember. The National Weather Service agrees. If heat should cause that cloud of ozone and carbon monoxide over the Phoenix area to spontaneously ignite–hey, that might not be a bad thing.

It’s puzzling. In general, time goes faster as I get older. But every Arizona summer seems to linger longer.

We escaped for a month. Miss Ellie has warned me that I would only annoy you if I told you how we spent our summer vacation: how we traveled from the Bay Area to Massachusetts and back by train; how we spent a couple of weeks touring New England and Nova Scotia by car.

Therefore, I will tell you about our trip only as it relates to this Journal.

Do you know that east of here, they keep water in the rivers all the time? A wasteful but pleasing indulgence.

While the folks in wet, wooded Nova Scotia were complaining of a heat wave approaching 80 degrees, they also were hearing news reports of 116 degrees in Phoenix.

They repeated that gem of insight: “But you have a dry heat in Arizona.” That’s true, as far as it goes, but I get tired of hearing it.

“No,” I’d say, “what we have is a HOT heat.”

Returning home required five straight days on trains to get from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Maricopa, Arizona. Maybe not the smartest thing we ever did, considering my advanced state of decay, but we figured it would prepare us for a return from the rocky coast of Maine to the Arizona desert.

We knew that the desert, which had been green and lush with golden wildflowers late into spring, would now be burned brown. Even green looks brown.

The country peeled itself from east to west, the wooded hills of New England giving way to open, rolling country, then to the absolutely flat grasslands of eastern Colorado.

Crossing the grisly salt desert of western Utah and eastern Nevada, Miss Ellie said, “Arizona is not as ugly as this.”

“True,” I said. “But you know,” I continued, waxing philosophical, “there’s somebody out there who loves every inch of this great country–even this.” She looked doubtful.

“Besides,” I said, “I’ll bet Maine is a miserable place to be in winter.”

Soon afterward, our Amtrak engine crew “died,” for the second day in a row. Traveling under “slow track” orders, the engine crew had worked all the hours they are allowed to work under federal law. They got to go home, but we had to wait in the middle of Nevada until another crew was driven to the scene.

The reason for the slow track: Heat, which warps the steel rails. When the rails are no longer the same distance apart, the trains fall through.

We were three days late into Oakland, but the Coast Starlight made up the time next day, coming down the Coast to Los Angeles.

All across the country, I was seeing pretty, fat deer near the tracks. By the time we rolled into Maricopa last Thursday on the Sunset Limited, I was seeing camels, and zebras.

The dusty green saguaros looked good to me. But stepping off the air-conditioned train into the heat at Maricopa, I felt as though I had been embraced by a hot air balloon. My ear wax began to melt, and I had to excuse myself.

Over the past couple of years, ADOT has rebuilt U.S. 60 between Sun City Grand and Morristown, turning a dangerous two-lane highway into four lanes, divided, all the way to Wickenburg.

The new asphalt is still black and soft; Arizona heat softens 40-year-old asphalt, so you can imagine what a nice cushion the new pavement forms.

A flagwoman stopped us while six bulldozers gently nudged about 500 feet of the new highway, pushing it over a few inches to remove an unnecessary bend in the alignment while the paving was still soft.

At San Domingo Wash, eight miles out of Wickenburg, a new sign warns fishermen that if they see water in the Hassyampa River, it is only a mirage, and it is illegal to fish in a mirage in Arizona. We got home safely, with new challenges to face: a ton of laundry, 2,000 pounds of accumulated mail, and the unaccustomed heat.

I feel a pang of loss when I think of the Atlantic Ocean, and all the rivers that feed it. But you know, I’ll bet Maine really is miserable in winter.

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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