Portrait of Marilyn Heins

I am happy that I am still curious about the world. Curiosity starts at birth when baby seeks and sees mother’s face. All our lives we try to make sense of our world and ourselves. I still love to learn new things and make connections to what I already know … even if I forget some of them!

Can a geographical region like the desert we live in teach you anything? Yes! A new Tucsonan, especially one who moves here in the summer, has to learn fast!

I moved to Tucson in 1979 to take a job at the medical school. Heading to my job interview the previous winter, I arrived at TIA to find there were no jetways. I walked down the steps into an amazingly warm-to-hot, windy, dusty February day. Coming from the frozen north I liked the heat, the dust not so much.

The road into town was an alien landscape, maybe somebody had forgotten to plant trees? Wiping the dust out of my eyes I wondered if I could live in a place with so few trees and so much dust. Early the next morning walking the grounds of the Arizona Inn I saw luscious flowers in February and mountaintops. I immediately fell in love with Tucson and have stayed in love for 38 years.

Did I have a lot to learn when I started work in June! First was a vocabulary lesson. I had no idea what the meaning of “hot” was. My car was cool when I left it in the parking lot in early morning. Ten hours later touching my door handle, I learned what desert heat can do to metal. Somewhat to my surprise the seat belt clasp and steering wheel were even hotter. I turned the AC on full blast and motored home wondering whether smart Tucsonans stay indoors for the summer.

Next came the mailbox lesson. After a few blisters I wondered what my neighbors would think if I wore gloves to get the mail as I used to wear them to prevent frostbite.

Other lessons had to be learned quickly. One did not run to the bank at lunchtime in the summer. Actually this one didn’t run at all. I instinctively sought out the shade and learned that lightweight hats prevented scalp and ear burns and cool, loose clothing prevented prickly heat. Errands must be run early in the day, in the evening or not at all. Wise parents (and grandparents) put sunscreen on their kids before letting them outdoors just as Michigan mothers put mittens on.

My shopping list now included copious supplies of sunscreen, moisturizer and eye drops. A water bottle became my constant companion and that’s how I learned the location of every accessible restroom in Tucson.

My dog quickly learned the First Commandment for Tucson Canines, “Always Poop in the Shade.” On our recent record-breaking heat day my dog would only go out midday if I coaxed her with a treat. If any of you wonder why, bend down and touch the driveway yourself.

But I quickly discovered the blessings of dawn in the desert. Added joy: watching the sunrise while walking the dog. And the glorious dusks! Bliss to sit outdoors with a cool drink watching the beautiful sunsets and later seeing the stars pop out one by one in the darkening sky.

There were lessons to learn about life indoors. Keep it dark, keep the air moving with fans, use ovens and stoves as seldom as possible. Insanity is roasting a turkey in a Tucson house in July. Outdoor cooking is workable but best to eat cold salads and sandwiches.

I had to learn the meaning of “monsoon.” Silly me, I thought they only occurred far away in Asia. Tucson’s monsoon season is a force of nature I had never experienced. Early one morning I got drenched going from my car to my desk. When I left my car it was not raining. Before I got to the med school door I learned what it felt to have a lake roll over on you in a matter of seconds! An idea light bulb went off. Now I carry a big trash bag in my purse. When a storm strikes I tear a face hole to make an instant poncho.

Believe it or not, I have learned to love Tucson summers! Fewer people in town, less traffic, a sense of pride that you can do it. I still have a tattered T-shirt designed by David Fitzsimmons, editorial cartoonist for this newspaper that reads “I survived 117 degrees in Tucson!” None of the cowardly Tucsonans who escaped to Flagstaff can say that.

I just finished a Humanities Seminars course, “Deserts and Desert Plants” at the U. Professor Steve Smith, who knows everything about how desert plants adapt so they can survive the heat and aridity, told us, “The plants are probably laughing at us because we can’t survive outdoors.” Fortunately I learned to adapt to the beauty and wonder of this place, indoors and out. How sad that our beautiful Sonoran desert could become so hot and dry that neither flora nor fauna can survive.

My advice to Tucsonans young and old, new and settled, is to be curious, keep learning, and stay cool!

Dr. Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent, great-step grandparent and the founder and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com. She welcomes your individual parenting questions. Email info@ParentKidsRight.com for a professional, personal, private and free answer to your questions.

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