As the thermometer was rising north of 90 degrees Thursday afternoon, Rudy, one of our two desert tortoises, busted out of his man cave where he had been hibernating since January. Had he been able to say a few choice words, Rudy would probably have said, “It’s only mid-March and I should still be snoozing.”
Exactly, Rudy. Southern Arizonans may feel a bit cheated weather wise or, in Rudy’s case, cheated out of a few more weeks of hibernation. Winter came and teased us with some cold rain here and there. Some white stuff fell on the Santa Catalina Mountains, our year-round escape, and the runoff filled the canyons. But just as we had settled in for some biting cold and snapping rain, Southern Arizona style, at least, the wet stuff had disappeared.
My colleague Tom Beal noted earlier this month that our winter was not so wintery. It was the fourth warmest on record, he wrote. And our total rainfall was a tad below normal. Heck, Tucson’s average winter temperature was a bit warmer than Phoenix’s, if you can believe that. That should tell you our weather is out of sorts.
Okay, so our winter came and went in a blink of an eye but where did our spring go? It was here. I felt and saw it. The wildflowers appeared. Leaves broke out on tree branches. The predawn freeze gave way to predawn cold. But several weeks of gorgeous, temperate days does not a spring make.
Spring this year was “two to three hours one day last week,” joked Jason Isenberg, a horticultural and garden design consultant at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, and owner and principal designer of REALM, a landscape design firm.
Most Tucsonans love the heat, but looking at 100 degrees this time of year is another kind of March madness. This has led to a beloved Tucson pastime: complaining about the heat. It’s not exactly the heat but the early arrival of the heat that a lot of Tucsonans are taking exception to.
If it’s warm now how hot will it be in May? And in June, July and August? Geez, I can hardly wait.
But not all is bad about our premature heat wave.
This earlier-than-expected temperature spike also has sent more people outside. My Facebook page has more seductive photos of Sabino Canyon, Romero Pools in Catalina State Park, hiking trails in the valley and backyard gardens.
If Rudy is confused by the early onslaught of high temperatures, so are the plants, said Jim Verrier, nursery director at Desert Survivors on West Starr Pass Boulevard, a stone’s heave to the base of Sentinel Peak.
“February is no longer winter,” Verrier said Friday morning when I visited. “It really screws the plants up.”
Like the good Tucson desert rat that Verrier is, he loves the hot weather but he’s not liking the changing weather patterns and their negative consequences due to global warming. The signs are ominous, he added.
“I try to stay positive, but unfortunately it’s pretty real,” Verrier said.
On a lighter note, the early warm spell brings more customers out earlier, he said. Last month was a good month at the nursery, which will likely prompt Verrier to move up the “spring” sale at least a week next year.
The speedy spring has been the talk among visitors and employees at the Botanical Gardens on North Alvernon Way, Isenberg said. Most folks, he said, have asked the universal question: “What spring?”
Not that anyone who visits the botanical heaven is complaining about the rush through spring. This is the kind of weather that winter-weary visitors love to enjoy — and to make their friends and family back home jealous about.
Last week the Canadian Garden Council and the American Public Gardens Association selected the Tucson Botanical Gardens as one of the “Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Travelling For.” The award was presented to Michelle Conklin, executive director of the Tucson gardens.
“It is glorious here. I’m not overstating it,” said Isenberg, who spent 25 years planting and gardening in Tucson.
The plants have exploded with color. The fragrances are intoxicating.
“It’s a sweet spot,” Isenberg said. “Everything is in its glory.”
That pretty much sums up Tucson’s winter-to-spring-to-summer transition. We live in a sweet, glorious spot in the Sonoran Desert. We might complain about the upper-digit temperatures but we relish the onslaught of color and scents and blooms.
Rudy is out and about in our backyard enjoying the new season. Now if Tiny, his companion, can wake up from her slumber and join him, Rudy will be one happy tortoise.