Some notes on living in the desert - Kathleen Celmins

Some notes on living in the desert

We’ve been here about six weeks, as of today’s writing.

In some ways, it feels like we’ve been here longer, and in some ways, it feels like we just got here.

The desert is what I call “backwards town” — in so many ways, it’s the opposite of what I’ve always known.

Especially the weather. It’s early June, so in all of my previous experience, it should be just now getting nice (oh, except DC, right, the weather stops being nice around Memorial Day and starts getting gross).

But here?

It’s like someone accidentally left the oven on, and I’m told whoever it is won’t be back to turn it back off for a few months.

Here are some other assorted observations from an outsider’s point of view:

People are really outgoing.

I notice it mostly at the gym, a place I’ve never associated with chatting. But people say things to me all the time. Like once I was heading into the locker room when a woman smiled at me and asked, “were you dancing?” I admitted that I was, just a little, and felt like I got busted. Told her I was embarrassed. She said, “don’t be! Keep dancing!” It happens elsewhere too — people strike up small talk conversations everywhere. I love this. It’s 100% my speed. I drive Brent crazy when I attempt small talk with people (because it’s often people who obviously don’t want to chat!) so to be out of the “Portland chill” and into the warmth of generic chit-chat is, to be honest, quite nice. I haven’t made any friends yet, but just typing that out made me reach out to a couple people I know and love in the Phoenix metro area, so there’s value in this kind of writing. 🙂

People here don’t like food.

Now, this is me being 100% a product of the hyper-local, slow food, farmers market, grass-fed, free-range, organic, non-GMO food scene I grew up in and have become accustomed to, but being here makes me realize something: the Northwest is an outlier. I live in regular town now. Where people don’t know where the closest farmers market is (or even when it is), and they look at me like I’m weird when I ask which farms grow the meat I can trust. We were researching CSAs (basically weekly vegetable delivery) and had a hard time finding anything that wasn’t a 25-minute drive once a week. We called a local meat place, asked if any of the meat was local, the guy said yes, we asked where it came from, and he told us that was classified information.

In our research, though, we found a restaurant/farmers market combo thing, Farm Boy, and I knew from the moment we walked in that we were in the right place. The first quote I saw was, “don’t eat food that doesn’t spoil.” There were other Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin quotes all over the place, plus all the sandwiches said where the ingredients came from, and they had tomatoes! Another example of backwards town: we’re at the tail end of tomato season here — once it gets too hot, the tomatoes will split before they ripen. Crazy, right?

Anyway, we talked to the owner, told him we were new in town and were excited to find him. “We’ve been open four days,” he replied. So we’re kindred spirits.

But the gist is, people talk about carbs and protein and fat as if you can isolate those, as if those are separate from food. Eating one of those heirloom tomatoes, I couldn’t help but feel sad that I’m in the minority here.

Caitlin says I’ll adjust, that I’ll do what she did when she lived in Texas, and eat less meat overall. She’s certainly right about that — my meat consumption has gone way down. But I don’t want to give up on sourcing delicious produce, especially once the oven door gets closed and things can grow again.

There is so much styrofoam.

Again, product of my environment, but Portland banned styrofoam containers what seems like forever ago, so it surprised me to see them here. Everywhere. There are cups at the gym that have a little comment about how this kind of styrofoam decomposes faster and whatever, but wow. It is so jarring to see it. Need to take leftovers home? Here’s a white styrofoam box.

Garbage comes weekly, and I have to assume people create more of it here.

There is recycling, too, though, and the city recycles everything (or maybe they don’t, but that’s not a Chandler-specific problem. More info here). We can take carloads of cardboard right to the recycling facility, which is good, because if there wasn’t that, we’d be filling our containers with move-related things for months.

There are some scary bugs (and don’t even get me started on the snakes).

We got our quarterly neighborhood association magazine (which kind of felt useless, or a justification of HOA fees or whatever) that had a two-page spread on scorpions and rattlesnakes.

I read it, and was immediately worried about the safety of my family.

Because of course.

I learned that scorpions are rave bugs — they glow when being shined by a black light flashlight — and yes, thanks for asking, now I have a black light flash light that I haven’t used yet because I’m more than a little terrified of what I’ll find in the corners of the rooms that we don’t use.

“They’re only in carpeted areas,” Damian said. “That’s why I’m happy we don’t have carpet here.”


“Do you have carpet? Does Clara crawl around on it?”

Be right back, I have to go set my house on fire.

I get bug bites that kind of look like mosquito bits, but they’re not itchy and they swell up huge.

“Welcome to the desert,” said Brent. “You’re food.”

The other article in that awesome magazine was about rattlesnakes and how you shouldn’t let a neighbor in your yard to deal with those snakes because you’re liable if they get bit and have to go to the hospital so they don’t die.

Oh… awesome.

Brent sees me getting squirmy and decides to start talking about other creepy crawlies. “Cockroaches in Arizona are the big kind.”

Bethany tells me I’ll get used to the bugs, that they’ll be just another thing I have to kill. Which makes sense. I remember a friend coming to visit me in DC and asking if I could please oh my goodness kill the cockroach that had crawled into her makeup bag, and I did it as if it was no big deal.

So, I still feel like an outsider.

And I will, for awhile.

But I like it here. A lot. And once I make more friends, network more with other entrepreneurs, and generally set up a social scene, it’ll feel more like home.

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