love letters to tucson #3: creosote and monsoons

I’ve been rained on in Hawaii, and it was misty and light. I’ve been rained on in Prague, and I got to sit in my windowsill and journal to the drizzle. I’ve stood under coconut and mango trees in the rain in Brazil. I’ve slid in a van on the dirt roads in Kenya that turn completely to mud in the rain.

It’s all marvelous. Being a desert rat, water that isn’t cured with chlorine holds the same quaintness as does a single-family home with stairs in it. Anything will do. But our rain isn’t just anything. Nothing beats the way we do rain in the desert.

I wish I knew some way to express how creosote smells. Do people who aren’t from Arizona know what it is? Because I’ve only smelled it here, and the fact that you can predict rain by the creosote smell in the air is so soothing, so homey, so delicious. It’s my favorite smell in the world, above baking smells and almond extract.

Tucson also has a really cute rain culture. Since essentially none of our major or neighborhood streets have gutters, big rainstorms are characterized by everyone driving as close to the center lane as they can. The right lane is totally empty, except for the river of rainwater in it. Also, since we live dangerously and are unused to wet things, we tend to speed and drive in really scary ways when it rains. That part I’m happy to leave behind.

We haven’t had a good monsoon for awhile. The last one I remember was the summer I graduated from high school, when the rain was so heavy that a bunch of stoplights stopped working, and cops were directing traffic standing knee-deep in water that had nowhere to drain. There’s always some jackass who ruins everyone’s enjoyment of the rain by not understanding that you can’t drive through an underpass, or who underestimates the potentially fatal things that are flash floods, but I think most of us just marvel at the silly water world our city becomes for those few days or hours.

Fellow Tucsonans (never Tucsonians or T-locs), I love how we collectively gush about the miracle of rain, and how none of us know quite how to react to it, or how to deal with it safely. I love how any of us can sniff the air and say, “It’s going to rain.” I love how we watch lightning the way other people watch fireworks. Never change.

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