An Ode to the Southwest

I have recently been blessed with an array of job interviews and networking opportunities. Almost like clockwork, the second or third question that interviewers on my campus ask is: “where are you from?”

In that moment, there is always a hesitation on my part, a moment where I genuinely consider the question and wonder which answer to give.

me – “Well, originally Arizona. But my family moved to Washington my senior year.”

interviewer – “Oh, that must have been tough to move your senior year.” *continues on with small talk before grilling me with questions*

I’ll be honest: I hated Arizona when I lived there. I couldn’t wait to get out. I hated that it was too hot to move in the summers when I finally had school off. I hated that everything was red from clay and dirt. I hated that the only plants I had in my yard were spiked bushels and tumbleweeds. I hated cactuses. I hated that it was so dry that stepping out the door felt like walking into eczema no matter how many layers of lotion you lather on prior. I hated that it only snowed for a week and it never stuck. I hated that my town was so small. I hated that we had so much overflow from California (even though I’m from there). I hated that there were so many cowboys hawking black loogies of chew-spit. I hated country music and the amount of horse hair in the air made me so sick I suffered from chronic asthma.

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Devil’s Bridge – Sedona, AZ

In my mind, the Northwest was a mecca of sorts – a land of rustic beauty and green like I had never seen.

But today, I sat poised for an interview and the second question that the interviewer asked after inquiring about my summer plans was the infamous “where are you from?“. Something in my stomach literally sank as I explained for the millionth time that I am from Arizona, but I won’t be going home there for break.

By far one of the hardest things about my transition into Northwest life, and my life at Washington State, is the amount of times that I have been asked where I am from and struggled to find the answer.

Spokane is beautiful and I love Pullman, but in my heart that’s not where home is. I struggle to understand the Northwest culture, even when I find my way to live in it. In the past three years I have adapted the way of life – converting to an avid thrift store shopper, bulky-ironic-sweater-with-leggings wearer, socks-and-sandals enthusiast, and all things green marveler; but in the midst of that there is still something missing.

I thought that when I moved to Washington the only thing that I would miss about Arizona was my friends and family. I was wrong.

Everything between Northwest and Southwest culture is different. Allow me to share with you just a couple things that differ between the two in an effort to alleviate the crippling homesickness that has woven itself into every stitch of my life as of late.

In Washington “cowboys” are actually just farmers with muddy romeos.

Growing up in the Southwest meant that we were under heavy influence of ranchero culture and the rugged-Texan ranch-style living. Our cowboys would be remiss to leave their homes without their western style hats and Carhartts over button downs tucked into Wranglers securely fastened by their leather belt secured by a too-big belt buckle hinting at the polished boots on their feet.

Here, our “cowboys” are just that, farm boys. There is charm to both, but I miss the ruggedness of those that I grew up with.

In Washington my “southwest accent” is especially apparent.

Growing up in the southwest has infused its roots into the fabric of my voice, creating a conglomeration of sounds and words that don’t necessarily exist naturally in the Northwest. Spending the first half of my life in the suburbs of LA led to an especially distinct “So-Cal” way of speaking. I remember the reaction of the other kids in my class when I moved to Arizona and my words sounded different – I had a certain inflection to my words bred from my close relation to Los Angeles life and when I moved over state lines to northern Arizona somehow the new dialect bled into my own.

Suddenly I was face to face with the people that I had imagined from tales of the “wild west.” Gun-toting, lasso-twirling, horse-riding, tobacco-spitting cowboys. Obviously, not all of them, but more than I had ever seen in the concrete walls of Los Angeles. We moved to a small town in the mountains of Arizona, tucked far back on a dirt road between ranches and empty space. I spent my time in school around bull-riders and wranglers and their speech bled into my own to create an especially unique concoction of sounds that has become my voice today. Recently, one of my old friends I visited in California described it as a southern California dialect with a southern twang.

I always loved my voice until I moved to Washington. In Arizona I learned to talk slower with a southern twist, even though we lived hundreds of miles from the true south. Here I have more then once been made the centerpiece of commentary when people recognize the strange way that I say certain words. Just this past week I just about busted a gasket on my professor after he teased me for my voice – sometimes it is nothing but the way that I shape my words that keeps me feeling like an outsider in Washington.

In Washington cactus are nothing but tiny succulents forced into small clay pots.

My brother once came home from school and told me that other kids in his class stared at him in disbelief when he told them that cactus really do exist in the wild. He told me that they acted like cactus are exotic plants that can never possibly exist outside of the small trays in their windowsills.

When we lived in Arizona, cactus were a problem. To me they were ugly and a hassle. Once my brother fell in one and got at least a hundred needles lodged straight through the fabric of his shorts and into the flesh of his butt. It took a few brave camp counselors with tweezers to painstakingly remove each needle one by one from his throbbing behind.

Needless to say, for some reason, when I lived there I never realized how beautiful cactus are. I miss succulent plants that existed outside of clay pots. Saguaros are like the coolest succulent of all time. They live forever – some over 100 years – and they only bloom for one night, and when they do its a breathtaking sight. I always wanted to trade in bristles and spikes for green, but when I moved here, though the sight of the forests here in the Northwest still takes my breath away, my heart aches for the colors of the Southwest. 11289579_10203368002675624_1780644561798220777_o

In Washington the sun sets at 4pm during the winter months.

This was something that I was sad to accept. In Arizona, because we are farther south, during the winter time our sun sets sooner, but I can not recall a day when it set entirely before at least 5:30. When the sun sets so early it feels like your day is entirely gone and it also means that its cold for so much longer.

Speaking of the cold, in Washington its freezing like ten months out of the year.

I never realized how blessed I was with warm weather when I lived in Arizona – it was annoying to have summers that reached 120 degrees. And though I am glad for more mild summers (though it reached 110 the first summer I was here), I miss having relatively warm spring. My entire concept of temperature has dramatically shifted in the time that I have lived in Washington. Weather in the 60s used to mean leaving the house with long sleeves and a jacket, now it leads to hillsides littered with girls in bikinis and shirtless boys. Once the temperature pushes its way past fifties here, it is considered relatively warm. In the southwest I would be shaking in my boots.

Its an odd phenomenon to leave the house and feel the chills to your bones. Arizona is one of the driest states so every bit of humidity up here in the northwest feels like death digging its wet tendrils into my skin. Every cold day seems to feel colder because it sticks to you. For those who have grown up here temperamental weather is a way of life, but the weather here puts my hometown’s indecisive weather to shame.

People say its constantly raining in Washington, but rain here has nothing on the storms we get in the southwest.

When I moved to Washington I expected rain 24/7 in the same form that it came in Arizona. Granted, I moved to the east side of the state and once you pass through the cascades the wetness is decreased by a startlingly large percent, but the rain here is really just a mist.

I miss massive monsoons with crazy thunder and portraits of lightning. I’ve never experienced something so exhilaratingly terrifying and beautiful while living in Washington, and I feel a bit cheated by the promises of rain here.

Washington is real clique-y.

When I moved here my senior year I stayed at public school for all of three weeks before finishing out my high school education online. No one at my new school talked to me, I ate lunch in the library until I got kicked out and then I shut myself in bathroom stalls and ate there (talk about a movie moment). I tried to talk to the other students but they weren’t interested. The only way that I can rationalize this is by looking at the circumstances surrounding eastern Washington living.

When I lived in California and Arizona so many of my friends had moved so much – whether that be states away or miles up the road, rarely did I ever meet someone who had been in the same house their whole life, and if they had it was an oddity that they were sure to be conscious of. In Washington, if you haven’t lived in the same house for eighteen years there’s something wrong with you. When I tell people that I had already moved 12 times by the time that I was 11, they barely know how to comprehend numbers like that. Now, obviously, every situation is different, for my family, moving was always a matter of necessity, and for some people in the Northwest they’ve just never had to; but for some reason mere knowledge of the permanence of washington for For some reason that is far beyond me, this destroys me on so many different levels – jealousy, irritation?

I think that living in the same place for so long makes people exclusive. They have been around the same people their entire life and to throw a new face in there is to throw a wrench in their entire production. I was that wrench, and somedays I feel like I still am.

There is nothing in the world that rivals the sight of an Arizona sunset.

I have been immensely blessed to have travelled to so many places in such a short span of life, but in all of the places I’ve sat across the world I’ve never set my sights on a sunset that rivals the beauty of the Arizona sky. I took advantage of the colors of the Southwest when I was there, but being removed from it now I can see them all in retrospect. There are no real words to describe the beauty of an Arizona sky and I’m not foolish enough to try – no matter what I say I can never do it justice. Living in the northwest has made my heart ache most for the breathtaking moment at the beginning and end of each day.

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HOWEVER – despite everything that I miss and the homesickness that has struck in ten-fold I am so blessed to live where I do and so grateful for the Lord’s faithfulness in keeping my family here. I miss Arizona, but the Northwest is pretty amazing too.

 

Until next time, wonder on!

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