When you first step out into the desert heat from an air-conditioned and overly cooled room, the heat envelopes you like a warm welcome. It feels good, like a dry sauna, soothing your aches, convincing you that maybe it’s not so bad. Then 30 seconds pass and you scurry back indoors, that is if you have half the sense you might have been born with instinctually reverting to the basics of self-preservation. Longing for the warmth can lead us astray, especially those of us unaccustomed to an environment waiting to pounce, poke, stick, bite or desiccate you at every turn. With surprisingly little effort you learn that the Sonoran Desert is also waiting to once again feed you, protect you, shelter you and even provide you with plentiful water, but you have to make the effort to listen.
My husband and I had traveled to Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand in 2013 a few months before I began horseback riding again. Between jet lag, my short legs and a ridiculous need to prove that I could keep up with my long-legged husband, I went sprawling while stepping onto a ferry boat from Devonport to Auckland, badly spraining my ankle. The boat was crowded with afternoon commuters. Someone quickly helped me back up to my feet and someone else magically produced an ice pack. After we returned home I limped around for months, but I thought I was mostly healed by the time I started riding. I attributed the stabbing pain in my groin and tailbone to my recent fall and the fact that I hadn’t ridden horses regularly for over 30 years. Eventually, the pain lessened as I continued riding, but driving became more and more painful. I bought donut pillows to sit on. I swallowed ibuprofen, wondering whether I’d ever be able to take an overseas flight again because the pain was so debilitating.
I rode many miles of trails, traversing the desert on wonderful horses. The daily pain lessened but returned to wake me at night. Visits to my chiropractor and massage therapist brought fleeting relief, which turned out to be short-lived when I promptly injured my lower back during a yoga class in which the instructor tried to guide my body into a position it didn’t agree with. No pain, no gain, right?
I stopped riding when my mare died and my gelding was retired in 2021. I no longer wake up with pain in my back and hips. Or in my shoulders or hands.
Covid-19 caused many performing arts organizations around the country to cancel their seasons. As a professional orchestra musician, the pandemic effectively put an end to my career as a flutist, which turned out to be a blessing of sorts. Tendinitis had become an ongoing issue. By the time I retired, I could not come close to making a fist with my right hand. I can now. I still have to be careful with my hands, but so far, I can type.
Southern Arizona is hot again, searing Tucson in triple-digit heat. Every time I step outside, the desert lures me with promises of a warm embrace that can turn painful memories into dust faster than you can recount them. I long for the saddle and my chair in the orchestra. Sometimes I drift into self-pity: Woe is me! I’ve given up everything I love most! Then I remember how I used to feel and I am happy to be rid of the constant pain. I rest on this comfortable moment, listening.