Q: What’s the climate like up/down there?
Altitude: 50 feet
Total Precipitation, 2021: 35.58 inches
Today’s High Temperature: 68
Altitude: 5900 feet
Total Precipitation, 2021: 5.50 inches
Today’s High Temperature: 92
The first thing to hit me was the altitude. One week into living at 6,000 feet I brushed my molars too vigorously and blacked out on the bathroom rug; fortunately the ultrasonic toothbrush has extensive training on how to respond to these kinds of potential disasters and vibrated like a jackhammer against the saltillo tile to alarm the rest of the family, sparing me the embarrassment of a frothy-mouthed death by asphyxiation. (Rest in peace, Michael Hutchence. I hope your breath was equally minty fresh.) I would eventually recover. But adding insult to near-fatal injury, running—my lone self-generated antidote to insanity for the last three decades—slowed to a power walk any time I turned up hill, a physical rejiggering that did more harm than good. There’s a reason elite runners come to New Mexico to train during the winter. There’s also a reason you don’t see anyone running here who doesn’t look like a whippet that’s been taught to walk on its hind legs.
Next came the heat. We moved down here in June, when Portland’s dress code remains firmly saturated in sweaters and rain jackets. But like a moist pile of hay when the sun hits it, all those damp clothes burst into flames in a pile on the driveway upon our arrival, leaving us with nothing to wear but tank tops, board shorts and high-top basketball shoes. On the bright side, it allowed us to immediately assimilate into the Burque fashion scene. Still: it was hot, too hot for my blood—I would be feeling pretty good about myself, take a step outside, and before reaching the car everything in my body would thicken to concrete—and from there until what seemed like Thanksgiving it just kept getting hotter.
Against all our tree-hugging hippie-fied tendencies we’d applied for membership to the local country club in hopes of making good use of their pool; whenever the thermometer went over 105 I imagined myself slowly drowning my worries in the deep-end/concession stand bar adult beverage menu. A year later we remain in the same lowly position on the waiting list, and have resorted to occasionally sneaking in through the back gate and past the flirting teenaged lifeguards with the Stranger Things mullets and the fanny packs to soak our wrinkled skins like rehydrating raisins, one eye on the concession stand attendant in case they get wise to our heist.
Through it all the tank-sized air conditioning unit on the top of our roof hummed nonstop, and the power meter spun likewise, and H paid the electric company and I donated less than that amount to some conservation society, too little to save even three square feet of the rainforest in hopes that maybe we, as a society—particularly this high-desert society—could move one degree away from Mad Max: Fury Road.
In spring the dust devils came, plumes of dirt kicked up and twisted silly by the winds. What didn’t show up was any rain, which of course my cynical insides knew was going to happen. It hasn’t rained here since September 30 of 2021, and if you think I’m being hyperbolic I’ll wait here while you Google it. Right now the humidity is 14%, and the dew point—a thing you never hear about in the Pacific Northwest—was 29 degrees. It’s so dry here that my feet are turning to hooves like the badly behaved boys in Pinocchio. Paper cuts are the #3 cause of death in Albuquerque, behind heart attacks and asphyxiation during tooth brushing. When she moved to Portland in my wife, who’s from here, couldn’t understand why her bath towel was still wet three hours after hanging it on a hook. I used to think she was being ridiculous, but now I know that I have to lean right into the soil of a plant if I don’t want the water to evaporate before it ever reaches the leaves. You can tell someone who wasn’t born here, but who’s lived here awhile: they have skin that has gone way past leathery, to looking like an abandoned Trex deck. And I’m just a few house planks shy of joining them.
As hard as all this climate change has been on my body, it seems to have taken a greater toll on my brain. Before we moved down here I was as prolific at writing as rabbits are at…eating carrots. But while my lungs have adjusted to the altitude and my watch tan is trophy-worthy and sometimes I go out to the car just to warm up from the air conditioning, my mind simply cannot cross over. This post is the most I’ve written in months, and look: it’s nothing but me, complaining about the weather. I’ve become this thick-craniumed, foggy-brained, noodle-fingered non-writer, with no cause to defend in prose and no end in sight. And believe me I wish I had something else to blame it on—first and foremost my own lack of motivation or imagination, or my inability to stick to a schedule or insistence upon having some nebulous notion of “perfect conditions”—but that’s not it. I WISH it was some kind of existential road block that my subconscious has erected in order to prove to myself and everyone who knows me that nothing productive can come from this predicament, and that all I need is a change of perspective. But no. It’s not that. Can’t be. It’s all this arid, hot, oxygen-free air that’s made me this dried-up puddle of procrastination and incompetence. And the only way I can see to break this writer’s block is to stand up, walk out that door, and aw who the hell am I kidding it sucks hot-ass wind out there.
Maybe we’ll try it again tomorrow. Assuming we remember what it was.