There’s a certain softness to even the most intense heat in the South that is decidedly lacking in the Southwest. While the temperature range in Albuquerque is similar to what I’m used to at home–at least as far as the thermometer is concerned–it might as well be another planet. This difference can be traced to the lack of moisture in the air. If it were only a matter of rainfall, I could have lived happily forever in that little desert town. There are compensations. But it’s so much more than that.
The air is so dry that, during my first few months in Albuquerque, my skin hurt. No amount of intensive care lotion quieted its need for atmospheric moisture. The psychological impact that this aridity had can be attested to by friends I spoke to during this period. I mourned the loss of my beloved (sometimes hated) humidity. I would stand in a cold shower, not moving, not washing, just standing. If I could have stayed there for those first three months, I just might have.
Beyond that beautiful gauzy appearance that humidity gives the air, there is another aspect to aridity for which I was unprepared. It’s one thing to visit regions more arid, even for extended periods. It’s quite another to simply move there and stay. Where were the trees? Yes, Albuquerque had what passes for trees in the West, but they were stunted little things by comparison and not a single one of them native to that environment. This meant they needed constant irrigation. That goes for all the flowers and shrubbery my eyes were accustomed to finding.
To put it delicately, I freaked out. All that open space and raw brown rock and sand was simply too much for my brain to cope with easily. The psychological thirst actually spurred me to feel thirsty all the time. No matter how much water I drank, no matter how much moisture-rich food I ate, I was never replete. How do you slake such a thirst, when its roots are not physical?
I remember the first time it rained. Even that was different from any rain I could remember–water that had grown so heavy with itself in the high clouds that it succumbed to the force of gravity to fall through the parched air, huge and icy, isolated, its silhouette on the pavement only lost in other drops after an interminable wait. But it was rain! My eyes, my skin, my heart rejoiced as I watched the swollen rainclouds eat the Sandias. They rolled, plump and gray, down the western face of the hills, obliterating the bothersome sense of distance with which I must also learn to cope. And as the fresh, chill scent of moisture swept over me with those first drops, I felt a release of spiritual ecstasy so intense that its only physical equivalent is orgasm.