In Phoenix, it seems as if you can see forever on the desert floor without mountains to block the view. The flat geography provides a perfect vista to watch summer dust storms arrive. The storms arrive in a slow crawl, picking up momentum in a snail-like fashion. They appear to be a giant wave of dust slowly crashing onto the desert beach, darkening the skies by blocking the sun. It is a wondrous sight to see this giant tsunami make its way across the valley.
Dust storms are created during the humid monsoon season in July and August. They announce themselves with a spectacular show of lightning all over the valley accompanied by resounding thunder background music. Dust storms often bring rain to the parched desert. A strange dichotomy.
From a distance, the dust seems harmless, like a light brown dusting coming in to settle. In reality, the storm has the power to black out highways and cause car after car after car to crash while drivers blindly try to find the road’s edge. The aftermath, if the storm is large, can bring power outages, topple trees, and fill iconic desert swimming pools with mounds of dirt at the bottom.
My fascination of the monsoon season came from my father. Nothing thrilled him more than a huge dust storm blowing in. I would either be dragged outside to watch it roll in, or in later years after I moved away, given full reports by phone.
“Oh, you missed a good one last night.”
My father died 14 years ago on a hot summer night during monsoon season. When the hospice van came to pick him up from the hospital, he was lying on a stretcher too low to see out the windows. Just as the van pulled out of the hospital parking lot, we both heard the familiar thunder after a crack of lightning that lit the sky. Dust storm!
As we rode from Scottsdale to the Tempe hospice, I described every detail of what I saw to him. The blowing winds, the whirling dust, and where the lightning strikes were coming from. I was happy he could hear the magnificent cacophony of thunder that followed. We laughed at our good fortune over the timing of the storm.
My father didn’t really understand where he was going and I had long ago said goodbye to the real man who meant everything to me. We were now going through the automatic motions of the business of death.
I remember my father during the monsoon season. On summer nights, I carry on our tradition of running out to catch a bit of the show and I think how fortunate I am to be the daughter of someone who never lost his childlike awe of the magic and wonder of nature.