We've gone a bit crazy, haven't we, Arizona? We're sorry. Don't worry, you're still a great state. You're hot and dry and extreme, and your people are even more so. Your landscape is rocky, and your people even more so. Your critters and plants are rough and prickly and deep rooted and real pains in the asses, and your people? Yeah. You know where I'm going.
This has led to some bad stuff, for sure.
That's what's come to define you to the rest of the country lately, but that's not what defines you for Arizonans. I wanted you to know we remember that.
You, Arizona, are two-hundred-year-old saguaros, home to countless birds, with big waxy flowers that open at night. The first saguaro bloom I remember first blossomed the evening of my seventh birthday and attracted bats. I'd never seen a bat. I thought I was magical or something. I thought this place must be.
You're the dirt-caked undersides of upturned silicate rocks, scorpions clinging fast and flat. You are arroyos cut through the dry landscape by decades and centuries of flash floods ("washes" for those of us who grew up
You're foxtail seeds in our socks and desert breeze in our hair. You're speckled cactus wrens with their raspy calls, fourth-generation cotton farmers, modern-day pioneers, and the guy I know who sells cactus jelly and has a million unbelievable (in both senses) tales. You're cholla cactus forests so big the ends reach the horizon. You're the Grand Canyon, ancient cliff dwellings and the OK Corrall. You attract everyone from learned geologists and historians to fanny-packed, trucker-hat-wearing tourists, and somehow you manage to make them all feel welcome.
You're the event invites in my inbox, to (staged) cowboy shootouts, horse and burro auctions, skydiving, cave treks, spider feedings, salsa tastings, and chili festivals. You (along with my son an an abnormal, innate curiosity) are the reason I will never be bored.
You're spring training, wineries, the olive mill, and trail rides. You're artist enclaves and private household arsenals. You're the most progressive environmentalists I'll ever know, and also hunters and rodeo cowboys. You're what made me acquire, and later shed, my cynicism and stereotypes. Honestly, you're really damn hard to live in sometimes, and while I'm never ashamed of my state, I have been ashamed of individual Arizonans. But you've forced me to deal with the world and people as they truly are; nuances, compromises, bullshit, and all; and I am stronger for it.
You're conservative, sure, on balance, but most of your people are just ... people. We rightfully pay extra attention to borders here -- the state's boundaries and our own ideological outliers. But this isn't about that. This goes out to the heart of Arizona -- and as someone living (geographically) south of center and (politically) left of center, I'm still not so far from the middle that I can't see that it's where most people live, ideologically.
You're the Grand Canyon State, but you're also the Copper State, Apache State, Aztec State, Sunset State, Baby State, State I Used to Think I Hated, State I Now (Usually) Love, State to Which I Don't Deserve to Lay A Claim Despite People Thinking I'm An Expert for Some Reason, State of Which I've Seen Far Too Little, and the State the Rest of the Country Seems to Think is Backward and/or Exotic.
It seems most appropriate that one of the most maligned and misunderstood states should celebrate its birthday on such a maligned and stereotyped holiday. I guess, given your own propensity for being behind the curve in most things, Arizona, it's appropriate that this goes out late. I know you'll understand.
There is more to Valentine's Day than misanthropes would like to admit, and there is much more to you, Arizona. We just don't always do a great job of reflecting your better side. Completely our bad.
Happy belated birthday. Happy belated Valentine's. Here's to hoping we make it to 100.