I was in Phoenix, Arizona, last week for a meeting. I’d never been to Phoenix before. I spent some of my time trying to absorb the way that part of the world looks, with its rugged mountains and hills, palm trees and saguaro cacti, and steady, warming sunshine, even in January.
On Thursday evening our group went to dinner at a restaurant on top of a hill where we could look out over the city. The sun was already down, but as we sat on the terrace and talked the sky showed off every shade of orange in its repertoire, and the jagged hills around us were silhouetted deep black against it. To be talking and laughing with friends in such a setting, gathered around the warmth of a fire pit with our faces lit up by the leaping flames, was a gift from God and I knew it (even though I got a really good deal on airfare and shared a room to keep expenses down). I tried to impress every detail on my mind in such a way that I would never forget it.
On Friday afternoon I got on a plane to come home, and as we were taxiing toward the runway I opened the shade to have one last look at Phoenix. The sun was shining, the day was warm, and the palm trees seemed to be waving goodbye as the plane lifted into the sky. Three hours later my plane came down through heavy cloud cover into Minneapolis, and when I looked out the window I could hardly believe the difference in what I was seeing. The sky was the color of lead. The lakes and rivers were frozen hard as iron. Snow lay in deep drifts on the ground and swirled around the plane as we pulled up to the gate. The temperature was three below zero.
It wasn’t like I had landed in another state; it was like I had landed on another planet—some distant planet on the outer edge of the solar system—far, far away from the warming sun that had been so present in Phoenix, and it was tempting to think of it as some frozen version of hell with regular shuttle service to heaven (Phoenix). But I’ve been to Minneapolis in the summer, and it’s lovely. Flying into that same airport six months ago I marveled at the number of lakes and rivers I could see from 10,000 feet, and how lush and green everything looked. I wanted to come back when I had time to go hiking or canoeing in Minnesota. And I have a feeling that if I got off a plane in Phoenix in the middle of summer I would think I had landed in hell there, with high temperatures approaching 120 degrees (“But it’s a dry heat,” they say, to which I reply, “I don’t care how dry it is—120 degrees is too hot!”).
If there were a point to this post (and I’m not at all sure that there is) I think it would be this: that as much as I love to travel I was glad when my plane finally touched down in Richmond, Virginia, where we have four distinct seasons and tend to avoid the extremes of either 120 above or 20 below; a beautiful place, really, resting comfortably on the earth’s surface, somewhere safely between heaven and hell.
A place called home.