“I answer the heroic question, ‘Death, where is thy sting?’ with ‘It is in my heart and mind and memories.”
– Maya Angelou
My mother died five years today, but I feel her energy around me all the time. I first came to Tucson, Arizona with my mother in May, 1983, to visit her friend Jean. I was twenty-six-years old, and my mother was around the age I am now.
On our first night there Jean took us to Gates Pass to watch the sunset. The blooming saguaro cactus on the mountainside were silhouetted against a flaming red sky. The biggest sky I’d ever seen. My mother and I looked at each other asking silently, “Is this much beauty possible?” It was love at first sight for both of us. The desert. The Southwest. The big sky. I knew one day I needed to live in a place where my dreams had space to roam.
We took a road trip through the National Parks, three single women driving for weeks through wide-open spaces and golden light. In the frigid dawn we watched the sunrise from the rim of the Grand Canyon, in the heat of the day we walked through the red and tan sandstone canyon of Zion, at sunset we wandered through the tent rock formations at Bryce Canyon. Mother content, friend kind and sweet, daughter taking photos and writing, collecting memories like shards of pottery.
A few years after that trip my mother moved from New York to Tucson. I moved from Vermont to Santa Barbara until I went in search for my place in the world. And now I have settled here, back in Tucson where my search started in 1983.
I shop where my mother shopped.
I use her old binoculars, seeing what she saw during her almost thirty years living in Tucson.
I go to the library we went to together reading books she read.
I inhale the desert smells after the rains my ocean-loving mother always longed for.
I take photographs of the saguaro cactus in bloom that we both fell in love with.
And I look up at the big sky and ask myself, “Is this much beauty possible?”