I don’t know if whoever is reading this has a place on earth that’s really dear to them, a spiritual place, a place that invigorates them. But I do have such a place, Sabino Canyon, in Tucson, my birth place.
Mi querida and I hiked there just the other day, the first day of December, in fact, the last month before doomsday if you want to listen to what a number of very spooked people say.
But an apocalypse was far from my mind on this soothing sunny day. I entered the grounds in a very good mood and that mood grew with each step I took as I ran the images of my stay in town through my mind.
It was a special trip home. A concierge at our hotel, now my friend, a young man who knew my sports story well, set a nice tone for the reason I was in town, to shoot a video at the U of A, about “Wildcat Basketball!” as other alumni “legends” (heady title, huh) like Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott and Mike Bibby have done – all to be played on the McHale Center teletron, before the introduction of this year’s team at games. I sometimes wonder how many nice experiences a person can have in a life time. I’ve sure have had my share.
Before doing my little bit I got to talk in front of the camera about my era in the school’s athletic history and I also got to expound on growing up in Tucson in the 40’s and 50’s, which was no Senior Ditch Day atmosphere for people with a Hershey bar complexion like mine. But such thoughts were out of sight and out of mind as I walked among the cactus and mesquites, replaced with images of the good time I had been having hanging out with a couple of friends at an art show and laughing with a dear old friend and his wife over dinner and drinks at exaggerated short stories of our early lives, while mariachis strolled and sang. I was like a bird spreading my wings on the first day of spring.
But it was something I hadn’t planned for that occupied my mind the most as I enjoyed the scenery of the canyon underneath a sky that was colored a nice color of blue. The afternoon before, Ann Weaver Hart was inaugurated as the University of Arizona’s 21st president and we got a seat with a nice view.
I’m so glad we went as she said a lot of what I like to hear, acknowledging in her opening remarks not only the usual dignitaries, regents and deans and the governor (Boo!) and the like, but leaders of “Native Nations” also, saying to a woman we had come too late to hear: “I am humbled and honored by the Tohono O’odham blessing you provided for this occasion.” That got me leaning sharply towards her voice as those words indicated to me that this woman had an understanding that where she was standing was a plot on the Sonoran Desert where the Tohono O’odham people have lived for centuries. She has a sense of culture, a president at ease with her world. I like that.
She spoke of the beauty of the desert and the diversity and the various traditions therein and how we will, like “the best jazz ensembles,” compose a new and
inspiring future, inviting new partners into the mix, breaking molds, improvising. Music to my ears.
She asked that professors guide young scholars and artists to think “about the questions they ask in multiple ways.” And I couldn’t help but consider that this troubled world can be saved.
I loved her take on creating change in our conventional thinking, her sharing with us that “well behaved people seldom make history and we intend to make history,” calling upon the best attributes of our collective intellectual and social diversity. She implored us to expand our global connections and comfort zones so that we can benefit from new ways of knowing and so we can be open to asking uncomfortable questions and invent new ways of working. I’m up for that.
I left her talk walking on a cloud and when I crossed the lawn from Centennial Hall in all its splendor and took in the scene at the community reception in front of the Arizona State Museum, my heart fluttered like that of a teenager in love. All around me there were people of all colors and ages, smiling and enjoying a great day. We were entertained by a mariachi band consisting of fifth graders, keeping a tradition alive and hearty. There were African American dancers dancing African dances to the beat of African drums and some Soul Train like people doing it on the good foot to a King of Pop song. The Wildcat Band kept the vibrations humming and there was food and soft drinks for everyone. Bear Down, Arizona!
As I hiked I found myself thinking how you would have to have been a Magic Genie to see such a scene as what we had seen that day back in my day. Somebody would have been arrested for sure – for being influenced by communists or reefer madness.
These moments erased the feeling I had when I was last in town and so many of my brown skinned classmates at our 55th high school reunion were, due to the anti-Latino atmosphere that filled the Arizona air, feeling a little down.
But on this flight home I got a sense that such hatefulness and ignorance and stupidity is going to gradually fade away in the Grand Canyon State and I see the new president of my alma mater as a key catalyst for the changing of thinking that will be necessary for the dawning of such a new day. She’s already taking the leadership, asking a community of learners at the university and beyond, to redefine their notions of tolerance and acceptance. She energizes me.
Call it overly ideal or wishful thinking or what you will but I don’t think I’ve ever ventured into the beautiful spacious wilderness of Sabino Canyon and not come away with an upbeat life affirming mindset. And this day was no different. I mean finally some leader out there in that desert is speaking from a spiritual place, from a place I can relate to, actively pursuing grand possibilities, progressive realities, things the world desperately needs.
With all the wonderful feelings that coursed through my being that day I’d have to say that my hike was as good as any I’ve ever undertaken. By a mile. Just thinking back on it makes me break out in a smile. I’m going to ride this joy for a long while. It’s been a long time coming.
Photo by Maria Nieto Senour