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Desert Light

The Sonoran Desert at 2 p.m., when every point in space was aglow, was transfixing.  The light shrank your pupils to the size of sand grains, blinding you for a couple minutes after you entered the darkness of your curtained house.  And, like heat, this light demanded respect.  There were people in Yuma─and here I refer primarily to the Anglos─who had obviously exposed themselves to a lot of sunlight.  Like my Chihuahuan Desert friend Frank, they were dusky, russet, coppery figures, looking as if they should have been accompanied by embers.  Some were obviously sun-worshippers who had taken the practice to a questionable, if not dangerous, level.  Then there were those who had spent their entire working lives in the Arizona sunlight―passive sun-tanners, you might call them―and had either found exposed skin comfortable, despite the fact that it hastens dehydration, or had simply tired of slathering on sunscreen and donning protective clothing.  As a result, they had developed a dark coat that apparently continued to resist the sun’s ultimate threat. 

Once, I dealt with a Yuman, a white non-Hispanic about my age, who worked outdoors.  He came to our house to explain how the timer on our lawn’s irrigation system worked.  He was a strange sight.  Wearing a tank top, he had a permanent squint; the thick, wrinkled eyelids of a Sonoran lizard; and a mottled hide that recalled beef jerky.  Slaughtered by the sun, he nonetheless still functioned.  I was fascinated by his adaptation to desert light.

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