It’s autumn: That wonderful time of cool weather, hay rides, and pumpkin spice everything. Living in Tucson though, sweater weather doesn’t really come at the same time as pumpkin spice. In our apartment, we’ve been ready (and rather desperate) for fall since the start of the school year. None of us are desert natives, but in year three of living in Tucson, we’re figuring out how to get those fall vibes without flying somewhere that’s actually cold. So, here’s my top three tips for getting those harvest-time vibes in the desert (featuring a lot of Robert Frost captions).
#1: Setting the Mood
It can’t feel like fall if you don’t put pumpkins on literally everything…so we did just that. Essentially, we went to Target to get “just a few” decorations, and now our apartment looks like a shrine to Jack the Pumpkin King from The Nightmare Before Christmas. And it’s not just Halloween decorations either; we’re also ready for Dia de Muertos and Thanksgiving (because we might as well buy everything at once). All of that plus a stockpile of chai tea, hot chocolate, and Tim Burton movies really puts the autumnal touches on the apartment. My absolute favorite piece though is a framed quote I picked up at Target that features the Anne of Green Gables line: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Even though it still gets to about 80-90 degrees, it does feel like fall when I come back to the apartment and light a “Harvest”-scented candle while I read a book and sip cider.
#2: Getting the Food
To me, there’s nothing that really cements that fall feeling like apple pie…or apples in general. Tucson, unsurprisingly for its location, is not big on orchards or corn mazes; those don’t really work in the desert. However, Arizona is a big state with lots of different regions. Although most people think of the desert around Tucson and Phoenix or the barren, shadeless cliffs of the Grand Canyon, there are some cool places in the state (I mean, Tucson is cool, just not temperature-wise). Flagstaff and northern Arizona get much colder, which makes sense when you see the pine trees there but is still confusing when you hear about how many Grand Canyon hikers get heatstroke. For us though, the better option was a trip to Wilcox, 80 miles away. I’ve mentioned Wilcox before as the last outpost of civilization before Chiricahua National Monument, but it’s also home to Apple Annie’s, the premier apple orchard in Southern Arizona. This made for a fantastic day trip, and the weather was even cool enough to justify long-sleeves! Although we only bought apples, they also have a large farm for produce, which was also great for a photo op. (Update from 2020: With some precautions, Apple Annie’s was still operating in the pandemic, and we loved our second trip just as much as the first!)
We drove back to Tucson with twenty-ish pounds of apples, fourteen donuts (we ate four before leaving), half a gallon of apple cider, and more autumn kitsch with which to decorate the apartment…and also an apple corer because that would have been a lot of apples to deal with by hand. And of course, I spent that afternoon peeling and coring apples to make some delicious cinnamon fried apples for dessert that night. The apple pie will materialize soon. (Another update from 2020: We were smarter this year and bought 24 donuts – 6 per person – as well as a full gallon of cider, and a pumpkin to carve into a Jack O’Lantern)
#3: Changing Altitude
Mt. Lemmon is one of the seminal attractions in Tucson. At an elevation of 9000 feet, it’s a good bit cooler than the city, so it’s a great getaway in the summer. And for those of us who like cool weather in autumn, it’s a good place to go, especially for stargazing. The astronomy club has its picnic on Windy Point every year, and there’s really something special to me about going somewhere a bit cooler and like Whitman says, “[looking] up in perfect silence at the stars.”
One of my favorite Robert Frost poems (I associate Robert Frost with fall and winter) is “Fireflies in the Garden” which begins, “Here come real stars to fill the upper skies/And here on earth come emulating flies.” For all the things I love about an evening on Mt. Lemmon – the picnic, the conversation, the watching strangers getting engaged – one of my favorites is looking at the twinkling city so far below and how they emulate like fireflies the shining of the stars. Tucson is a great city, but I find it necessary to get away once in a while, and I love seeing the city as a quiet convention of lights. From here, the city is silent and calm without the rush of people. Autumn to me is about finding the calm that colder air brings, and I love being able to do that even in the sweltering desert.