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I consider myself a native, but "real" natives get all up in your business if you claim to be one and you weren't actually born here. I was born in Detroit and moved here when I was a toddler, probably 1 or 2 years old. Except for a couple of years when I lived in California in the '90s, I've been here about 57 years.
For 22 of those years, I've run my restaurant here. I cook for a living so, as many chefs do, I take the seasons into consideration when I create my menu. What's the weather like? Who's in town? What do I feel like eating? Half the year, it seems too hot to think about eating anything except watermelon. Our growing season is affected by the desert; it's almost backward from many parts of the country. We have gorgeous produce in the winter and practically nothing in the summer. These things really affect the restaurant business.
So, my relationship to the desert is about its extreme seasonality. People come to visit in the winter when it's beautiful here and flee when it gets hot in the summer. Locals tend to escape during the summer, too. I think it's grossly unfair that my busy season coincides with the most excellent weather. It seems I'm always too busy to enjoy a hike in the desert in springtime, but there's plenty of time in July.
Still, I love the desert. I never tire of it. My absolute favorite thing is the smell of creosote after it rains. I was lucky to find my dream home about 18 years ago, and I've turned my one and a half acres into a wild cactus wonderland. People say it's like the Desert Botanical Garden, even though it's in the middle of Scottsdale. I spend much of my spare time working in my garden trying to create a natural environment for desert wildlife so I can experience them up close. I harvest prickly pear fruit for use at my restaurant. I admit it: I hate to leave my compound to go to work.
So much has changed here in the 50-some years I can remember, and not all of it for the better. Yeah, I know I sound like an old fart, but I think it's true. Every time I drive toward the outer edges of the Valley, I'm surprised and dismayed by the sprawl. Who lives in all those houses? Where do they work? Where do they eat? There also seems to be no appreciation of old, historical buildings. And don't get me started on the whole "downtown Phoenix is coming back!" thing. That Elvis has left the building.
I shouldn't complain, especially since I'm sick of hearing people always bitching about the heat. I want to say to them, "Have you heard of moving?"
The bottom line is this: You really can't make the desert your own. It's too uncaring. You can only adapt, find a way to coexist. I love that wildness. — as told to Robrt L. Pela
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