The Hand-Painted Desert

I always find it unsettling when I emerge from the airport in Tucson, Arizona.  The environment is almost surreal--with its expanses of dry earth scattered with Saguaro that look like giants lumbering under the weight of their unwieldy arms.   Other oddly-shaped varieties of cactus and scraggly shrubs dot the landscape and jagged mountains jut up in the distance, adding to my unearthly sense of having traveled to another planet.  My mother, whom I was visiting for 10 days in the 55-plus community of Green Valley south of Tucson, experienced a spiritual sense of amazement and peace when she first saw the Arizona desert decades ago.  A friend of hers recounted a similar experience to me. She was filled with almost religious awe and "knew" she was meant to live in the desert when she first drove across the state line.  

My feelings are mixed.  The desert sun does seem to penetrate one's skin with healing power, and the sky here seems to go on forever, affording breathtaking views of the nearby mountains.  But I have never experienced a desire to live in such an arid climate so far away from the ocean.  While the wildness of the western environment is intriguing, with its romantic and tragic Native American history, I have no sense that Arizona is the place for me.  I don't want a big sky to unsettle me and make me contemplate vast eternities.  I'd rather be planted on the earth in the East--grounded by settled towns, dense green foliage, and a sense of connection to the familiar.  And the current heated immigration battles and border violence in nearby Nogales make this place a bit wild and woolly for me.   The fact that temperatures ranged from 100 to 105 degrees during my visit probably didn't help my hesitation to embrace the notion of life in the desert.  

This is my mother's house.  

However, the desert has does have a magical appeal as a place to visit.  Arizona's vibrant color palette is stunningly beautiful.  The turquoise, deep reds, and bright oranges of southwestern pottery, paintings, clothing, jewelry, etc. pop in startling contrast to the dusty landscape.  And there is a wealth here of creative inspiration for painters, sculptors, writers, and, of course, fiber artists.  

I spent most of my time visiting my mother in her home, but I also ventured out of the house a little bit and took a 30-mile drive up to Tucson one morning in search of yarn shops. As the brutal heat sapped my energy a bit, I didn't attempt to visit more than the first two provided by a Google search. I wasn't disappointed, though, as both offered a selection of yarns that not only included familiar brands such as Rowan, Debbie Bliss, and Malabrigo, but also some somewhat locally produced yarns that were new to me.  I coveted hand painted sock yarn by La Jolla, a California company, that I found at the Tucson Yarn Company, as the turquoise of two skeins was the most vibrant I'd even seen in a fiber product. Unfortunately, I found the color too pretty to use to make socks to hide under shoes and pant legs and didn't want to splurge on two skeins to make a shawl.  I did, however, take a photograph of the label and will order some when my current yarn stash isn't quite so overwhelming.

Ava, one of the shop's owners, was warm and engaging as she showed me the array of lighter-weight yarns that are popular with Arizona knitters who, she informed me, tend to make shawls, as these garments are appropriate for the wildly vacillating temperatures.  (It's not uncommon for a Arizona night to be 40 degrees colder than the temperature of the day that preceded it.)  I did leave Tucson Yarn Company with a small purchase--a gift for a friend.  

Tucson Yarn was well-stocked.  

My photo does not adequately capture the jeweled turquoise tones of this skein.  

I next made a stop at Kiwi Knitting Company, a shop that rambles on through several rooms. The owner Lynn was there and pointed out the vegetarian room, where the yarn's sources are plant-based.  I ended up purchasing one skein of sock yarn at Kiwi (wool not plant based), as, as the day progressed, I'd experienced an uncontrollable urge to cast on a pair of socks.  For some reason, I like to knit socks when I'm on vacation--probably because a sock project is easily portable and the knitting very repetitive in nature.  I cast on these socks and had progressed pretty far on one by the time I left for the airport for my flight home.  I am using a free pattern entitled DVD Socks found on Ravelry.  I made great progress during a three-hour delay in Atlanta, where thunder storms had backed up airport traffic.  

Despite the southern-inspired label, this hand-dyed yarn is from Canada.  Check out this company's informative, cleanly designed website.  

A piece of scrap yarn is knit into these socks.  Later it will be removed and a heel will be added.  

I had brought a work in progress with me to Arizona, one in a rich red--Malibrigo's Ravelry Red.  I finished this over-sized scarf, blocked it, and left it with my mother, as she has been wanting a red scarf or shawl for some time and loved the bobbles that decorate the border of this garment.  I also spent some time frogging a small shrug I'd made for my mother several years ago.  "Small" is the key word here, as, even though I'd knit a size medium, my mother thought I'd sent her a dog sweater when she opened the package I'd mailed to her containing this present.  (This fact was not due so much to gauge errors on my part but, rather, to the fact that the pattern I'd used creates a garment that is probably better suited to a teenager than to a mature woman.)

Here is the diminutive shrug.  

The shrug is now a colorful hank and some small balls of yarn.  

The rich red goes well with southwestern turquoise jewelry.  

Naturally, my new purchases and some clothing and jewelry my mother gave to me made it necessary for me to check a bag at the airport on my return trip.  On the way to Arizona, I'd optimistically brought only a carry-on.  Or course, on the way home, my knitting projects and yarn purchases remained in a small duffel bag I'd borrowed, as they are too valuable to risk getting misplaced by the airlines.   

Maybe I'll return to Arizona in the winter, when the dry air and heat will provide a respite from our rainy Carolina winter.  I'd like to explore some more yarn shops there, especially the Pajolo Alpacas shop in Tubac, a small village with an intriguing collection of galleries and stores a few miles from the Mexican border.  This yarn and clothing shop closes during the hotter months but reopens during the tourist season, when I'm always busy teaching school and am unable to travel.  For now, it's good to be home, where it's rained several times already in the few days, perfect weather for staying in and knitting.   

Many of the shops in Tubac have colorful exteriors.  

I always seem to be wearing this skirt in my blog photos!  Its Indian cotton is perfect for hot
desert days.  

These tissue paper Mexican flowers might be a neat project.  


  1. Fabulous pics, Liz! I'd love to visit the Arizona desert after seeing these! Not to live permanently but fascinating to explore and taste if you see what I mean. Hope your Mom is doing OK. Happy knitting in the cooler weather of home! E xx


Post a Comment

Popular Posts