Virtue & Mischief: Pleasant desert surprises


Sorry to rub it in Darke Countians, but Krista and I are basking in the Sonoran Desert at the moment, absorbing the sun’s rays and 85 degree temperatures in Tucson, Arizona, where Krista spent her tour in the Air Force some 20 years ago. We return for a few days just about every year, and this visit has been marked by several pleasant surprises.

For one thing, we have “experimented” with lots of locally run restaurants that we’ve never frequented previously. It’s been something of a gustatory epiphany. I’m happy to say we’re batting 1.000 so far. My favorite to date was a popular joint called “Beyond Bread.” My friends, here is a trustworthy saying: If bread is served in heaven, it’s going to be this restaurant’s homemade rye. Good grief, it was delicious. I’ve been raving about it so often in the past few days that Krista has understandably resorted to inflicting on me a taste of my own sarcastic medicine—a patented Swensen eye roll. I don’t care. The rye was THAT good.

And while we’ve enjoyed a few of our old “standby activities”—several hikes in Sabino Canyon, tennis at Reffkin tennis center, a movie, relaxing poolside, sleeping whenever (and however long) we like—we’ve also tried a couple new ones. The first was a visit to the Titan Missile Museum, about 30 miles south of town. It was a fascinating and sobering trip down memory lane, a visit to my Cold War-saturated childhood when we held “stop, drop, and cover” drills in elementary school, and my peers and I engaged in all-too-frequent conversations about the likeliest American targets in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. The Titan was the United States’ offering in the “Peace through Deterrence” sweepstakes, a 103 foot tall missile that housed a 9 megaton nuclear warhead at its tip. It flew at a top speed of 16,000 miles per hour and could hit a target 2,000 miles away with absurd accuracy, obliterating virtually everything within 200 square miles—a simultaneous nod to man’s scientific and engineering ingenuity and his grotesque demons as well.

A far more peaceful and charming wonder was the Tucson Botanical Gardens. This delightful oasis was only a couple of blocks from our hotel, but light years from the hustle and bustle of urban Tucson which surrounded it. Within its six acre boundaries, one was exposed to a phenomenal breadth and depth of locally available flora and fauna: cacti and succulents of every dimension and color, gorgeous acacia, eucalyptus, and mesquite trees, bushes, shrubs, flowers, vines, humming birds, lizards, rabbits, butterflies, and moths, to cite a small proportion of the life forms flourishing there and on display. It’s a feast for the senses. Indeed, the first thing I noticed was the panoply of amazing aromas that immediately placed my olfactory nerve on alert. Beyond that: the range of colors of the blooms, the whirring of hummingbird wings, the sight of an army of ants transporting tiny leaves underground to their ant complex, a saguaro cactus and an acacia tree intertwined so as to form (for all appearances) one colossal and beautifully impossible plant. Wonders of God’s creation lurked around every corner, quite literally. It’s not possible to adequately describe what I observed. The sounds, sights, smells, and textures were far too rich and varied for me to convey with my weak command of the English language.

At dinner tonight Krista and I rehashed some of our favorite elements of the trip so far, pausing for a considerable time on our respective impressions of the Botanical Gardens. After

enumerating a few of our personal highlights, Krista caught me sighing and gently shaking my head in a sign of contentment.

“Ohh!” she exclaimed. “You’re thinking of the kids, aren’t you?!? You…you miss them! Oh, Tim, how sweet!”

I hesitated, just an eye blink, but it was enough to give myself away.

“Wait a minute,” she corrected herself. “That’s not it.” She paused a moment. “Oh my God.”

I knew I’d been caught.

“You’re not thinking about the kids! You’re reminiscing about that rye bread!”

Guilty as charged.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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