Harbingers of Spring

This past week we finished the last of the juice made from this year’s crop of grapefruit and oranges picked from the trees in our yard in Tucson.  A day or so later, while I was out getting my steps on the back forty, I noticed that the gnarled old mesquite tree out there was finally starting to leaf out.  If I were to take a quick run down to the San Pedro River (which might actually be running today because it’s raining) I’m sure I’d find that the cottonwoods along the river are in full-dress green as well.  If you live in other parts of the country, there are probably certain colors that lift your hearts at this time of year, but for me, a long time desert dweller, those two separate shades of green—cottonwood and mesquite—are perennial favorites.

So spring is on its way. It won’t be long before the orange trees that once held fruit will be covered with blossoms, filling the air with that indescribable scent. That was one of the things that surprised me most when I first came to Tucson and the University of Arizona in the fall of 1962. The next year, when spring came around, all the decorative orange trees I’d been walking under during the fall and winter months suddenly suffused the air with that amazingly heady perfume–a powerful aroma that instantly filled young girls’ heads with what one of my high school teachers, Mrs. Riggins, used to refer to as “evil thoughts.”

Now that I’ve gone off on an orange blossom tangent for a moment, I’m going to take a quick detour to another season and another enchanting floral scent in the Sonoran Desert. For my money, the only thing that comes close to being comparable to orange blossoms would be that of the night blooming cereus. The Queen of the Night, as it’s referred to around here, blooms one night and one night only some time in the early summer at an unspecified time that no amount of scientific study can accurately predict more than 48 hours or so in advance. It’s as though the plants all sit around plotting before finally taking a vote and deciding to bloom on a certain night and at a certain specified time. Tohono Chul, a local botanical garden sends out notices and summons people to bloom night each and every year. If you’re lucky enough to go, I’m sure you’ll find the scent of the flower as utterly enchanting as I did. But if you can’t make it to a Tohono Chul Bloom Night celebration, whenever that might happen—in May or June or July—you’re more than welcome to settle for orange blossoms in March as a suitable substitute.

It’s usually late in the evening, coming home after Tucson Festival of Books events, when I first encounter the scent of orange blossoms lingering on the air.  All of which is to say, if the orange blossoms are coming, so is the Festival. The tenth edition of the TFOB is scheduled to take place next weekend—March 10-12.  Hopefully the orange blossoms will be out In the evening, but during the day I’ll be all over the U of A campus getting my steps and doing panels and signings.  Advance copies of my new book, Duel to the Death, will be available at the festival.

If  you go to my website schedule, you will see this is a very busy weekend.  You can go to the festival website and order tickets for events ahead of time on line, thus avoiding having to stand in line at the various venues. One of the authors coming to the festival for the first time will be emerging Arizona based author Isabella Maldonado, a retired Phoenix Police Captain. She and I met and hit it off at last summer’s Thriller Fest in NYC.  Her second novel, Phoenix Burning, will be debuting at the Festival.

In my opinion the Tucson Festival of Books is one of the premier book festivals in the country.  It’s an enormous undertaking, a feat performed by an army of volunteers and done in cooperation with my alma mater, the University of Arizona. It promotes literacy all over southern Arizona by helping to support organizations like Literacy Connects which uses individual tutors to address the issue of adult literacy in our community. Having met some Literacy Connects graduates—including Marcia Robinson who is now a devoted reader!—I can say for sure that Literacy Connects gets results.  Which means so does the festival.

As I write this, it’s raining like crazy outside.  With any kind of luck, good old mother nature should have this round of bad weather out of her system in time for next week’s festival.  We’ll all need to be wearing hats and plenty of sun screen.  See you there.

And after the Festival?  Then it’ll be time to start the Duel to the Death book tour in … well … dead earnest. You can see that schedule on my website.

Am I tired yet?  When I finally got a look at the tentative version of my upcoming schedule, the first words that crossed my mind were as follows:  Are you nuts? And then I remembered what my mother, Evie Busk ,always used to say, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken!”

And it’s true, so go get’ em, Judy!  Time’s a wasting’!