Balancing the Desert Summer


By MJ Ali

I grew up in the northeast US, where summer meant living outside and being barefoot whenever we could. Now, living in the desert southwest US, anticipation of summer takes on a very different tone. People stay indoors more, and going barefoot is considered an extreme sport.

From anticipating our first 100+-degree day to best-guessing when monsoon season will start, we watch the temps and barometer on queue to map summer like an oncoming assault.

Like many people who live in the desert southwest year-round, I think about event markers to keep me moving through summer. While people in milder climates are actually celebrating summer, we’re often celebrating surviving summer.

I’m still learning and improving on things I can do to respect summer and live peaceably in it. And, since I no longer have a swamp cooler but enjoy the luxury of air conditioning, I think back on my swamp cooler days and feel appreciation for my current cooling comforts.

I also try to add to the things I can do to step away from technology (and its heat).


I love sketching with my tablet, but I balance that out with equal or more time with pencil and paper. Drawing on an 18 x 24 pad means my creative space is bigger, and that evokes different ideas. I get to do from-the-shoulder drawing, see where my pencil and imagination lead me. This is not only very different from my graphic design work in that it’s something I do just for me, but it’s also untethered. I’m not relying on anything but simple tools.

Even during my tech-heavy work, I keep a sketchpad and pencil nearby.


My meditation practices have always been simple and flexible since I was fifteen. In the summer, though, I use the outdoors much less for meditation, and I miss it. So, I’m taking advice from my dog, who wisely goes out and meditates in dirt no matter how hot. I’m not as brave as my dog (and hey, no fur for protection), but I will use a patchy shaded area to sit in the early morning (we’re talking 4am if I want to beat the heat) for my first meditation of the day. Kick off my shoes, sit on the big boulder under the tree and sink my toes into the soft ground.


Lighting color and brightness can have a big impact on summer tolerance. LED doesn’t put out the same heat as incandescent, and many lamps offer both dimmer and color choices. It’s so nice to be able to change these variables and feel an immediate difference in how I perceive my immediate environment.

I also try to leave my home business computer off one day a week. At least for part of that day, turn everything off. Phones, tablets, computers, router, everything. Even if I can’t do it for the full day, I try to do this as often–and for as long–as I can. My one exception to this is that, especially when we’re in an unrelenting stretch of >100° heat, I will do glacier/snow/ice screen savers on my TV and will watch “cold” movies when possible. I swear it helps.


I also want to celebrate the weather so unique to this region. I do go out in the sun for very short periods and appreciate the cleansing feeling a dry heat can provide. I love watching the lizards navigate their way through the environment. I try to catch as many sunrises and sunsets as possible, and there are a lot in summer. At dusk, I go out to watch the bats begin their nightly feeding. I guess my happy summer place is where bats, lizards, sunsets and rain make an appearance.

Having something to look forward to during summer, instead of just waiting for it to be over, is a really important way for me to show up during this season and be present for it, whatever the temperature.

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