Lena and I recently spent a week and a half in Arizona, for a designer’s conference on Adobe’s software products. She’s gone to a zillion cons for me, selling books, and it was high time I returned the favor.

I got stopped and searched in the Jacksonville Airport, as I do every time. Why? I’ve heard differing theories. My name is similar to someone on a list, I have a beard, They have a quota and I’m always acting nice enough that they figure I won’t kick up a fuss (that one from an actual TSA worker), but my favorite thought is that some unfulfilled security theater employee whose marriage has grown stale, just can’t get through the morning without a cup of dese nuts.

Because I want to make people happy.

Enjoying mixed nuts prevents a myopic nut-view.

Once we made it to Arizona, people began offering us bottles of water. People everywhere. Constantly. At first it was funny. Then it was weird. Then we went outside and Lena had a realization.

“Hey. I think they just don’t want us to die.”

Florida heat is akin to being boiled alive, the way nature intended. The actual temperature is a lower, but the humidity makes it feel way hotter, and you can’t escape it without refrigerating yourself. Arizona heat is more like being baked—but as long as you’re not in direct sunlight you won’t catch fire. By the third day I came to the realization that ninety-five degrees was pretty damn comfy.

For thousands of years the native peoples of North America
have stuck bottles of water to the wall for decoration, space-savings, temperature control,
and occasional “surprise showers”.

The conference happened at the Wild Horse Pass Grand Sheraton Resort (Fancy!), in the Gila River Indian Community, home of the Akimel O’otham and Pee-Posh tribes. This places it in the Sonoran Desert, which is an astoundingly beautiful place. With rabbits.

Lots and lots of rabbits.

We rode horses (dodging the rabbits) and kayaked down the on-site recreation of the Gila River, walked nature trails and identified an insane amount of wildlife that we’d never seen with our own eyeballs before. I catalogued fifty-five birds, rodents, insects, lizards, snakes, and Large Mammals during our stay, and gave the camera on my phone a strenuous workout. (Three hundred eighty photos, after deleting the duplicates. Come on over and watch the six-hour presentation!)

We hung out at the pool with some more rabbits, visited the casino, talked with everyone we could, and of course drank two hundred + gallons of water a day. I’d make a terrible fremen.

AUTHENTIC cowboy hats bear a striking resemblance to safety helmets.
I think the hardhat industry owes someone some money.We noticed a few funny things while talking to all these folks. The resort employees were all wonderful folks. Kind, generous with their time, and informative. But they would not correct me when I got something wrong, and they talked around certain historical facts that might have upset a Lesser White Man. I get it though. Why take a chance disturbing guests when you can just avoid talking about it?

Now the non-resort people we talked to were a little different. That was a goddamn history lesson and was refreshingly blunt every time it happened. The Akimel O’otham and Pee-Posh were diligent and effective farmers, with broad agricultural knowledge and the ability to irrigate vast stretches of desert with canals from the Gila River system. Once the white guys realized what wonders could be made, they diverted the river before it hit the reservation and made their own oasis, destroying the tribes’ livelihoods and ability to feed themselves.

And given that kind of history, why would you bother correcting someone who thought a ground squirrel was a prairie dog? (We figured it out eventually.)

What’s cuter than a ground squirrel? A goddamn BABY ground squirrel, that’s what!

In the end this was the very first hotel experience I’d ever had where I was kinda sorry to be heading back home. There was always stuff to do, the food was top-notch, and the staff were more than delightful. Everyone involved should be proud of what they and all the rabbits have accomplished there.

Recent water rights agreements have allowed the Akimel O’otham and Pee-Posh to recover a large portion of what was taken, and life has genuinely blossomed in that desert. It’s everywhere and thriving and frankly fucking miraculous.

Oh …that’s why they give everyone water.


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