I always cry when I leave Phoenix because I feel like I’m saying good-bye to summer. Not that the Valley of the Sun had overwhelmed me with her graces this time around. Far from it. After being drenched and whipped by the pop-up land hurricane, I was enveloped a few days later by what I hoped at the time was the desert version of land fog.
I’d been eyeing some very odd cloud formations to the south of the city as I made my way across the Whole Foods parking lot late that afternoon. The wind was picking up and the clouds were becoming denser and darker by the second. It looked like another downpour was imminent, so I did the only feasible thing I could do – I ran into Whole Foods and went shopping.
When I came out an hour later, it was dark and windy, but not only dark – it was murky. This was an odd kind of fog. As I made my way to the bus stop, laden down with my purchases and peering through the haze, I came across a man who was also heading towards the bus stop. So I asked him: “This is land fog, right?” He kept walking as if he hadn’t heard me, so I asked again: “It’s getting foggy, right?” When we both reached the bus shelter, he turned and gave me one of those searching looks you give to older children who claim to still believe in Santa Claus. “I’m not sure,” he said slowly, carefully choosing his words so as not to trigger any more bizarre outbursts from me. “I’m from Cleveland.”
“Oh. Well, it looks like fog to me,” I said. “I’m from the east coast of Canada. We get a lot of fog there, but not like this.” He was silent, staring into his phone.
“My eyes are stinging,” I said, more to myself than to him. “Fog doesn’t usually make my eyes sting.”
“It could be dust,” he finally offered, after tucking his phone into his jacket pocket. “But the dust storms usually come at sundown, and from the south.”
“It’s sundown now, and the wind’s blowing from the south.”
“Oh,” he said, perhaps realizing I wasn’t as crazy as I first sounded.
We sat there quietly as the nearly invisible particles of dust whipped and swirled around us. There was nowhere to get away from the onslaught unless I made my way back to Whole Foods, which was about a four-block walk. Considering how difficult it was to see through my stinging eyes, I thought it better to stay put and wait for the bus.
Getting caught in a haboob is not like getting caught in a sandstorm. The grit in a haboob is so fine you can only perceive it as a fog around you. It doesn’t lash you like sand does; it envelops you and infiltrates you. The skin on my face, when I touched it, felt like fine sandpaper. My lips were dry and my eyes stung.
When the bus pulled up, only a few people were on it. One woman was excitedly talking into her phone about how she got caught in the dust storm and was planning to stay on the bus until it passed. The driver drove much slower than usual, the way bus drivers do in a snow storm. I felt excited and scared at the same time. First the pop-up land hurricane, and now the haboob. What was next for Phoenix – a plague of frogs and boils?
I wasn’t going to be around much longer to find out, as my plane was scheduled to leave in the morning. It was flying me back to Winnipeg and onto the next leg of my VIA Rail train journey eastward. I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to it. I always hated leaving Phoenix, but to leave Phoenix for a two-night ice-train ride across the Internet black hole hinterland of Northern Ontario – well, given that option, the frogs and boils didn’t sound so bad.
But the next day, off I flew – sadly, reluctantly, but resolutely. I had a job to do and promises to keep.
“… and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep.”