A Desert Snow Day

On March 8th, 2018, 13 students from City High embarked on an adventure into the Santa Catalina Mountains for a snow day. In Tucson, bright sunshine poured down with warm temperatures, but with an hour drive from the school, we found ourselves in a winter wonderland. The students had been looking forward to this all semester, and I was happy to deliver. Our goal was to discuss the significance of high elevation snow on low elevation Sonoran Desert, read from Byrd Baylor, and have as much fun as we possibly could within a school day.

Although long, the drive up Catalina Hwy is absolutely beautiful. With the first sight of snow, the students erupted in excitement and joy. For youth in Tucson, snow on the mountain is observed from the low valley and without a car it is almost impossible to experience it firsthand. Even in March temperatures can reach the high 80’s, making the high elevated snow seem like a marriage. When the snow seemed thickest, we pulled over and began to bushwhack our way into the forest.

The youth began building snowballs and snowmen, rolling and jumping and kicking the soft powder into the air, and tracking all the animals they could. Watching desert people move through snow is like watching cats swim in water. The youth were sliding and falling with every other step, but never did a smile slip off their face. Finally, when it seemed we were lost we settled for lunch. This group is a literacy class, so our expeditions have been focused on books, stories, and authors that have had an impact on me.

On this day I wanted to share a book by Byrd Baylor called “Other ways to listen”. In this book, Baylor describes a conversation between a grandfather and his grandson. The grandfather is telling his grandson about the secrets of listening, and what wonderful things you can hear when you really practice listening. The book is wonderfully descriptive, and highlights unique ways to interpret the sounds of the outdoors. I decided to share this book with the students because I wanted them to think, feel, listen, and see the outdoors differently than they might already. Students, especially high school students can get stuck in a “single track” mind frame, without creativity or interpretive thinking, only perceiving things as they are. In the outdoors, the flora and fauna develop success based on how they want to be seen, and sometimes that’s not at all. To really see the landscape around us, the outdoors person must assume there is always more than meets the eye.

After our read, we began our hike back. Before we could leave though, a snowball fight was absolutely necessary. Most youths in Tucson have never touched snow and snowball fights are left to the movies. Growing up we would often have rock or dirtball wars, so when given the opportunity to throw or be hit by something nearly harmless and soft is a breath of fresh air. White balls of fluff sailed through the air, and even the kids who work hard not to show joy couldn’t hide their smiles. Before the day was over, we ran and slid down hills, engaged in legendary wars, and built snowmen even northerners would be proud of. When we reached the van, we loaded as much snow as we could onto the roof so that we could bring some of the frozen gold back to our dusty families. School days don’t get much better than this.