Who knows why some places claim us? It’s as inexplicable as any form of falling in love. “He has such marvelous eyes,” we tell our friends, while if we were truthful, we’d admit that we’ve seen better ones in many other faces. What actually attracts us is so undefinable that it’s enough to make a woman believe in the pull of unremembered memories from past lives. 

But while men come and go, briefly mourned and then forgotten as thoroughly as a bunch of lost earrings, an affinity for a place is there forever, resurfacing suddenly, prompting the purchase of an airline ticket. 

When Facebook tosses photos from the past in my direction, I realize my trips to those places are seasonal–Bangkok in the fall, Queens in early summer, Tucson at the end of winter. It’s as though I have an innate migratory pattern that I’m forced to follow. And so, obedient as a sandhill crane, I fly to Tucson at the same time every year, just when my home base in Seattle begins to lose its winter gloom.

It’s a quick flight but within 200 minutes or so, I walk into a whole other universe, under a bright and piercing sky. Gusts of wind blow sand under my fingernails and the punk-rock mountains, low-rising but full of attitude, tell me that I’m really back in this pared-down corner of the world.

I’m not always warm, although that’s what I’m looking for. One year I shivered under a sweater and my winter coat. That wind blows hot and cold, just like a bad boyfriend, and I pack for both possibilities. This year it moved air that was warmed to 100 degrees. Like a gigantic, invisible fan, it lightened the heat and let me walk for a couple of hours, acclimating to a landscape that’s always invigorating, always eerie, always comfortable.

Years ago my son took me to the Mission, San Xavier del Bac. I’d recently returned from living in Bangkok and this desert world was so unlike where I’d been for years that I couldn’t absorb any of it. Later, during the six months I’d spent in Tucson, I didn’t go there because I was looking for things that would become part of my daily life. On this trip I wanted to go outside of the city and the Mission seemed a good destination for a non-driver who travels on buses. What I didn’t expect, nor had I discovered earlier during my first glimpse of this place, was that it would engulf me in surrealism beyond anything imagined by Rene Magritte. 

The Mission is on the Tohono O’odham tribal lands which back right up next to a range of menacing jagged mountains. Poised against a cornea-scorching sky, the white walls and spires of the Mission are as sharp as a blade. Its baroque splendor is out of place in the severity that surrounds it, the way I imagine it would be to find the Eiffel Tower on the moon. The contrast is absurd and exhilarating, and although the interior of the church is a photographer’s paradise, I spent most of my time outside of it, loving that what I looked at made no sense at all.

That the Mission exists is bizarre– a tiny fragment of a Spanish city set down upon ground that is almost barren, surrounded by unadorned bushes and a scattering of dark and sinuous trees, as though it’s the last surviving structure in a post-apocalyptic world. 

If I were ever to live in this country again, I’d want to be here, a guest perched on the earth’s skeleton with nothing to soften it, only the sky and the crazy peaks and the flat, almost bare ground. Although usually color and moving water are essential features of my homes in the world, in this place, I tell myself, the sky would feed me. That would be enough.