Jessica Sieff: An open love letter to Arizona

Published 10:30 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I have a very special place in my heart and lots of love for the great state of Arizona.

Saturday, as I watched the events unfold in Tucson as a gunman opened fire on an unsuspecting crowd and attempted the assassination of a member of Congress, my heart went out to the state.

A piece of it is still out there.

I can remember my first flight out, landing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It was long after the sun had set and for all I knew, Phoenix was a vast desert land. Dark as hell but for the street lamps and restaurants that lined the highway.

Morning came, however, and Arizona’s beauty was crystal clear. It was better than that. It was mountainous, it was vast and it was as present as the desert is dry. Standing there in the valley, the mountains rose to the horizon, stately, strong and always in the eye line.

Each trip I’ve taken to Arizona has surpassed the one that came before. In its wide open spaces, Arizona is wild and free and focused all at once. I’ve hiked and ridden horseback into mountains there, watched F-16s roar into the clear blue sky, watched cacti give way to snowy mountains in Flagstaff, and I’ve watched elk mingle with the common folk just off the edges of the Grand Canyon.

There is something altogether enchanting about Arizona. You can feel the Wild West there. The history is in the earth. It is incredibly laid back, like a deep breath in the wide open air. It is ambitious, like the energy that sits in the center of its bigger cities. It is wonderfully natural, with snowcapped mountains and lushly green northland and cacti and stone in the valley.

After Saturday, I feel a loss in what was so endearing about the state. At every corner it breathes in extremes. In the height of mountains and the depth of the valley, in the rawness of desert, the beauty of its canyons and the calmness of its springs.

Now the state represents extremes in a far more disturbing way and the events of Jan. 8 mar its natural beauty.

Like the stark contrasts in its makeup, Arizona seems to have always been at the center of controversy. It is at the center of the immigration debate and its already passionate people now find themselves at the center of so many more debates facing Americans today.

In Arizona, life’s lessons come in the earth beneath the feet. One look at the Grand Canyon as it splits the earth in half is symbolic of how we must adapt to that which rips us apart and breaks our hearts. How we can turn what breaks us not only into what makes us beautiful but an absolute wonder. How we can adapt to that which splits us right down the middle. We are not limited to the edge, or the bottom, or the side of a long way down. We can travel the rim. We can climb our way out. We can endure.

That’s Arizona for you. It’s as big and vast and awesome as it can get.

The state surges in resilience in a way I would go so far as saying one just can’t understand unless they’ve been there. It’s something that lives and breathes in the people born and raised within its borders. The people who’ve been drawn to it enough to call it home. They live, sometimes, in the extremes. They feel in the raw.

And like a phoenix — they rise.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for Leader Publications. Reach her at