It’s 103°F. In the shade.

The “indoor season” begins in Wickenburg.

In most places, winter is the “indoor season,” the time of year when you want to spend most of your time indoors. But not in Arizona’s Sonoran desert.

I remember my first New Year’s Day in Arizona, back in 1997. I’d gone “down the hill” from Wickenburg to a K-Mart in Glendale to buy a pair of cheap bar stools for the apartment I was living in. I wore a T-shirt that day without a jacket and wasn’t the least bit cold. This is great, I remember thinking, conjuring images of the folks back home.

Cold winters were the reason I left New Jersey all those years ago.

Will hot summers be the reason I leave Arizona?

It’s a dry heat. Sure. But it’s still heat. 103.8°F (that’s about 40°C for you metric folks out there) at 2:35 in the afternoon is killer, no matter how dry it is.

And — for Pete’s sake! — it’s still only May.

I don’t remember the heat affecting me this badly years ago. Back in 1997, in May, we were just starting our house hunt. We’d finally sold our home in New Jersey early in the month and Mike and Spot (now deceased) had joined me in Wickenburg. The other half of our belonging arrived by moving van and we rented a second apartment in the Palm Drive complex to store it and set up our offices. Then we started making the rounds with Connie, our Realtor, who spent the entire summer showing us every home available for sale, no matter how poorly it matched our list of requirements.

I still remember walking up driveways and walkways and around houses in the summer heat, getting more and more depressed with every outing, but not really feeling the heat. Was that a mild summer? Or had my thin blood welcomed the warmth after so many fickle East Coast summers?

To give you an idea of the mindset of people where we’d come from, when we told people back home that we’d bought a new house, their first question was, “Does it have air conditioning?”

What the hell do you think? I felt like replying. Do you think we’re idiots? That we’d buy a brand new house without air conditioning in a town where summer temperatures routinely get into the triple digits?

Phoenix temperatures make big news in New York. New Yorkers love to hear about how hot it is in the summer here, the same way people in Arizona love to hear about how cold and miserable it is in New York in January. Of course, I’ll take a 103.8°F on a May day in Wickenburg long before I take an 80/80 day in New York. (That’s 80°F with 80% humidity.) A typical forecast on a summer day in New York would be the “3 H’s” — that’s hazy, hot, and humid. Ick.

But if that first summer wasn’t bad, things changed. It seemed as if every summer became hotter than the one before it. We bought blinds for the three big 8 x 4 windows on our second floor and they stayed closed every morning (and most of the afternoon) from equinox to equinox, just to give our air conditioning units a fair chance at keeping up. I made the fatal error of leaving my purse on the dashboard of my car one day while it was parked in the driveway. My credit cards, slipped into their individual slots in my wallet, melted flat and would no longer make an impression at the store. Thank heaven the magnetic stripe still worked.

Two years ago, it was unbearable to me. That’s when I realized that any outdoor activity had to be completed by 8 AM (at the latest) and the rest of the day had to be spent in air-conditioned comfort. Air conditioned house to air conditioned car to air conditioned office to air conditioned car to air conditioned store to air conditioned car to air conditioned house. Get the idea? The windows go back on the Jeep in mid May and it’s sealed up tight, just so the air conditioning worked better. Better yet, don’t go out at all. After all, it takes at least ten minutes for the air conditioning to cool down a hot vehicle. And heaven help you if you have black leather seats or fail to shade the steering wheel when you run into the grocery store.

Last summer, I had some relief. I worked as a pilot up at the Grand Canyon. My schedule was 7 days on and 7 days off, although I normally worked a 6 on/8 off schedule. I lived at our Howard Mesa property while working. It’s about 15 miles north of Williams (as the helicopter flies) at an elevation of 6700 feet. The heliport at the Canyon was at 6300 feet. High altitudes make a big difference. I don’t think I experienced a day above 95°F while I was up there. And when I came home for my week off, I spent every day in my office, cranking out the books that pay the bills. The summer seemed to fly by (no pun intended).

This summer, I’m going back to Howard Mesa. I have one more book to write and it’s due on June 15. With luck, by June 20, I’ll be up there with my camper and my horses and my bird and my helicopter. I have a big project to work on this summer — converting a 12 x 20 shed to a cabin with a bathroom and kitchen — and a book project to work on in the evenings. I think this is going to be a killer summer and there’s no air conditioning at Howard Mesa, but I think (and hope) I’ll be able to deal with it for the two and half months I plan to be away.

I’ll cheat Wickenburg’s indoor season the right way this year, using the same cop-out the snowbirds use: I’ll just leave town.

What do you think?