3:25a.m. – That is the time I currently have to get up to make it to the top of Tumamoc Hill by sunrise. Working backwards, the sun now rises around 5:25a.m, I give myself 30 minutes for the ascent, 15 minutes for the drive, and I need about an hour after waking up before I can safely operate a motor vehicle. Three, sometimes four, sometimes just two times a week….3:25a.m… You can see why I breathed a slight sigh of relief when we finally hit the solstice and the sun rose at its earliest, 5:05 and the nights were going to get longer again.
I have been climbing what has been referred to by residents as ‘Tucson’s Acropolis’ an average three times a week for almost 2 years now, less consistently before that. If you showed me a picture of the sunrise from up there, I could probably tell you in which month it was taken. There have been countless inquiries into my sanity, some have joined me, and some planned on joining me until the snooze button got out a big hammer and violently forced a sharp U-turn back to La-La-Land. I don’t fault them, I know it’s crazy. It’s just where I want to be and if I‘ve really lost my marbles, I am convinced they must be somewhere up there. And, in my defense, I am not alone.
You see, on that steep little pilgrimage it’s almost like everyone is the same. Many have become my friends, even if this is the only place I see them and the only way I know them, because normally the universes that are our respective lives would never collide – mothers with buggies, athletes, CEOs, construction workers, children, veterans, PhDs, people beating back their terminal diagnoses, people in some form of recovery (aren’t we all?). This group of so many different colors, classes, ages, languages, faiths and religions, fashion senses, and yes, political beliefs actually make up one unified collective – ‘the walkers’. Super silly, but what can I say? Some are walking the mountain for the third time, some for the third decade. Spaces like this I love – where the starkest differences are bridged so easily and playfully. There aren’t that many of these around, you know. The movie theater was probably one of the last ones that came close. One of the last spaces where a Tea Party member took a seat next to a young liberal homosexual to take the same journey, too preoccupied with their experience to judge each other.
In the winter I get to sleep longer due to a later sunrise but by getting into rush hour traffic on the way home, especially trying to get around Tucson High around 8am, the total time of the odyssey is longer. And odyssey is an appropriate term. That mountain is my Ithaca. She never disappoints (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/ithaca/).
But recently on the mountain, something other than the wildlife has been going boom in the night as road improvements, tree cuttings and mile markers are paving the way for construction operations of some kind. All this ruckus had me wondering what the story was and I hoped someone could just give me the scoop. Unfortunately my rather innocent queries were met with a lot of referrals, ambiguous answers and some unreturned phone calls and emails. I wonder if the Pima County Sherriff’s office is just busy or has misjudged me as some raging underwear burning lunatic looking to Hindenburg their plans. Not the case! No, really! For the record, I have never burned any undergarments. I just wanted the scoop.
So, there was no choice, I did get that memo, and many others and actually read them.
You see, it looks like ‘public safety’ has arrived in what feels like my back yard, but I know it isn’t. The ruckus on the mountain is due to preparations to erect a 125 foot communications tower. Presided over by PCWIN (Pima County Wireless Integrated Network), this is one of 30 towers which implements a regional telecommunications network.
Looking into it farther, I understood that these tree cuttings were the unexpected ripple effects of board room decisions made in DC almost a decade ago. Meaning, in the aftermath of ‘September 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommended the use of “shared systems” to provide what it calls an “interoperability continuum” and to prevent “single points of failure” (http://www.pima.gov/administration/documents/pdfs/wireless-radio-project-will-improve-public-safety-countywide.pdf).’ So, since Pima County shares 132 miles of border with Mexico (about 7% of the total border, roughly 1933 miles), it falls into several jurisdictions. Pima County buys one big telecommunications system, everyone shares…
It looks like shared systems like this have been coming up all over the country (see here -http://publicsafety.fcc.gov/pshs/public-safety-spectrum/index.htm). This means, on a local level, our fire department responds faster, our TPD officer communicates better with the Sheriff Deputy and as a community, we are served more efficiently by our response services while responders themselves are ensured a higher degree of personal safety. Now, I have a police officer living down the street. He makes fun of my yard. I am always happy to see he’s home safely. On state and federal levels, things get a little more confusing, for me anyway. Homeland Security’s SAFECOM will be in operation of the system in its mission ‘to coordinate the various Federal initiatives’ (huh?) (http://www.safecomprogram.gov/about/Default.aspx), and we have also laid the groundwork for transmissions, ‘should the President of the United States declare an emergency and invoke the War Powers Act (http://www.pima.gov/administration/documents/pdfs/wireless-radio-project-will-improve-public-safety-countywide.pdf). I don’t know what that means, but there you go.
In 2004 Pima County voters approved the sale of government bonds totaling $92 million for the implementation of this network of 30 towers to be ‘placed strategically throughout (Pima County’s) approximately 9,200 square miles, a geographic area the size of Maryland.’ (http://www.pima.gov/administration/documents/pdfs/TumamocCaseDigest_2012.pdf). Later, the FCC approved the plan and federal monies of $10.5million were provided as contribution, making this a roughly $100 million project in the mission to enhance public safety. For comparison, cost of opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games – $50 million (livestock, Paul McCartney, Daniel Craig and Queen jumping out of plane included).
In April 2009, Pima County signed a contract with Motorola to execute this project. It was Motorola that proposed tower number 30 be on top of Tumamoc because it stated this was the only way to meet the county’s coverage requirements (=Maryland) for the project given the ‘terrain limitations and other simulcast sites in their design’ (http://www.pima.gov/Administration/Tumamoc/pdfs/rs-tumamoc.communications.facilities.pdf).
I am guessing that whoever was in that board room that day knew that getting a tower on Tumamoc was not going to be easy. With the significance to native tribes, the University of Arizona, the site’s importance in archeological and ecological research, the U.S. Forest Service, the popularity among ‘walkers’, being just a sample of affected parties, this was a poop storm in the making. Where its 29 brothers and sisters are quietly and without much drama contributing to this giant hundred-million dollar county wide tele-communicative pin cushion (their exact locations are not shared with the public), the Tumamoc tower has been the attention grabbing diva that steals the show.
But PCWIN left absolutely nothing undone in treating all parties with the appropriate sensitivity, involvement, and respect. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation was given total transparency in regards to the construction of the tower and has even heralded the site as an example of historic preservation in light of major governmental construction projects. The intention to follow through on the project with utmost sensitivity has expressed itself in countless ways, which deserve an article alone. They have not gone unnoticed and are beyond appreciated. I cannot imagine the time, money, patience and nerves this must have cost. Let’s remember that the PCWIN could after all have put up a fence, handed me a tissue, told me to cut the cryin’ and go home. They didn’t. They don’t intend to.
So, you are beginning to see that the ‘how?’ and the ‘what?’ are 2 very different questions. How is the PCWIN going about putting this particular tower on this particular mountain? Don’t know if they could have done better, to be honest. What is it for? At every level of government that question would have a different answer and the higher the level of government the higher the likelihood of fog due to the altitude. But enhancing public safety generally is a very good thing and on a local level, where the answers are a lot clearer, I don’t know if anyone can really reason against it. I can’t. And other than that, at least we’ll be ready. Ready for …? For the worst. Note to self – look up details of War Powers Act…
So, it’s coming – 125 feet of awesome celestial penetration on top of Tumamoc Hill. And I have absolutely no intention of breaking out into ‘Heal the World’ and attempting to ‘save’ anything. I don’t want to be called a hypocrite if I am ever seen pulled to safety by FEMA. I’ll admit, all this had me sick to my stomach for a few days, kinda like some might feel if they found out someone is sectioning off part of their church or temple, bringing in the trucks and tractors and building a giant thingy in the name of public safety. It gets personal. What would you do? Would you surrender some of your personal peace for the enhanced safety of your collective? How do you ever argue against public safety? You don’t. Unless you’re an a-hole. Some things are just bigger than me. This is bigger than me – 119’8’’ bigger than me. I get it. This is a sign of our times.
But you know, that mountain is a pilgrimage for me. I find peace there, because this is a crazy place down here sometimes and I just get tired of everyone fighting. Did you know that we now have a conservative online dictionary? We now pride ourselves on having separate languages. We are so attached to separateness that it sometimes drives me close to madness. I don’t know if anything good has ever come from fear and separateness. So, from the place in me that is glad when my neighbor is home safely, allow me to offer up this….. A mountain top, to be seen from almost anywhere in the city will soon bear an inadvertent giant monument in homage to public safety. Not to community, to unity, or courage, not faith, not honor, not children, not history, not nature, but public safety. Has this become our society’s highest value? And is this based on the assumption that increased public safety increases peace in a society? Or does it increase responsiveness to violence? Could we have spent part of this money differently to enhance safety in our community? Or are we bored with unity? Maybe reduce fear? Reduce inequality? Did you know inequality has a direct link to violence in a society? Maybe empower communities? Feed children? Educate children? I mean it when I say, I don’t know. I don’t claim to know. But okay, today in school house Earth, ‘stupefied rallying in response to spiteful mass-consumption of deep fried chicken’ …
I understand that as host of part of one of the world’s longest and most heavily traversed borders, by goods and people, we are in a very unique situation. I also understand that this has complicated implications that are beyond my ability to understand. But yoga has taught me that whenever there is weakness or ailment in a body, it’s at least not a bad idea to look at the opposing muscle. Maybe one day we will look at why we are all fighting in the first place. Maybe, just maybe, we will consider that there will always be more that connects us than separates us. And I’m not the only one who is tired of all the fighting. The kids tell me they are too.
Ms. Spieth holds Bachelorette Degrees in Management and German Studies from the University of Arizona and an MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Sydney, Australia. She has worked in the fields of disaster response management, community bridge building and logistics management on an international level. She enjoys working with children, teaching yoga and riding her bike.