Most of us know why it is so difficult to take root in Flagstaff.
If you could wave your magic wand and live anywhere, where would it be? For me, this answer saved me a lot of unnecessary words every time I got to Flagstaff.
The first time I came to Arizona was for the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships in 1995 in Flagstaff. As we drove off the runway for the competition, a foot of snow fell on Bozeman. Two hours later, I jumped off a plane in Phoenix with the rest of my vitamin D-deprived teammates in disguise, to a pleasant 78 degrees Celsius.
We stopped at a pit stop up the hill in Black Canyon City. I remember walking into the desert, saguaro, arms outstretched as a sign of respect for the sun, the pungent smell of creosote, burning my nose, which for months has not met anything in nature except frozen ground. I closed my eyes and listened to the two doves cooing on the Palo Verde tree next to me and thought, “This is heaven.”
As the fleet van turned up the freeway, from the desert to the highlands, through the red cliffs and finally to the foot of the San Francisco peaks, I knew I had arrived. This place was heaven on earth. I swore that I would live here, and I lived. Received a green card for two years; aka Graduate School of Northern Arizona University. Every morning I bought an Arizona Daily Sun, went to Macy’s, did crosswords, and obsessed with how I could stay. Of course, all of my peers in the English department had the same obsession. As a mother of two young children, I acted responsibly and returned home to Minnesota to take my first teaching job with good salaries, benefits and retirement. The rest is history. For the next 20 years, I spent almost every vacation and two sabbaticals in Arizona, and every time I left my spirit by the pond near Aspen Corner, meditating until I could return.
You might be wondering what this has to do with the real estate market? Well, a few years ago I was handed a magic wand when I was able to bring all my courses online. Most of us know why it is so difficult to take root in Flagstaff. The cost of living is high and there are a limited number of jobs that people can afford to stay in. Ask yourself, how many people under the age of 40 do you know in the city (non-Flagstaff natives) who have lived here for more than five years? How many of them have only one job? Enter a global pandemic, isolation, people working remotely, probably forever, and ABRACADABRA! There is currently a SALE of magic wands in the universe. Out-of-state wages, greet the Arizona sun.
Last year, people with resources were shocked by the insight that they shouldn’t waste their lives in a place, in a career, where they don’t feel satisfied. Add to that giant fires and California rent control regulations, and Flagstaff faces a huge influx of people looking to buy homes while very few people want to sell them. Because in Flagstaff, you don’t just buy a home, you get the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of. You have a home and your roots take root. Pay attention to smiling, fit people who run, ride a bike, walk around the city. Exit FUTS and in 10 minutes you can find yourself all alone on a trail winding through the vast ponderosa forest, which is mostly public territory. This means, “This land is your land, this land is my land …” You know the next verse.
A friend working at the NAU Department of Biology calls Flagstaff a “sky island”. It speaks from an environmental point of view, but it is also a metaphorical “heavenly island” for those of us who are fortunate enough to call it our home.
Seems like now is the right time to put your wands aside for a moment and ask a very realistic question? How can we grow together, change and at the same time preserve our island, which may be “the last best place”? FBN
Katie McGee is a runner, writer and realtor at Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty in Flagstaff.