MAY 2016
USA $4.95 CANADA $5.95

by Matthew Wexler



Antelope Canyon in the Navajo Reservation near Page, Arizona

Photo: Edwin Verin


ow nice for you. You’re a 3
◆,” says from Cindy Nichols,
meditation facilitator, hypnotherapist, and inspirational
consultant. I’m sitting across
the table from her as she stares with precision at the results of her numerological calculation. She then pulls the corresponding
Tarot cards: the Empress, the Magician, and
the Emperor.
I do my best to hide my cynicism. I’m a
New Yorker, after all, and generally fall into
the spiritual camp of “what you see is what
you get.” But I’ve come to Arizona’s desert
to shake a feeling that’s been in my gut for
some time—a gloomy haze of foreboding
that I haven’t been able to put my finger
on. Cindy continues as we ensconce ourselves in a cozy room at The Phoenician’s
(6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona. Tel: 800-888-8234. luxurious spa, which after
a day of pampering could make me believe
just about anything.
“Until you take your last breath you will
always be creating,” says Cindy of the
Empress card, which evokes intuitiveness
and a potential susceptibility to other people’s actions. By contrast, the Emperor provides a more grounded, logical perspective,
asking me to create structure, while the
Magician, tucked snuggly between the two,
is the alchemist and offers me, as Cindy
describes, an “IV drip from God.”
It’s a bold statement, and for the next
hour we hover over the cards as she tosses
out buzzwords like “refined diplomacy” and
my forthcoming five-year numerical cycle
that will bring me into a “space of authenticity.” Much of her observations resonate as I
deepen my breath and sip on herbal tea, but
I also wonder how much of my personality
is nature versus nurture? I have often been
pegged as “sensitive.” Numerous comparative studies over the years exploring gay
men’s amygdala (the set of neurons that are
instrumental in the processing of emotions)
imply that I might be more in line with
straight women because of my gay brain. I

always wondered why Terms of Endearment was my favorite film, and now I know.
As I continue to ponder this idea of nature
versus nurture, I wonder if some outdoor
activity might help clear my mental cobwebs. As the late afternoon sun soars overhead, I make my way to Phoenix’s Desert
Botanical Garden (1201 N. Galvin Pkwy.,
Phoenix, Arizona. Tel: 480-941-1225. Dating back more than 70
years, the garden encompasses 140 acres
(55 of which are cultivated) and showcases
more than 50,000 plants. I am struck by the
natural beauty as well as the resiliency of
these native species. Phoenix weather patterns are not for the faint of heart, plant or
otherwise. Average summer high temperatures often soar above 100 degrees, and
while I’m fortunate to be visiting in early winter when a cool breeze blows in at dusk, my
botanical counterparts are in for the long
haul. Five trails offer in-depth access to
desert plants and wildflowers with an everchanging landscape throughout the seasons, but it is Bruce Munro’s exhibit Sonoran Light at Desert Botanical Garden that I
find the most inspiring.
Munro’s eight, large-scale light installa-

tions use hundreds of miles of illuminated
fiber optics in various implementations
ranging from “Water-Towers,” which consists of 58 colorful towers nestled amid the
saguaro cacti, to “Field of Light,” a cascade
of 30,000 glowing bulbs that dot the Garden
Butte hillside. It is nothing short of breathtaking, and an example of the artist’s tumultuous journey. Munro earned a Fine Arts
degree, but like many pursuing an artistic
career he worked a variety of odd jobs ranging from cook to aerobics instructor (it was
the 80s, after all). His connection to nature
began as simple notes in a sketchbook as
he continued with small creative projects
while supporting his family.
Profoundly affected after his father’s
death in 1999, Munro spent the next year or
so contemplating if and how he would ever
find a means of expression. He also credits
this time for the development of “increased
sensitivity and capacity for compassion.”
Darkness overtakes the gardens and my
steps become cautious, illuminated by
Munro’s towering installations.
My meandering brings me to one of the
DBG’s educational offerings: sunset yoga. I
grab a mat, and allow instructor Emily Stooks

The Pheonician

from Urban Yoga (3225 N. Central Ave.,
Phoenix, Arizona. Tel: 602-277-9642. to guide me
through a light ashtanga class. She’s got a lot
to say, so much so that I wish, on occasion,
that I could revel in the gift of silence, rarely
accessible to me in Manhattan. But amid the
chatter she drops this pearl of wisdom: “Yoga
is not just about stretching, but about acquiring skills to get through life, which can sometimes be difficult.” Ain’t that the truth?


Cactus Garden at The Pheonician

Photo: Bruce Munro

Bruce Munro Light Installation at the Desert Botanical Garden



ating is my go-to activity when my
emotions are stirred, so I’m fortunate
to discover Gertrude’s (1201 N. Galvin
Pkwy., Phoenix, Arizona. Tel: 480-719-8600., the DBG’s
on-site restaurant. Named after Gertrude
Divine Webster, the environmentalist and
benefactor who was instrumental in the
museum’s creation, the restaurant is an
exceptional example of contemporary cuisine with traditional roots. Executive Chef
Matthew Taylor draws inspiration from a surprisingly large bounty of locally sourced products to produce unique riffs on familiar dishes such as hummus made with heirloom
Tepary beans and served with pickled vegetables, along with handmade garden
seltzers prepared with fresh berries and
herbs. I can’t resist an order of Dirty Chips, a
heaping pile of homemade potato chips
slathered with blue cheese fondue, blackened chicken livers, and smoked onions. Fortunately, I’ve got a morning hike scheduled to
balance my indulgence.
The following day begins bright and early
as I make my way to Usery Mountain
Regional Park (Mesa, Arizona. to meet Mandy Snell, founder of
Meaning in Motion (Tel: 480-600-3512). She
is a facilitator of CoreClarity (www.c, a company that “works with
individuals to uncover their unique talents so
that they can intentionally build on those
talents to create strengths, which, in turn,
enhances personal productivity and
improves interpersonal effectiveness.”
Mandy incorporates elements of the program, a research-based proprietary framework often used in professional management
training workshops, to “embark on a journey
to connect your discovery with the magic of
the mountains.” We switchback our way
along Wind Cave Trail, a 2.9-mile trek that
offers unobstructed views and plenty of
photo opps. She takes advantage of a partic-



s I head south toward Tucson, I pit
stop at another local success story:
Queen Creek Olive Mill (25062 S.


Meaning In Motion

Photo: Mandy Snell

ularly photogenic spot and whips out a small
chalkboard and asks for a simple intention for
the coming year. The very act of writing feels
nostalgic in this age of “likes,” “followers,”
and “swipes.” I hold the chalk and breathe,
wondering what manifestation might best suit
me for the coming year. I write my word,
Mandy snaps a photo to be sent at a later
date as a gentle reminder, and I continue to
huff and puff my way along rocky path with
the belief that it might just come true.
By the end of the hike, I’m high on life and
curious to discover how Arizona’s blue skies
and clean living have inspired local businesses. I head to the SW Herb Shop and Gathering Place (148 N. Center St., Mesa, Arizona,
Tel: 480-694-9931. and
meet up with Kathy Gould, an herbal practitioner who’s been bringing her unique perspective on health and wellness to Mesa and
the greater Phoenix community for more than
a decade. Kathy began exploring the healing
world of medicinal plants to address her son’s
ADHD, and today the shop is a hub of activity for locals and tourists alike. She strikes me
as Penny Marshall’s lost (and considerably
more mellow) sister as she walks me through
the converted historical home and offers
insights on an array of dried herbs, tinctures,
salves, and teas.
There are a handful of apprentices buzzing
about, and I soon learn that she’s never had
a paid employee. After a day of mandatory
training, they’re put to work in the shop with
a minimum commitment of one day per week
for three months. My freelancer sensibility
sours at the idea that one would give his or
her time and talents away without compensation, but looking around it doesn’t appear
that anyone is chained to the place. On the
contrary, there is calm air of camaraderie
among the staff as they mill about. One of
them steers me toward a liver and immunity
enhancer smoothie blend. The seven-ounce
bag, filled with a propriety blend of ashwagandha, turmeric, eleutherococcus, bladderwrack, and a few other unpronouncibles,
looks like the remnants from my DustBuster
and costs about the same as a really good
craft cocktail back home. I buy it anyway in
hopes that a bit of the Kathy’s endearing
Southwestern spirit will make it with me
through the baggage check.

Meridian Dr., Queen Creek, Arizona, Tel: 480888-9290.
While on vacation in the late 90s, Perry Rea
and his wife Brenda were astounded to discover an abundance of olive trees growing in
the Phoenix area. The couple was ready to
leave their bleak Detroit winters behind, so
they packed up the family, planted 1,000 olive
trees on the outskirts of Queen Creek, and
sure enough, found themselves in the olive oil
business. Perry became a master blender and
Brenda now oversees a line of olive oil-based
home and body products.
Together they’ve created a multi-faceted
agritourismo in the spirit of Perry’s Italian
heritage. I have a simple picnic lunch under
the olive trees amid gatherings of friends
and families and a pretty awesome live
band. Heading indoors, I sample Perry’s
various blends of extra-virgin olive oil,
including a Meyer lemon olive oil and the
company’s first “Partner in Passion” single
variety blend: the Arbequina limited edition
made in cooperation with Ray Rogers of
Corning Olive Oil Company.
For my last night of fitness and focus in
the desert, I exercise my desire for indulgence and settle in for an evening at The
Camby (2401 E. Camelback Rd.,
Phoenix, Arizona, Tel: 602-468-0700. The former RitzCarlton recently underwent a major renovation and rebranding and is now part of
Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The 277room property, named for nearby Camel-

back Mountain, pays homage to Arizona’s five C’s: cotton, cattle, citrus, climate, and copper. Designed by Stonehill
& Taylor, both the public spaces as well
as the guest rooms offer unexpected
twists, vibrant pops of color, and design
elements such as a modern, neon-white
chandelier that juxtaposes the property’s
more classic architectural features, and
funky in-room details including a copper
inlay above the bed, synthetically sculptured taxidermy, and large art graphics.
Dinner that night is enjoyed under the
watchful eye of the Camby’s director of
culinary experiences, Chef Dushyant
Singh, who oversees the Rooftop Bar,
Bees Knees (a modern cocktail bar), and
Artizen, where his 16 years of culinary
prowess shine bright. From his foie torchon with purple mustard to roasted Thai
curried cauliflower, Singh deftly honors a
range of locally sourced ingredients while
interjecting an international perspective.
The best bite of my entire trip comes in the
form of lamb-neck stew served with a
soufflé-like cheddar corn bread and garnished with a jewel-sized bite of candied
Habanero pepper.
I can’t help Instagraming the culinary playby-play, and I slowly feel myself returning to
the frenetic life that awaits me upon my return.
I’ve gathered a few tools to get me through
the rough times, though the handbook has yet
to be written. I suppose another trip to the Arizona desert may be in order.


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