This article by Librarian Jodi Ohlson was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Apr. 14, 2018.
It’s a long and winding road that leads to Arivaca. I have come to love the ever-changing show of light and shadow across the mountains and hills of the Altar Valley as deeply as I once loved the shores of Lake Michigan.
When I was a little girl, I looked at a map of the United States and wondered where I would live when I grew up. I expected to live near the ocean. My mind was made up — I would never move to the desert with all its bugs and snakes and lack of water.
I am fond of saying “the universe loves irony” because what else explains how deeply I love living here, with all the bugs and snakes and lack of water? I have become a desert dweller in my soul, with the smell of the desert after a rain creating both deep contentment and an almost euphoric joy in me.
My job also brings me contentment and joy. You see, I’m the managing librarian at the Caviglia-Arivaca Library, a peaceful location that serves our lovely (and friendly!) rural community of about 1,200.
Arivaca is just 11 miles north of the border and about an hour and a half south of Tucson. Once you get off I-19, it is a 25-mile drive that passes through several ranches and open range areas, complete with fields of horses, free-ranging cattle and a plethora of wildlife.
Coming to visit us? You’ll likely encounter creatures of all kinds, including bobcats, vultures, coyotes, rabbits, javelina, deer, snakes, mice, lizards and tortoises. During monsoon season we’ve got frogs and toads galore!
I’ve counted 10 washes between Amado and Arivaca, which makes driving during monsoon season a bit of a lesson in patience and wise decision-making. I’ve occasionally had to wait for an hour or so on one side of a wash, which as it turns out is a great way to meet people.
The hills get steeper the closer you get to town, the desert shrubs give way to bigger trees, and just when you think the road is going to go on forever, you’ll see the entrance for the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge on the left, followed by the Caviglia-Arivaca Library on the right.
Welcome to Arivaca! Among the many wonderful things I love here — the Arivaca Community Garden, the Old Schoolhouse, the Artists’ Co-Op, and Arivaca Lake. While here, take a drive through gorgeous canyons to visit the ghost town of Ruby.
We’ve had our own library for more than 20 years. Before that there were years of Bookmobile visits. Before the Bookmobile it was the book van with crates of books and card tables.
One of my customers remembers riding her horse into town to meet the Bookmobile, five miles each way over open desert. It was that level of local support that led us to where we are today.
I’ve worked here for almost two years, and I always tell people that I feel like I won the life lottery to have found this place.
Arivaca is a town where people celebrate the full moon with kayaking, drum circles and always, always a potluck. Bring what you can and if you can’t, just bring yourself. Because Arivaca is so remote, the community has come together to create its own support networks, and the library is always involved.
One of my first town events was a brainstorming session at the Arivaca Action Center that involved looking at the needs of the entire town broken down by age bracket. What can we do to help older adults? What can we do to help young children? How can we keep our teens happy and out of trouble?
I am fortunate to work alongside many dedicated people who also love this town. We have a preschool, and afterschool programs supported by the Library and Pima County Parks and Recreation.
The library offers homework help and our annual summer reading program, which always begins with an ice-cream social put on by the Friends of the Arivaca Library.
People who live here and don’t agree on anything else agree on taking care of the Arivaca community. They raise money for kids and help fund Arivaca Human Resources, which feeds approximately 50 people every day. Just about everyone finds some way to pitch in and contribute!
We may have some of the shortest parades you have ever seen, but you will leave with a smile and a happy heart after seeing what we conjure up for Fourth of July and Christmas. Trucks, horses, bikes, and ATVs are decorated in every way imaginable; adults, children, and pets dress up and wave as proudly as if they were grand marshal.
I hope you’ll visit our little library on the desert prairie. We have the best bathrooms in town and have information on all the hot spots to visit. We have backpacks to loan out with binoculars, birding books and bottled water. Bird-watching on our front porch can get exciting depending on the time of year.
Arivaca isn’t Mayberry, but it’s close. Come and relax on our front porch in our beautiful courtyard and enjoy a peaceful day at our special little library in the high desert. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet our resident cats Pipe Cleaner, Louie and Garfield.
Jodi Ohlson has worked for Pima County Public Library since February 2017. Her major goal in life is to “be the best human as often as possible” and she believes grace is the key to achieving it. She is passionate about the Arivaca community and is always striving to meet the needs of every customer who walks through the door.