Tea Party’s Alaskan favourite settles in to Arizona
I’m parked outside the fieldstone and adobe mansion at 29005 North 82nd Street at sunrise, eating my low-fat yogurt from the free breakfast bar at the Quality Inn, and listening to the one-note whistle of the Phainopepla birds high in the Palo Verde trees. The first yellow blossoms of the year are bursting from the potentillas, and the teddy-bear cholla cacti look fluffy enough to hug.
This is the fashionable north side of Scottsdale, land of sun, sand, saguaros and surveillance cameras. Up here, an hour out of central Phoenix, the streets have names like Stagecoach Pass and Sunset Trail, and every strip mall is a “Marketplace.” The real Carefree Highway is only a kilometre yonder.
North 82nd Street itself is a Kalahari of soft, reddish dirt, impressed by paw and hoofprints and the tracks of reptiles I’d rather not meet. A curving driveway of pink gravel winds toward number 29005, which is a two-storey fortress protected by a tall iron gate and a copse of POSTED – NO TRESPASSING signs. A rusted iron stallion, life-size, guards the opposite corner. Every 15 minutes or so, a Mercedes coupe or a Porsche Carrera convertible whispers by.
I get out of my rented Ford and tiptoe closer to the house. Through the gate, I can see a children’s swing set, a barbecue grill and a wide balcony that faces north, shaded in summer from the Arizona glare. The doors to the six-car garage aren’t open. The silence is broken only by distant neighing, and the chaffing of sparrows in the brush.
At Sarah Palin’s new home in the desert, there is no sign of intelligent life. Now I begin a spirited debate with my inner correspondent about whether or not to peek into Sarah’s mailbox or rummage through her recycling bin. I am just about to lift the lid when an 89-year-old woman riding a 50-year-old Schwinn Tornado bicycle and wearing a white windbreaker that says WESTSIDE FOOD BANK pedals up.
“I am the infamous one” are the first words out of the lady’s mouth. Then she tells me that she lives just across the street on five virgin acres, that she was the first one to build a house on North 82nd Street more than 40 years ago, and that she has lobbied for half her lifetime to have this sere and beautiful plateau protected as wilderness and parkland. “I am the burr under Scottsdale’s saddle,” she says. “There’s just so much in the desert that’s magic. It has to be saved.”
“You sound like a Democrat,” I offer.
“I am a Republican!” the 89-yearold woman yelps.
She is one Jane Rau, widow, activist, director emeritus of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, and Sarah Palin’s new neighbour.
“She paid $1.6 million for it,” Rau says, pointing toward the manse, which is nothing special by North Scottsdale standards. “But you never see anything or anybody. I doubt she’s ever here. She’s not really a resident of Arizona. She’s a resident of Alaska. She’s just one of our winter people.”
“What do you think of Sarah Palin?” I ask. I can’t imagine anyone in this country who wouldn’t be ready with an answer.