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McCain: Arizona's future will be worthy of its past
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McCain: Arizona's future will be worthy of its past

113,400 square miles of heaven that God cut out

  • A Phoenix light rail pass marks Arizona's 100 years of statehood.
    Nick Bastian Tempe, AZ/FlickrA Phoenix light rail pass marks Arizona's 100 years of statehood.

To mark Tuesday's's celebration of Arizona's centennial, U.S. Sen. John McCain released the following essay he wrote as the forward to "Arizona: 100 Years Grand" by Lisa Schnebly Heidinger, the official book of Arizona's Centennial.

Near the end of his life, Barry Goldwater tried to describe to an interviewer his affection for Arizona. He started to identify some of the many the natural wonders so beloved by Arizonans when he became emotional. 'Arizona,' he proclaimed, 'is 113,400 square miles of heaven that God cut out.' Fighting back tears, and unable to continue at length, he managed only to add, 'I love it so much.'

For much of my life I had been rootless. My father was a naval officer and my childhood was an itinerant one as we moved from one base to another more times than I can enumerate. Following in his footsteps, I, too, made my home in the United States Navy, and the only place I lived for more than a year or two was an unexpectedly lengthy stay in a foreign country that would not let me leave and would have preferred I had never come.

Except for that period of involuntary residence, I had always lived my life on the move, part of a tradition that compensated me in other ways for the hometown it denied me. I had no connection to one place; no safe harbor where I could rest without care. Landscapes and characters all passed too quickly to form the attachments of shared history and love that calm your heart when age finally cages your restlessness.

I was nearly forty-five years old before I could claim a hometown

I was nearly forty-five years old before I could claim a hometown. My ambitions brought me to Arizona, and my work keeps me away from here for more than half my time. But Arizona has given me a home, and in the thirty years that have passed since I moved here, it has worked its magic on me and enchanted me and claimed me.

In those thirty years I've been to almost every community that Arizonans carved from the wilderness and made thrive: places that have never stopped growing; and places where opportunities were exhausted and were abandoned to history; and places that rose and declined and were re-imagined and made to prosper again by the hard working, self starting dreamers Arizona attracts in such large numbers. I've marveled at the resourcefulness and vision of generations of Arizonans in Yuma and Page, Jerome and Kingman, Bisbee and Flagstaff, who knew success and failure, who struggled, achieved, lost and struggled again to build from their freedom and opportunities in the challenging and beautiful places that had won their hearts, strong, prospering and decent communities.

At the end of every election, I've stood on the courthouse house steps in Prescott, our old territorial capital, and thought of the pioneering families whose names still resonate in contemporary public affairs like Udall and Goldwater. I look at the Bucky O'Neill monument, that memorial to the Rough Riders of whom he was among the roughest and bravest, and remember the names of Arizonans, of every station and walk of life, who risked everything so that the freedom Arizonans cherish so dearly and make such good use of would be birthright of all; names like Frank Luke and Ira Hayes, Lori Piestewa and Pat Tillman.

I've experienced every scene of spectacular beauty this blessed, bountiful, beautiful state possesses. I've hiked Canyon de Chelly, Chiricahua, and rim to rim in the greatest of our natural wonders, the Grand Canyon. I've rafted down the Colorado. I've walked the trails of Saguaro National Park; been struck mute by the awe-inspiring landscape of Monument Valley; and spent countless happy hours following hidden paths in our wilderness areas. I've houseboated on Lake Powell. Many times, I've driven through the desert in spring after a wet winter and felt myself become emotional as I marveled at the profusion of vivid colors, the mesmerizing beauty of desert wildflowers in bloom.

We have a home between Cottonwood and Sedona, to where my family escapes whenever we have the chance. It's on a bend of Oak Creek, surrounded by hills, a ghost ranch and Indian caves, adorned by fruit orchards and roses, and shaded by tall cottonwoods and sycamores. So many species of birds make their home there I have lost count of them. Common black hawks return annually to their nest in the sycamore beneath which I drink my morning coffee and give thanks for the blessing of living in such natural splendor. I have never in my life loved a place more. And when my public life is over, I will spend the remainder of my days there giving thanks, and enjoying the happiness of belonging to someplace so beautiful, smaller and more intimate than a nation that spans a continent.

The State of Arizona is approaching its centennial. A hundred years of audacious and difficult undertakings, of dreams won and lost and sought again, of progress and struggle and resilience. It's a rough and tumble history; colorful, heroic, bold and inspiring, like the character of the people who made it. You'll see it celebrated appropriately in this splendid book. And you'll glimpse the future that today's Arizonans, the dreamers and risk takers, lovers of freedom, captivated by the stunning landscapes and resilient, enterprising communities that have worked their magic on them, will build. It will be a future worthy of our predecessors' achievements and legacies; a future of adversity overcome and opportunities for all. We will change, as all places do. Others will come, as I once came, to make a new home or find the only home they ever really had in towns and cities and rural communities that will be better for their presence and contributions. They will face the challenges of their time and experience unexpected setbacks but they will stick with it, work harder, dream bigger and prevail. And a hundred years from now, their history, character and accomplishments will inspire their fortunate descendents and the newcomers who will come here to live in beauty and make the most of their lives.

We will change, but the values and beauty we treasure will remain intact. Arizona is 113,400 square miles of heaven that God cut out and Arizonans mean to keep it so. We love it that much.

John McCain is a Republican Senator from Arizona.

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