Monday, July 7, 2008

Designing Pragmatic Desert Built Environments

Isn't that a catchy title for this post? It comes from a chapter in the book, Canyon Gardens; The Ancient Pueblo Landscapes of the American Southwest, edited by V.B. Price and Baker H. Morrow, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. This isn't the usual sort of book you'll find me reading but I have to tell you, I was absolutely captivated by this collection of essays.

Yes, this is serious stuff, written by university researchers. Yes, the facts are often couched in that academic language we all learn in graduate school. But if you persevere, as I did, you will find yourself surrounded by the ancient Puebloan peoples, admiring their survival methods. You will start to see how they could have lived in the harsh desert climate for millennia by using a pragmatic, low-risk approach to siting their buildings and growing their crops, and by seeing themselves as part of the land and the landscape, as opposed to the way we tend to impose ourselves on the land as something apart. You might be surprised to read of the wide variety of crops that were either raised (corn, beans, squash); encouraged--Indian ricegrass and sand dropseed, amaranth and goosefoot species; and gathered--Cholla fruit, the seeds of fourwind saltbush, juniper and algerita berries, piñon nuts, watercress, and the fruit and fiber of the yucca.
You will encounter some unexpectedly lovely writing, as in the essay on "Zuni Maize," by Mary Beath, and you might be greatly touched by Rina Swentzell's piece on "Conflicting Landscape Values: The Santa Clara Pueblo and Day School," which recounts the experiences of children leaving the nurturing shelter of pueblo life to go to a school where they were surrounded by a loss of trust and lack of respect.

In addition to an examination of ancient survival techniques, you will also find a discussion of how we might use some of this ancient wisdom in choosing home sites and in gardening in this desert land. You might just find yourself looking at the land, and your relationship to it, in a new way.


Erikka said...

hey clair. i have an almost in-law ish relative of my beau's that is from New Mexico. I'm thinking of getting her an Indian cook book. Any recommendations?

clairz said...

Erikka, what a nice idea for a gift. I don't have any experience with any Native American cookbooks or cooking, but I found this one on a web site that I have found very interesting and useful before. It's called The Art of American Indian Cooking and it apparently covers all regions--and the recipes sound delicious. I found it on the Santa Ana Pueblo web page at I will check further on the City Data Forum and let you know what else I find out.

Erikka said...

Thanks Clair!