|Although I loved the mountains...|
Barren, Wild, and Worthless; Living in the Chihuahuan Desert, by Susan J. Tweit (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003).
You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale.
~Wallace Stegner, "Thoughts on a Dry Land"
Although I was born near the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Maine, I was soon whisked away by my parents, who sought the good jobs in a growing economy out on the other coast. I found myself growing up just a block away from the Pacific Ocean, learning to ride my bike in the cool fogs of San Francisco.
Later, when I was eleven, we moved to the golden, rolling, live oak-studded hills of Marin County just over the Golden Gate Bridge. Because these landscapes were all I knew as a child, they seemed pretty "right" to me.
However, the older I got and the more books I read, the more I sought a different world--a place where the houses were old and creaking with history, the winters were snowy, the maple and birch tree woods hid mayflowers and fiddleheads and jack in the pulpit, and the gardens were full of lilacs, violets, and lilies of the valley--the land of my birth, New England. After moving back East in my forties, we lived in New Hampshire for over 20 years until the winters got to be too much for my arthritic joints, and that is how we came to be living in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Here in southern New Mexico, I find myself in a landscape so different from that of New England that I might be on another planet altogether. When we first came here, although I loved the mountains, I wanted to run from the desert. I couldn't see its beauty or its hidden life--I just saw rocks and dirt.
This book--Barren, Wild, and Worthless--spoke to me. It follows Susan Tweit, another non-desert dweller, from her shocked denial on arrival--the desert was "harsh," "unloveable," and colored in "a thousand shades of dry"--through a gathering of knowledge, understanding, and experience to a new feeling of being at home, at last.
|A wash of green|
My own journey has been much like this one, so I read each page with recognition and delight. It has taken me a while, but now I don't think that I could live away from these open spaces and endless skies.
Here are a few quotes from Barren, Wild, and Worthless, just to give you the flavor of the book. The photos are mine.
Green is as rare as shade. The desert is neither soft nor appealing. Its shapes are hard and angular; the plants are studded with spines and thorns; the animals armed with venom and stingers...
Despite its enormous size, the Chihuahuan Desert is not well known. Nor is it a popular place. It does not inspire T-shirts, sun visors, or "I ♥" bumper stickers. Rarely do its landscapes grace calendars and coffee table picture books. Tourists do not flock to visit this desert. Deserts are hard to love, and the Chihuahuan is especially difficult...
Plants grow, but only sparsely, each keeping to its own space, a decent interval of bare ground dividing it from the next. Green requires water, and water in the desert is scarce, ephemeral. Only after the infrequent rains does the earth blush with a wash of green...
|Each keeping to its own space|