By Evaggelos Vallianatos
Wednesday, 30 May 2012
I have traveled extensively in America’s Southwest. I have visited cities like Austin and El Paso, Texas; Denver and Boulder, Colorado; Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona. I have walked in the great deserts of Sonora in Arizona, Mojave in California and Chihuahua in Mexico. In fact, I live in Southern California, not very far from Los Angeles, a monster city built in the desert.
When I went to the Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, I thought I was on another planet. Massive boulders, one over the other like pancakes, of great diversity in size, shape and form, and spread all over the desert landscape, give the impression that this is a place the gods created only recently, or that it was made in the beginnings of time but forgotten for countless millennia. The cacti stand next to these giant stones like witnesses of an extraordinary story never told. Bushes and exquisite flowers add luster to this gem of the natural world.
The Southwest is a beautiful country of blue skies, little water and plenty of land, most of which is semi-arid, arid or desert. Deserts are by definition inhospitable to human habitation. These are places reasonable people abandon quickly. The land is dry, sand-like, harsh and unforgiving. Even the vegetation and wildlife are sparse, accustomed to little moisture and nutrients, save for plenty of sunshine and heat.
The Southwest is not exclusively desert, but it contains an unusually large number of deserts. Only some of the surviving fragments of Native American populations live in the deserts. The rest – mostly white – live in the deserts because they have the illusion that the panoply of their civilization can defeat the aridity of the land and either mine the aquifers or bring water from elsewhere. As for the unbearable heat, the denizens of the deserts bring with them air-conditioned cars and homes, pretending nature – the hot nature of the deserts – can be domesticated, perhaps defeated.