|The Nature of Desert Nature,|
"The ongoing discussion about deserts... has generated and refined a certain set of questions that may be more pertinent to our own survival today more than ever before. That is because of the degree to which global climate change is already forcing an ever-larger proportion of the world’s human inhabitants to deal with ever more hot, dry, and sparsely vegetated landscapes. These recently desertified, or biologically impoverished landscapes—which often lack the integrity and diversity found in ancient deserts—are becoming all too common on every one of the major continents." (p. 9).
In order to clarify the nature of deserts, Nabhan has selected a wide variety of viewpoints and specialties. Some authors present the overwhelming impressions, both mental and spiritual, of experiencing life in the desert, whether they are describing a camping trip or a life lived in a monastery in a desert climate. Several authors are particularly aware of the cruel deaths that have taken place as migrants trying to enter the US are destroyed by the harsh desert heat, cold, and lack of water. The book includes scientific discussions by researchers who have spent their entire careers in the study of desert plants and animals, especially in understanding how all the various forms of life in the desert work together to survive extreme conditions. Each author has a unique view of deserts.
This mural seems to me to capture an entirely different view of the desert. I like the turtle and many plants growing at the foot of the saguaro cactuses, the people doing something (I don't know what), and the birds in the sky. I do not understand the maze at the right, and would love to know what it means. The author writes:
Most of the experiences presented in The Nature of Desert Nature took place in the Sonora Desert, which extends on both sides of the US-Mexican border. Tucson, Arizona, is in the most northern part of the Sonora Desert, including Saguaro National Park and other nature preservation areas. I've been to this desert, and I would love to return, so I especially enjoyed learning about the flowers, cactus, symbiotic insects and animals, and water resources of this desert. In fact, I liked all the chapters, but I can't go into detail about them.
I will just concentrate on the last chapter by Paul Mirocha titled "Staring at the Walls: Views of the Desert in Southern Arizona Public Art." The text is illustrated with a collection of photos of murals from Tucson and in Ajo, Arizona. These impressive paintings reflect many different views of the desert and the people who live there. "Humans all over the world have been making petroglyphs and pictographs for at least thirty thousand years (probably longer)," Mirocha writes, and "Public art is free and visible to everyone. It’s democratic and gains its creative power from being multicultural. By its existence and widespread acclaim, public art, in a sense, has been voted on." (p. 176-177)
Here are a few of the illustrations. If you love murals, you will love this chapter, which makes many connections between the artists, the cities, and the desert scenes and myths that they have painted.
|Rock Martinez and Cristina Perez, Goddess of Agave, Tucson, Arizona (p. 159).|
About this mural Mirocha says: "The agave woman on the walls of Tucson’s Benjamin Supply building is the Mexican agave goddess, Mayahuel, well-known even in these northern parts. She is one of several mother and fertility goddesses in Aztec spirituality, a personification of beauty, nourishment, and fruitfulness. She is also the artist’s girlfriend. The image is riveting, hot and spicy as heck."(p. 183).
|Michael Chiago, Untitled mural, Ajo, Arizona (p. 170).|
"O’odham artist Michael Chiago’s work, hidden behind the Curley School in Ajo. The landscape is painted carefully, like a portrait of a well-known friend. O’odham people are shown in a landscape carefully observed, with everything in its place. There are the little bursage bushes, palo verdes, and saguaros. The vast emptiness of the landscape is saturated with both knowledge and love. The sense of being at home, safe, in a familiar place is palpable." (p. 182)
|Joe Pagac, Roadrunner Cycling, Tucson, Arizona (p. 167).|
"Such mural art could be an urban scene anywhere, couldn’t it? Not likely—there’s only one place where people recognize a Gila monster, a jackalope, or a javelina. And where else do they know how to pronounce saguaro, ocotillo, or Gila? That place is the Sonoran Desert. There’s a desert on the edge of town, and it wants to seep quietly into your mind, to remind you where you are" (p. 175).
|A roadrunner that I saw in Arizona a few years ago.|
Petroglyphs by the Hohokum Indians, Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona, 2009.
It's hard to capture the charm and fascination that I find in this very diverse collection of writings. It really makes me want to return to the desert for birdwatching, enjoying the scenery, and more.
This review © 2021 by mae sander.