This Was (a) Home

Posted: Earth Day 2023

Rudyard Kipling wrote a wonderful piece about how very quickly the jungle takes back even the greatest of humans’ works when those works are left untended.

Deserts are very different from jungles.

People bred to the desert tend to watch where they step, and they tread carefully. A tuft of dead-looking grass might harbor a nest of kangaroo rats. Displacing it starts a cascade of effects much greater than displacing the cute mammals that both nourish and feed there.

The web of the food chain is fragile out there. When something goes wrong, you can practically watch it unravel.

Old farm equipment — an antique wooden manure spreader, a broken-down buckboard, splintery wood-spoked wheels shod in iron bands — lay where it died or was abandoned. The Mojave winds pile sand against the relics until they are half or wholly buried, low dunes casting sandy shadows. Odds and ends collect there to rust ever so slowly in the dry desert.

From desert to desolation

The desert doesn’t return to itself when we leave, not as the jungle does. Things are preserved, out there, even the scars. It’s easier and more accurate to think of the damage as permanent.

We miss the sense of community with the critters, the vastness, and the visitors from the metropolis. We regret the habitat loss after a change of ownership — so much wildlife lost or displaced. We dislike the sterility of the aftermath and the lack of comforts now for the occupants (if any) of the farmhouse, trying to live under the Mojave sun.

The real story, in before-and-after satellite images:

The satellite images here, and the notes in the legend, are true. We positioned the markers from memory (which is accurate to within a few feet, in this instance).

I have — on behalf of artist James Turrell at his Rodin Crater project in Arizona — rolled up and hauled away prickly, century-old barbed wire. It still would litter that border of the Navajo Reservation in 300 more years if we had not.

The scars on the modest little property shown here will last long. The desert remembers. It carries forward a record of how we conduct ourselves.

The virgin desert can seem barren to an outsider. It is not; it is subtle and eloquent, complex and self-sustaining.

We have not learned the layered nature of the desert’s value, nor how to live well with it — in beauty, as they say. To live there, settlers typically just add water and lots of it. Taking that away again, later, does not restore anything. The result is loss and might be considered, if arguably, irresponsible negligence.

This Was (a) Home © 2023 by Marlin Ouverson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

This Was (a) Home
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This Was (a) Home
To settle the desert, we just add water. Taking that away again, later, doesn't restore anything, but it results in loss and might be considered, if arguably, irresponsible. "This Was (a) Home" by Marlin Ouverson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0