When we fail to understand the real nature of our connection to place, and refuse to understand that connection other than in terms of ownership and control, then not only have we misunderstood ourselves, but we have also lost any real sense of place as such. To have a sense of place is not to own, but rather to be owned by the places we inhabit; it is to ‘own up’ to the complexity and mutuality of both place and human being.
– Jeff Malpas, “Place and human being”. (in Making sense of place: Exploring concepts and expressions of place through different senses and lenses. Eds. F Vanclay, M Higgins and A Blackshaw; 2008)
When your heart sinks deeper, taking root, growing, blossoming, reaching outward and turning yourself inside out, it is a sign, a hint, a tap on the shoulder that whispers somewhere, echoing inside…….‘You belong here.‘
Many know that feeling, some may not even be aware of it. Until they leave. They just know they have to go back. And wait for that time when they don’t have to leave.
I don’t remember ever feeling so anchored to a place in a very long time, being both weighted and lightened by a sense of place, as I do when I am in the Big Bend desert. Why?
I can list many reasons why, but they don’t mean anything unless you’ve known that feeling yourself. I can see it in a friend’s face and in his body when he opens his door in the morning; overlooking Long Draw, the Chisos Mountains on the southeast horizon, Reed Plateau’s scalloped ridge rippling in the west, and chaotic mountains dotting the Terlingua desert to the north. It’s like reading a short story with no words. It commands you, devours your being and you’re spellbound. By its richness, raw geology like strewn bones of the planet, crisp clean air and the solitude.
It’s Home. It’s Base Camp. It gives me -us- a moment of it’s immortal existence to taste, savor and cherish. Yet, while the romance enthralls, it’s unmerciful and harsh environment humbles us. It gives and it takes away, It reminds us who and what we really are.
As interesting and provocative as the cultural geography might be, the desert may serve as the backdrop for the problematic relationship between man and the environment. The human struggle, the successes and failures, the use and abuse, both noble and foolish, are readily apparent in the desert. Symbols and relationships seem to arise that stand for the human condition itself. It is a simple, if almost incomprehensible equation: the world is as terrible as it is beautiful, but when you look more closely, it is as beautiful as it is terrible. We must maintain constant vigilance, to protect the world from ourselves, and to embrace the world as it exists.
–Richard Misrach, Desert Cantos (University of New Mexico Press, 1987)
I am a retired biologist. I am a human coyote: I travel, observe, adapt, jest, and occasionally even howl.
This site is dedicated to the deserts where I work and live, where I am alive. And to my life-long love affair with deserts and their environments.