For naturalist Susan Tweit, moving to New Mexico meant learning to love the harsh beauty of a landscape that one haggard 19th century surveyor dismissed as “barren, wild, and worthless.”
That bitter phrase became the
title of Tweit’s eloquent 1995 memoir on life in the
Chihuahuan Desert. Taken in by her masterful prose, readers, too,
fell in love with that desert’s strange face, its erratic
life cycles and changing cultures.
and Worthless was out of print for a spell — gone,
but not forgotten. Now, the University of Arizona Press is offering
a handsome paperback edition.
For Tweit, what started as
“an intellectual exercise to learn the Chihuahuan Desert so
that I would have something to write about,” led to this
passionate account — part science, part heartbreak — of
a place full of land frauds and ghost rivers.
In a chapter
entitled “Sanctuary,” Tweit refers to an old gospel
tune that says, “ ‘There is a balm in Gilead to make
the wounded whole.’ Gilead has no monopoly on balms,”
she continues. “Every place is sacred (and can) heal us,
refresh us, and inspire us ... only our vision fails
As subdivisions metastasize, wilderness
shrinks, and a new administration squelches citizen input on
public-land use, we should be grateful that Barren, Wild, and
Worthless is available again.
Barren, Wild and
Worthless: Living in the Chihuahuan Desert
Susan J. Tweit
203 pages, softcover: $17.95. University of
Arizona Press, 2003.
Barren, wild and worthless? Anything but
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