At home in the valley

  In The San Luis Valley, Susan Tweit takes us on an extraordinary spring journey through a place her heart knows as home. It’s a joy to read her keen observations about wild territory — in the outback, in our hearts — and the many ways it feeds the soul.

In the tepee-shaped slice of south central Colorado between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Range, migrating sandhill cranes hunker down in the marshes of the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. Thirty-five miles northeast at Great Sand Dunes National Park, "North America’s tallest active sand dunes blow up against glacier-gouged mountain summits and monotonous reaches of desert scrub hide verdant pocket wetlands." The parched, undulating landscape is filled at one moment with gusty winds, the next with an arresting quiet. Both places depend on nearby desert rivers, including the Rio Grande, that also have to slake the thirsts of area farms and a growing human population.

Tweit loves these places with her bones. She recounts the slow dance of shifting dunes and shares what the sandhill cranes have taught her about home.

"We think of home as a single place," she writes. "But ‘home’ may be better understood as the landscapes and seascapes that comprise life’s journey; a pattern of places engraved in memory ... any place whose call is so insistent that individuals are impelled to set out and wing or walk or swim hundreds or thousands of miles."

Glenn Oakley’s exquisite halftone images complement the text: A jeweled arc of water refracts the desert sun; wind-sculpted peaks cast ominous shadows. Curves and light and wings convey the desert’s secret language, as Oakley explores the architecture forged by rivers of air and water.

The San Luis Valley is part of the University of Arizona’s Desert Places series, which explores why lands of great extremes draw our love — and lead some to call the most seemingly inhospitable places home.