Barren, wild and worthless? Anything but

  • <Barren, Wild and Worthless cover scan

  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.

Barren, Wild, 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 us.”

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

By Susan J. Tweit

203 pages, softcover: $17.95. University of Arizona Press, 2003.
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