Sunday, February 1, 2009

Response to Dory and Elaina

In Dory’s Nature Writing blog, she refers to “Florida in its natural state” being “an inhospitable environment, or at least for humans.” El Paso, which is part of the Chihuahuan Desert, is also an inhospitable place for humans to live. It is much better suited to geckos, lizards, and coyotes. A colony of skunks and the occasional fox stroll by when we take a walk. They are so used to humans that they only stop and look at us as we all go unmolested about our business, just as the deer watched and moved on in Dory’s earlier posting. We are blessed with fewer bugs than southern Florida but thankfully there are enough to provide a substantial dinner for the bats.

Our house is near the university campus and in the shadow of the Franklin Mountains. We live less than two miles from downtown, less than five miles from the Mexican border. The Franklins are furrowed near their base with arroyos. An arroyo cuts through our neighborhood. An arroyo is a low area or wash that provides natural drainage when we have our torrential rainstorms once or twice a year. El Paso for many years was true desert with six inches or less of rainfall each year. In recent years, our response to global change has been surprising floods. The sandy soil cannot absorb the now about eight inches of rain that seems to all come within a few days in August. Population and expansion in El Paso have pushed people to build in places where they should have never built, much like the Florida wetlands that man tried to reclaim. In our last flood, houses filled with mud and roads broke apart to accommodate the rains that continued to fall while the mountains poured their excess water down into what should have been our natural collection system, the arroyos. The arroyos always have provided stunning views of the mountains framed by spectacular sunsets. A most desirable place to live, right? But when the arroyos are bulldozed and paved like Joni Mitchell’s parking lot, the water still comes. We are perhaps the geological opposite to watery humid Miami but water is an essential part of the desert eco-system, in a different way.

Similar to Elaina at I thought the desert landscape was unappealing when I first arrived in El Paso. I grew up in the soft hills of Kentucky; had lived on the windy plains of Iowa, near the San Diego beach, among the pine forests of North Carolina and southern coastal Georgia. My son was born in my beloved Mystic, Connecticut. I was used to seasons, green trees and grass. Flowers had always grown where I planted them. My first years in the desert were a learning curve as I killed so many plants that were not biologically engineered to grow in the southwestern sun or this harsh alkaline soil. I missed fall and spring. I missed rain.

Then I began to study the native plants that belonged here. I shopped at the annual University of Texas at El Paso sponsored FloraFEST and Native Plant Sale which they hold every April in the Chihuahuan Desert Garden on campus. I watched the plants and animals that live and thrive within our urban populated area. In El Paso the plants and animals do not recognize any superiority or transcendental qualities of their human neighbors. We move in and they join us.

Like Kristin and Dory, I have lived many places and loved them. The El Paso desert is my home now and I am learning to live in harmony with this exigent land so different from any place I have ever called home. I believe the desert welcomes those who understand.


Melanie Dylan Fox said...

I am very interested in this idea you mention of humans trying to live in places that may not inherently be suited to them, places of extremes, such as a desert.

I remember when I opened my eyes in the daylight in Tucson for the first time, the place I was to call "home," how at first glance it seemed completely barren and lifeless to me. It was only after close attention that I realized that the desert only looks that way, superficially. That if you're really looking, you can see so much life and activity.

P. Stover said...

I think for those of us who are used to green, it is a shock to the system to move to a desert locale. A period of observation and reflection is needed to really appreciate the thriving flora and fauna that are there if we take the time to look.