Pondering, Thinking, and Wandering About in a Land of Little Rain

Well, alright. I’ll tip my hand just a small bit. The question is “Why?” The answer is “Because.” For some years now, I’ve sensed the human, all too human, need to record my impressions of the land poetically known as Arid America. Whether my views of the landscape compel me to pick up my camera or my pen, the song remains the same. Echoes of the same siren murmurs that beguiled and enchanted those nautical Argonauts of antiquity also reverberate throughout the sierras reaching skyward from the desert floor. I have heard them, and their impact on me is undeniable. And I’m rather certain I’m not the only one who detects these faint whisperings. Evidence abounds from Time Immemorial to the Present. Petroglyphs on lonely, isolated rock outcroppings across the desert foothills attest to the old understandings of Sky and Earth as perceived by the earliest inhabitants.

Much later, three Iberians and a Moor wandered through this vast tierra incognito of European cartography, and one of the wayfarers, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, related his observations of the land and its people to viceregal officials in Mexico City upon his arrival in the metropolis in 1536. Between the Sixteenth Century and the Twentieth Century, not a few chroniclers articulated their respective impressions of the valleys, mountains, and rivers and its native birds, beasts, and flowers. Ansel Adams’ evocative photographs of the downstream mouth of Santa Elena Canyon in the late 1940s captured one of the varied moods of this prominent geological feature, while Michael Frary’s watercolor paintings of the canyon in the early 1980s presented a comparable tranquil view of this incomparable place in the Big Bend. In between these two artists’ excursions into Arid America, Edward Abbey and his soon-to-be-ex-fiancée made a few regrettable memories in Big Bend National Park in 1952 to such an extent that twenty-five years would pass before he could write “Disorder and Early Sorrow” about that excursion.

In the span of five years wedged between 1968 and 1973, poet-musicians wrote lyrics to accompany chords to the compositions that inadvertently find expression in the natural beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert in this tasty offering of a Blue Plate Special:

Sun warm on my face, I hear you / Down below movin’ slow / And it’s morning

The Byrds, “Draft Morning,” from The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)

So like a summer Thursday / I cry for rain / To come and turn / The ground to green again

Townes Van Zandt, “Like a Summer Thursday” from Our Mother The Mountain (1969)

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning / A cloudburst doesn’t last all day … / All things must pass / All things must pass away

George Harrison, “All Things Must Pass,” the title track from his 1970 album

The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz / And the sky with no clouds / The heat was hot and the ground was dry / But the air was full of sound

America, “A Horse With No Name” from their 1971 debut album

A year ago today, a fleeting thought crossed my mind like unexpected words of good advice, and I uttered a sentence during a moment of introspection, and I rounded up a marker and a sheet of paper to write that sentence as if it were a poem too precious to neglect and lose to the darkness of forgetfulness. For a full year, this sheet of paper has remained on my desk, and therein is the reason I feel obliged to honor Dark Horse:

When sunshine is not enough / To make me feel bright / It’s got me suffering in the darkness / That’s so easy come by on the roadside / Of one long lifetime

George Harrison, “Deep Blue” from Living in the Material World (1973)

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