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The Desert Year

Joseph Wood Krutch

Publication Year: 2010

Now back in print, Joseph Wood Krutch’s Burroughs Award–winning The Desert Year is as beautiful as it is philosophically profound. Although Krutch—often called the Cactus Walden—came to the desert relatively late in his life, his curiosity and delight in his surroundings abound throughout The Desert Year, whether he is marveling at the majesty of the endless dry sea, at flowers carpeting the desert floor, or at the unexpected appearance of an army of frogs after a heavy rain.

Krutch’s trenchant observations about life prospering in the hostile environment of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert turn to weighty questions about humanity and the precariousness of our existence, putting lie to Western denials of mind in the “lower” forms of life: “Let us not say that this animal or even this plant has ‘become adapted’ to desert conditions. Let us say rather that they have all shown courage and ingenuity in making the best of the world as they found it. And let us remember that if to use such terms in connection with them is a fallacy then it can only be somewhat less a fallacy to use the same terms in connection with ourselves.”

This edition contains 33 exacting drawings by noted illustrator Rudolf Freund. Closely tied to Krutch’s uncluttered text, the drawings tell a story of ineffable beauty.


Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii

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Why I Came

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pp. 3-15

Scenery, as such, never meant much to me. A city man to begin with, I never thought "beauty spots" worth the trouble it took to go look at them. This mountain rises ten thousand feet; that waterfall drops fifteen hundred. What, I replied inwardly, is to prevent it? A week later I had nothing in my mind...

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What It Looks Like

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pp. 19-34

During those years when I was a mere tourist in the Southwest most of my sightseeing was done in the more spectacular northern part. If one has time only to look, there is more to be looked at there. Probably, before my year is up, I shall return to that incredible land of monoliths through which one moves in perpetual astonishment. It was there that a new...

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How to See It

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pp. 37-49

It is not easy to live in that continuous awareness of things which alone is true living. Even those who make a parade of their conviction that sunset, rain, and the growth of a seed are daily miracles are not usually so much impressed by them as they urge others to be. The faculty of wonder tires easily and a miracle which happens everyday is a miracle no...

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How Some Others Live There

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pp. 53-66

Today, like yesterday, like the day before, and like the day before that, has been sunny and almost cloudless. The sun has gone down, not, as it sometimes does, riotously and in Harne, but leaving behind it in the western sky only a glow which made the clear air seem self-luminous, like the electrically excited gas in a tube. The stars have come out, not...

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Desert Rain

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pp. 69-81

This I always knew but did not really believe. Now, after my first weeks of perpetually cloudless sky, it seemed more improbable than ever. The soil was hard-packed for all its sandiness and bone dry. The cactus and mesquite, standing defiantly under the sun, seemed to survive without moisture. The weatherman, I found myself thinking, must have an easy time...

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What the Desert Is Good For

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pp. 85-97

Before I settled in the Lower Sonoran Desert I spent a few days in the foothills of New Mexico's Sacramento Mountains. From a height we looked down on Alamogordo and, beyond that, across twenty or thirty miles of white gypsum sand to the forbidden spot where the first atom bomb was...

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The Contemplative Toad

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pp. 101-119

Those toads who surprised me by coming from nowhere after our first big rain and who sang their hallelujah chorus on every side have surprised me again. They have disappeared as mysteriously as they came. The desert Hoor and the desert air are as toadless as ever. Obviously, they are creatures as moderate as all amphibia should be, and one night...

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From a Mountaintop

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pp. 123-136

In the legends of the saints and the prophets, either a desert or a mountain is pretty sure to figure. It is usually in the middle of one or on the top of the other that the vision comes or the test is met. To give their message to the world they come down or come out, but it is almost invariably in a solitude, either high...

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The Individual and the Species

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pp. 139-152

A few mornings ago I rescued a bat from a swimming pool. The man who owned the pool-but did not own the bat-asked me why. That question I do not expect ever to be able to answer, but it involves a good deal. If even I myself could understand it, I would know what it is that seems to distinguish man from the rest of nature, and why, despite all she has to...

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In Search of an Autumn

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pp. 155-168

I have been told often enough that this climate knows no fall. Spring, they say, sometimes comes even more riotously here than elsewhere, but autumn has no drama. Most of the flowers stop blooming; most of the trees stop growing. The little annual plants wither and blow away; the long bean pods hang brown on the mesquite bushes. But there is no icy blast and...

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Tour of Inspection

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pp. 171-184

During more than eight months I stuck close to my own little stretch of cactus and sand. I never wandered more than a few hours away from my house, never passed a night under any other roof. Every morning I looked out of the same window to see the birds assembled at the same feeding ground; every evening watched the shadows begin to fill the valleys in the same...

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The Metaphor of the Grasslands

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pp. 187-196

I suppose that most of even the desert is owned or leased. Despite appearances, a good deal of it is economically valuable and in certain semidesert areas ranchers grow rich off the cattle one rarely sees. In such sections, as well as in even less promising looking areas, wire fences surprise one into the realization that what looks like mere abstract space is actually private property. Outside the national forests and...

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pp. 199-215

Hall a dozen friends have written me from the East to ask if I heard the peepers this year. I didn't, of course-either literally or figuratively. Not literally, because Hyla crucifer does not cross the Great Plains; not figuratively, because where there is no real winter there cannot be anything to announce that it is...

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A Bird in the Bush

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pp. 219-236

Will Cuppy once remarked that the ability to distinguish one kind of sparrow from another was a gift which seemed to be hereditary in certain New England families. Not belonging to such a family, I am not surprised that I am not at all good at this particular art, science, or diversion. Nevertheless, I have long been a little ashamed that a professed lover of...

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Undiscovered Country

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pp. 239-253

When twelve of mine had passed, it seemed a good idea to spend a part of the dividend or lagniappe away from home, in that high region of sandstone buttes where, years ago, I first felt the fascination of the Southwest's lonely grandeur. Just returned from a seventeen-hundred-mile circuit, my eyes have not yet recovered from the merciless assault of bright...

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pp. 257-270

Despite my experience with nearly sixty of them, I have never yet learned how rapidly a year passes. "For a year" always sounds to me like "for keeps," and when I said "for a year and three months" that seemed very much like saying for "eternity-plus a little bit more." Now the year is gone and so too is a good part of the little bit...

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299476
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587299018

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2010