- Mary Austin.The Land of Little Rain (1903). Reprinted in
Stories from the Country of Lost Borders, edited by Marjorie
Pryse. Rutgers: Rutgers University Press, 1985.
- This small, personal appreciation of the desert lands east
of the Sierra Nevada was Mary Austin's first published book. It
brought her international acclaim from writers including Jack
London and Joseph Conrad. Austin wrote lyrically about the
desert, where "land, not the law, sets limits" and was careful
to include detailed accounts of an inhabited landscape. Her book
contains chapters on the adaptations of plants, scavengers,
miners, Paiutes, and the Basket Maker. Be sure to find one of
the many modern editions that include Austin's own preface, in
which she explains why she prefers the Indian fashion of naming
the land over conventional geographies.
- Mary Austin. The Land of Journey's Ending (1924). Reprint,
Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1983.
- This modern edition contains a thoughtful essay by my
colleague Larry Evers on Austin's last great desert book. Evers
argues that what The Land of Journey's Ending gains in
sophistication, compared to The Land of Little Rain, it loses in
authentic experience of arid lands. Austin, who resided in New
York City, was dependent for her information on Daniel Trembly
MacDougal, director of the Carnegie field lab on Tumamoc Hill in
Tucson and dedicated her book to him. Its organizing metaphor is
the journey, be it of a river, of Coronado, or of Anglo
pioneers. Austin both worshipped the land (she would retire in
Santa Fe) and decried its desecration, which gives this book is
strong voice and its tension.
- Vera Norwood and Janice Monk (eds.). The Desert is No Lady:
Southwestern Landscapes in Women's Writing and Art. New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1987.
- This anthology contains ten scholarly essays on women as
image-makers between 1880 and 1980. Thoughtful introductory and
concluding essays by the editors tie together their efforts to
explore a variety of artistic expressions by Native American,
Hispanic, and Anglo women. The volume explores for arid regions
the questions Annette Kolodny (in The Land Before Her) raised
about a unique female fantasy of the frontier-as-garden. This
book has inspired the BBC to film a documentary in the Southwest
about contemporary women and their relationship to the land.
- Sandra L. Myres. Ho! for California. San Marino: Huntington
Library Press, 1980.
- Four extensive diary excerpts by women who traveled the
southwestern trail in the nineteenth century are included in
this volume. They represent women's observations about the
landscape and the flora and fauna of a truly unfamiliar world.
Careful reading of the works also enables one to see the
differences that age and marital status make in a woman's
perceptions of arid lands. Myres' introduction argues with
feminist historiography about a unique woman's vision of the
frontier, while the diaries seem uncannily alike in the writers'
emphases on homes passed en route to California, on homes lost,
and on the moveable home of a wagon train.
- Ann H. Zwinger. A Desert Country Near the Sea: A Natural History
of the Cape Region of Baja California. New York: Harper and Row,
1983. Reprint, Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1987.
- Zwinger, winner of a John Burroughs Medal for natural
history writing, is the premier woman nature essayist living
today. In the tradition of earlier "lady naturalists" and Rachel
Carson, Zwinger brings to her work an eye for interdependence
between the landscape and humans. This study of Baja California
is a loving rebuttal to the observations of a 1752 visitor to
the region who called it "a pathless, waterless, thornful rock,
sticking up between two oceans." The book contains detailed
illustrations, photographs, and extensive documentation.
Zwinger's use of the journal format, which includes attention to
the people who guide her through their home landscape,
effectively combines personal and scholarly voices.