I guess I’m a desert person now. That’s what Pat Flanagan, a 78-year old activist I interviewed for a recent High Country News article called herself. Pat has lived in southern California for decades, but it wasn’t until 2002 that she could move to the far reaches of San Bernardino County into the Mojave Desert. Which she did upon retirement because, well, she’s a desert person. “I have to be here,” she told me. And I knew exactly what she meant.
I’ve recently moved to New Mexico after living most of my life on the east coast. I think I had a fairly good idea of what I was getting into– I had spent my summers during graduate school in the high plains of central Wyoming while my fiancé (now husband) crawled around badlands mapping the landscape for his master’s thesis in geology. I loved the wide-open spaces. The unrelenting sun. The vastness, the emptiness, and the bizarre biology of desert life. The harsh wildness seeped into my psyche, transforming my world from the cluttered busyness of civilization to one of austere beauty insulated from modern life by the hum of constant wind. A wind that kicks up dust but somehow cleanses.
It’s like that here in New Mexico too. In places. Outside of the cities. And, as I discovered on a Route 66 road trip last winter, it’s like that in the Mojave as well. So I get why desert communities in California are fighting so hard to keep their landscape wild. Why they are fighting against its industrialization by large-scale solar facilities – however important solar might be to mitigating the largest disruption of all, climate change. They’re fighting because they’re desert people.
I’m trying to decide if this story is a clash of the titans (22 million acres of desert versus a changing climate) or David and Goliath (tiny rural communities versus the solar energy industry, and now, the Trump Administration). Take a read here, and see what you think for yourself.