Joseph Wood Krutch in the Sonoran Desert

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Joseph Wood Krutch was theater critic at The Nation and a professor of dramatic literature. In 1950 he retired to spend 15 months in the Arizona desert. The result was ``The Desert Year,'' from which we excerpt here. His ``The Voice of the Desert'' became a 1963 NBC special, which he narrated. 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 kind of grandeur first shocked me into recognition and there, perhaps, that what I can only call the Southwestern Style -- old as Egypt and new as modern sculpture -- reaches its climax.

Superficially, the more livable southern desert is also less astonishing and more monotonous. Though bare, jagged mountains ultimately close nearly every vista, the desert itself lies peaceful in the sun and repeats with tireless satisfaction its two themes -- either cactus, paloverde, mesquite, and sand, or yucca, agave, and ocotillo, the one on the flats, the other on the slopes. It has discovered its modes and it sticks to them; content to do what it can do, indifferent to your attention or lack of it. Love me or hate me, the desert seems to say, this is what I am and this is what I shall remain. Go north for astonishment if you must have it. What I offer is different.

What one finds, after one has come to take for granted the grand general simplicity, will be what one takes the trouble to look for -- the brilliant little flower springing improbably out of the bare, packed sand, the lizard scuttling with incredible speed from cactus clump to spiny bush, the sudden flash of a bright-colored bird. This dry world, all of which seems so strange to you, is normal to them. It is their paradise, their universe as-it-ought-to-be. Can you, like them, not merely look, but live spiritually here? Can this seemingly difficult land, which nevertheless flourishes vigorously and lives joyously, come to seem to you not merely strange and interesting but as normal as the icy winter and almost too riotous summers you have taken for granted? Those questions are part of what I want to answer for myself and are in part why I have settled down for a while in the very middle of a stretch of Lower Sonoran Desert. By permission from THE DESERT YEAR, by Joseph Wood Krutch, copyright 1951 and 1952 by Joseph Wood Krutch. Copyright assigned to The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York 1976. Available in reissue from the University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Ariz.

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