America DesertaPosted: March 9, 2014
Reyner Banham was a British architectural critic and writer who mostly lived and wrote in the states from the 60s until he died in 1988. He spent time in many of my favorite parts of the Mojave, and describes his experiences and reactions in “Scenes from America Deserta”. Here is a passage that I copied down the other day:
The desert is also seen as a place of secrets, where the customary restraints of law and habit are suspended. All true desert lovers are in the terrible quandary that if their beloved desert is to be protected enough to survive, it must also be regulated enough to cease to be desert in the sense that they love. This is a crucial topic in all the desert fancying, and I will return to it…. The desert is also seen as an appropriate place for fantasies. Not only the fantasies of a Bessie Johnson or a Curtis Howe Springer, but the fantasies of dune buggy maniacs and lone hikers, the seekers after legendary gold mines, the exploders of the first atomic devices, the proponents of advanced missile systems and the diggers of gigantic earth sculptures. Never forget that it was in the Mojave that the first claimed UFO sightings took place, and the pioneer conversations with little green men from Venus. In a landscape where nothing officially exists (otherwise it would not be “desert”), absolutely anything becomes thinkable and may consequently happen.
Reading this made me think about how it is almost always some ideal of “freedom” draws us to the desert and the bitter truth that having freedom means that one must allow others to have it as well. My sense is that what truly makes this part of the desert something unique and special is slowly changing. While I agree that the land needs to be protected – the act of doing so may also one day eliminate what drew us all here in the first place. I don’t think that we will ever cease to crave autonomy and independence, but it is interesting to think about what options for freedom will exist once all environments are either “protected” or developed.