Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
July 21, 2020

The Land of Little Rain

The Land of Little Rain
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First published in 1903, The Land of Little Rain is Mary Austin’s classic homage to the American Southwest. Her collection of short stories and essays takes listeners on an enchanted journey through Death Valley, the High Sierras, and the Mojave Desert.

Aridity and heat lie counterpoint to our Catskills’ seemingly limitless water and endless winters. Like other nature writers of her time — John Burroughs and John Muir among them — Mary Austin deftly describes the natural world in which she is immersed, including its creatures and its characters.

This week, hear Ellen Parker's award-winning narration of the first two chapters.

Sponsored by The Mountain Eagle and the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce.

--- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/kaatscast/support


Welcome to cats cast, a bi weekly podcast delivering interviews, arts, culture and history from New York's Catskill Mountains. This week an excerpt from Mary Austin's classic book, The land of little rain, originally published in 1903. meditations on a land of extremes spanning Southern California's high Sierras, Death Valley and Mojave Desert, aridity and heat, like counterpoint to our Catskills, seemingly limitless water and endless winters. Like other nature writers of her time, john Burroughs and john Muir among them, Mary Austin deftly describes the natural world in which she is immersed, including its creatures and its characters. Following is the preface and chapter one of the first ever audio book edition of the land of little rain. Recorded right here in the Catskills with Emmy Award winning narrator Alan Parker. The audio book is an audio file earphones award winner, and it's available wherever audio books are found. This podcast is sponsored by the mountain Eagle, covering Delaware green and scary counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham weekly scary news and Catskills Chronicle. For more information, call 518-763-6854 or email mountain Eagle news@gmail.com. Support also comes from the central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, providing services to businesses, community organizations and local governments in the central Catskills region. Follow the central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and sign up for a weekly email of local events at Central catskills.org. And now, Mary Austin's nature classic, the land of little rain. The land of little rain, by Mary Austin, read by Ellen Parker to Eve, the comfortless of unsuccess. preface I confess to a great liking for the Indian fashion of name giving every man known by that phrase which best expresses him to who so names him. Thus he may be mighty hunter, or man afraid of a bear, according as he is called by friend or enemy, and Scarface to those who knew him by the eyes grasp only no other fashion, I think, sets so well with the various natures that inhabit in us. And if you agree with me, you will understand why so few names are written here as they appear in the geography for a lava lake known by the name of the man who discovered it, which endears itself by reason of the close locked pines it nourishes about its borders, you may look in my account to find it so described. But if the Indians have been there before me, you shall have their name, which is always beautifully fit, and does not originate in the poor human desire for perpetuity. Nevertheless, there are certain peaks, canyons, and clear Meadow spaces which are above all compassing of words, and have a certain fame as of the nobley great to whom we give no familiar names. Guided by these, you may reach my country and find or not find according as it life in you, much that is set down here and more. The earth is no wanting to give up all her best to every comer, but keeps a sweet, separate intimacy for each. But if you do not find at all, as I write, think me not less dependable, nor yourself less clever. There is a sort of pretense allowed in matters of the heart, as one should say, by way of illustration. I know a man who and so give up his dearest experience without portrayal and I am in no mind to direct you to delectable places toward which you will hold yourself less tenderly than I. So by this fashion of naming, I keep faith with the land and annex to my own estate a very great territory to which none has a short title. The country where you may have sight and touch of that which is written lies between the High Sierra south from Yosemite, east and south over a very great assemblage of broken ranges beyond death valley and on elimite humbly into the Mojave Desert. You may come into the borders of Ed from the south by a stage journey that has the effect of involving a great lapse of time or from the north by rail dropping Out of the overland route in Reno. The best of all ways is over the car passes by pack and trail, seeing and believing. But the real heart and core of the country are not to become at in amongst vacation. One must summer and winter with the land and wait it's occasions. Pine woods that take two and three seasons to the ripening of combs, roots that lie by in the sand seven years awaiting a growing rain, furs that grow 50 years before flowering. These do not scrape acquaintance. But if ever you come beyond the borders as far as the town that lies in a hill dimple at the foot of kearsarge never leave it until you have knocked at the door of the brown house under the willow tree at the end of the village Street. And there you shall have such news of the land of its trails and what is stirring them as one lover of it can give to another the land of little rain East away from the Sierras south from panamint and amargosa. East and South many an uncounted mile is the country of lost borders, ute piute, Mojave and Shoshone inhabit its frontiers and is far into the heart of it as Amanda go. Not the law, but the land sets the limit. desert is the name it wears upon the maps. But the Indians is the better word. desert is a loose term to indicate land that supports no man. Whether the land can be bitten and broken to that purpose is not proven. void of life. It never is, however, dry the air and villainous the soil. This is the nature of that country. There are hills rounded, bland burned, squeezed up out of chaos, Chrome and vermilion painted aspiring to the snow line. Between the hills lie high level looking planes full of intolerable sun glare or narrow valleys drowned in a blue haze. The Hill surfaces streaked with ash drift and black on weathered lava flows. After rains, water accumulates in the hollows of small closed valleys and evaporating leaves hard dry levels of pure desert pneus that get the local name of dry lakes where the mountains are steep, and the rains heavy. The pool is never quite dry but dark and bitter, rammed about with the efflorescence of alkaline deposits. A thin crust of it lies along the marsh over the vegetating area which has neither beauty nor freshness. In the broad wastes open to the wind, the sand drifts in hammocks about the stubby shrubs, and between them the soil shows sailing traces. The sculpture of the hills here is more wind and water work. Though the quick storms do sometimes scar them past many years redeeming it all the western desert edges there are essays in miniature at the famed, terrible Grand Canyon, to which if you keep on long enough in this country you will come at last. Since this is a held country, one expects to find springs, but not to depend upon them. For when found they are often brackish and unwholesome or maddening slow dribbles in the thirsty soil. Here you find the hot sink of Death Valley or high rolling districts where the air has always a Tang of frost. Here are the long heavy winds and breathless comms on a tilted mesas with dust devils dance rolling up into a wide pale sky. Here you have no rain when all the earth cries for I adore quick downpours called cloudbursts for violence. A land of lost rivers with little in it to love. Yet a land that once visited must be come back to inevitably if it were not so there would be little told of it. This is the country of three seasons. From June on to November it lies hot still an unbearable, sick with violent unbelieving storms. Then on until April chill, quiet drinking it's scattered rain and scandalous knows from April to the hot season again, blossoming radiant and seductive. These months are only approximate later or earlier. The rain laden wind may drift up the Watergate of the Colorado from the Gulf and the land sets its seasons by the rain. The desert floor is Seamus with their cheerful adaptations to the seasonal limitations their whole duties To flower and fruit, and they do it hardly or with tropical luxuriance as the rain admits. It is recorded in the report of the Death Valley expedition that after a year of abundant rains on the Colorado desert was found a specimen of amaranth is 10 feet high. A year later, the same species in the same place mature in the drought at four inches. One hopes the land may breed like qualities in her human offspring, not tritely to try but to do. Seldom does the desert herb attain the full stature of the type. Extreme aridity and extreme altitude have the same dwarfing effect. So that we find in the high Sierras and in Death Valley related species in miniature that reach a commonly growth in mean temperatures. very fertile are the desert plants and expedience to prevent evaporation, turning their foliage edge wise towards the sun, growing silky hairs exuding visit gum, the wind, which has a long sweep Harry's and helps them it rolls up dunes about the stocky stems encompassing and protective and above the dunes which may be as with a mesquite, three times as high as a man, the blossoming twigs flourish and bear fruit. There are many areas in the desert where drinkable water lies within a few feet of the surface, indicated by the mesquite and the bunchgrass sporobolus arrow IDs. It is this narrowness of unimagined help that makes the tragedy of desert deaths. It is related that the final breakdown of that hapless party that gave Death Valley as forbidding name occurred in a locality where shallow wells would have saved them. But how are they to know that, properly equipped, it is possible to go safely across that ghastly sink. Yet every year it takes its toll of death. And yet men find their sun dried mummies, of whom no trace or recollection is preserved. to underestimate one's thirst to pass a given landmark to the right or left to find a dry spring where one looked for running water. There is no help for any of these things. Along springs and sunken watercourses. One is surprised to find such water loving plants as grow widely and moist ground. But the true desert breeds its own kind, each in its particular habitat. The angle of the slope, the frontage of a hill, the structure of the soil determines the plant sounds looking hills are nearly bare, and the lower tree line higher here by 1000 feet. canyons running east and west will have one wall naked and one closed. Around dry legs and marshes. The herb Ridge preserves a set an orderly arrangement. Most species have well defined areas of growth. The best index the voiceless land can give the traveler of his whereabouts. If you have any doubt about it, know that the desert begins with the creosote this immortal shrub spreads down into Death Valley and up to the lower Timberline. odors and medicinal as you might guess from the name, wand like with shining fretted foliage. It's vivid green is grateful to the eye and a wilderness of gray and greenish white shrubs. In the spring. It exudes a resonance gum, which the Indians of those parts know how to use with pulverized rock for cementing arrow points to shaft. Trust Indians not to miss any virtues of the plant world. Nothing that desert produces expresses it better and the unhappy growth of the tree occurs. tormented thin forests of its stock drearily in the high mesas, particularly in that triangular slip that fans out eastward from the meeting of the Sierras and post wise hills were the first swings across the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. The yoke of bristles with bayonet pointed leaves, dole green, growing shaggy with age tipped with panicles of fetid greenish blue after death, which is slow, the ghostly hollow network of its woody skeleton, with hardly power to rot makes the moonlight fearful before the yucca has come to flower, while yet its bloom is a creamy cone shaped bud of the size of a small cabbage full of sugary SAP. The Indians twisted deftly out of its fence of daggers and roasted for their own delectation. So it is that in those parts where man in habits, one sees young plants of yaka Oberon says infrequently Other yuccas cacti, low herbs 1000 sorts, one finds journeying east from the coastwise Hills. There is neither poverty of soil nor species to account for the sparseness of desert growth, but simply that each plant requires more room. So much Earth must be preempted to extract so much moisture. The real struggle for existence, the real brain of the plant is underground. Above there is room for a rounded perfect growth. in Death Valley, reputed the very core of desolation are nearly 200 identified species. Above the lower tree line, which is also the snow line mapped out abruptly by the sun one find spreading growth of pinyon Juniper branch newly to the ground, lilac and sage and scattering wide pines there is no special preponderance of self fertilized or wind fertilized plants but everywhere the demand for and evidence of insect life. Now, where there are seeds and insects, there will be birds and small mammals. And where these are will come the slinking sharptooth kind that prey on them. go as far as you dare in the heart of a lonely land. You cannot go so far that life and death are not before you. Paint and lizards slip in and out of rock crevices and paint on the white hot sands. Birds hummingbirds even nest in the cactus scrub. woodpeckers befriend the demoniac mucus out of the stock treeless waist rings the music of the night singing Mockingbird. If it is summer, and the sunwell down, there will be a burrowing owl to call strange furry Trixie things Dart across the open places, or sit motionless in the conning towers of the creosote. The poet may have named all the birds without a gun. But not the fairy footed ground inhabiting furtive small folk of the rainless regions are too many and too Swift. How many you would not believe without seeing the footprint tracings in the sand? They are nearly all night workers finding the days too hot and white and mid desert where there are no cattle. There are no birds of carrion. But if you go far in that direction, the chances are that you will find yourself shadowed by their tilted wings. Nothing so large as a man can move on spied upon in that country, and they know well how the land deals with strangers. There are hints to be had here of the way in which the land forces new habits on its dwellers. The quick increase of sons of the end of spring sometimes overtakes birds in their nesting and affects a reversal of the ordinary manner of incubation. It becomes necessary to keep eggs cool, rather than warm. One hot stifling spring in a little antelope. I had occasion to pass and repass frequently the nest of a pair of meadowlarks located unhappily in the shelter of a very slender weed. I never caught them sitting except near night, but at midday they stood or drooped above at her fainting with pitifully potted bills between their treasure on the sun. Sometimes both of them together with wings spread and half lifted, continue to spot of shade, and a temperature that constrained me at last and a fellow feeling despair them a bit of Canvas for permanent shelter. There was a fence in that country shutting in a cattle range, and along its 15 miles of posts, one could be sure of finding a bird or two in every step of shadow. Sometimes the sparrow and the hawk with wings trailed and beaks parted. drooping and the white truce of noon. If one is inclined to wonder at first, how so many dwellers came to be in a loneliest land that ever came out of God's hands, what they do there and why stay. One does not wonder so much after having lived there. None other than this long brown land by such a hole on the affections, the rainbow hills, the tender bluish mists, the luminous radiance of the spring, have the Lotus charm. They trick the sense of time. So that once inhabiting there you always mean to go away without quite realizing that you have not done it. Men who have lived there, miners and cattlemen will tell you this, not so fluently but emphatically cursing the land and going back to it. For one thing, there is the divine as cleanest air to be breathed anywhere in God's world. Someday The world will understand that and the little oases on the windy tops of hills will harbor for healing its ailing, house weary broods. There is promise there of great wealth in ores and earths, which is no wealth by reason of being so far removed from water and workable conditions. But men are bewitched by it, and tempted to dry the impossible. You should hear salty Williams tell how he used to drive 18 and 20 mule teams from the borax Marsh to Mojave 90 miles, with a trail wagon full of water barrels. hot days the mules would go so mad for drink that the client of the water buckets set them into an uproar of hideous maimed noises. A tangle of harness chains while salty would sit on the high seat with a sun glare heavy in his eyes, dealing out curses of pacification in a level uninterested voice until the clamor fell off from sheer exhaustion. There was a line of shallow graves along that road. They used to count on dropping a manner to have every new gang of coolies brought out in the hot season. But when he lost his swamper, smitten without warning at the noon halt, salty quit his job. He said it was too darn hot. The Swamp where he buried by the way was stones upon him to keep the coyotes from digging him up. And seven years later, I read the pencil lines on the pine headboard still bright and unweathered. But before that, driving up on the Mojave stage, I met salty again crossing Indian Wells, his face from the high seat, tanned and ready as a harvest moon looming through the golden dust above his 18 mules. The land had called him the palpable sense of mystery in the desert air breeds fables, chiefly of lost treasure. somewhere within its Stark borders if one believes report is a hill strewn with nuggets, one seemed with Virgin silver, an old clay waterbed, where Indians scooped up earth to make cooking pots, and shaped them reeking with grains of pure gold. Old miners drifting about the desert edges, weathered into the semblance of the Tawny hills will tell you tales like these convincingly after a little sojourn in that land, you will believe them on their own account. It is a question whether it is not better to be bitten by the little horn snake of the desert that goes sidewise and strikes without coiling than by the tradition of a lost mine. And yet, and yet, is it not perhaps to satisfy expectation that one falls into the tragic key and writing of desertas The more you wish of it, the more you get, and in the meantime lose much of pleasantness. in that country, which begins at the foot of the East slope of the Sierras, and spreads out by less and less lofty Hill ranges toward the Great Basin. It is possible to live with great zest to have red blood and delicate joy is to pass and repass about one's daily performance, an area that would make an Atlantic seaboard state and that with no peril, and according to our way of thought, no particular difficulty. At any rate, it was not people who went into the desert merely to write it up. Who invented the fabled hassayampa of whose waters if any drink they can no more see fact is naked fact. But all radiant with a color of romance. I must have drunk have it in my twice seven years wanderings. I'm assured that it is worthwhile. For all the toll that desert takes of a man. It gives compensations. Deep breaths, deep sleep, and the communion of the stars. It comes upon one with new force in the pauses of the night, that the call DNS were a desert bread people. It is hard to escape the sense of mastery, as the stars move in the wide clear heavens to risings and settings. unobscured they look large and near and Palpatine as if they moved on some stately service, not needful to declare, wheeling to their stations in the sky. They make the poor world fret of no account of no account you who lie out there watching nor the lean coyote that stands off in the scrub from you and how and how That was Ellen Parker narrating Mary Austin's the land of little rain and audio file earphones award winner. The full audio book is available wherever audio books are sold or asked for it through your local library for a very limited edition CD, hands numbered and signed by the narrator. Go to silver hollow audio.com slash books. That's silver hollow audio.com slash books. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you again in two weeks. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai