The Desert: Further Studies in Natural Appearances

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JHU Press, Aug 12, 1999 - Nature - 240 pages

Since its first appearance in 1901, John C. Van Dyke's The Desert has been considered one of the classics of American nature writing. Before its publication, Americans thought of deserts as scorpion-infested wastelands—with names like Devil's Domain and the Lands That God Forgot. All this changed as The Desert drew attention to the extraordinary beauty that existed in the American West: rolling sand dunes, golden vistas, vibrant sunsets, and remarkable plant and animal life. Van Dyke's book captured the nation's imagination at a time when attitudes about the land were changing. It provided a vocabulary that continues to be used as appreciation of deserts increases and ever greater pressures lead to new calls to protect these fragile environments.

With a critical introduction by Peter Wild, this edition offers new insights—and reveals some surprising truths—about this legendary author and his best known work. Van Dyke was not, it seems, the "plaster saint of the desert." He was not entirely honest with his readers about the journeys that inspired the book, and his natural history includes serious errors. But in this more informed reading, Wild notes, Van Dyke "emerges as all the more fascinating a writer and his famous book becomes far more intriguing than most readers have imagined through the decades." As the centennial of its publication approaches and the complex story behind its long success is finally told, this new edition of The Desert reveals an equally complex and dramatic narrative: our changing relationship with the American landscape.

"Van Dyke came at just the right time... No sooner had Americans conquered the wilderness, cut down the forests, and slaughtered the buffalo than the romantic nation began sentimentalizing the past, longing for what it had just destroyed."—from the Introduction

 

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Contents

Contents to Original Edition
xvii
A Critical Introduction to the 1999 Edition
xxiii
The Approach I
1
The Make of the Desert
23
sandMountain ranges on desertPlains valleys
27
The Bottom of the Bowl
44
logical daysThe former GulfSeabeaches on desert
56
mining lumbering agriculturePloughing the prairies
62
Illusions
109
Cactus and Grease Wood
128
NatureGrowth and decayNatures planThe law
132
Desert Animals
150
quirementsPeculiar desert characterDesert Indians
152
Prairie dogs and waterWater famine Coyotes
172
Winged Life
174
Mesas and FootHills
194

The Silent River
63
Light Air and Color
77
Desert Sky and Clouds
95
place things of NatureThe blue skyChanges in
99
The orange skyDesertcloudsRainfallEffect
107
the desertAcross Southern ArizonaRising from
198
Riding into the unexpected The Grand Canyon
212
MountainBarriers
213
Copyright

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About the author (1999)

John C. Van Dyke was a professor of art history at Rutgers University and the author of many books, including The Open Spaces, The Mountain, and Autobiography. Peter Wild is a professor of English at the University of Arizona. His books include The Secret Life of John C. Van Dyke and Daggett: Life in a Mojave Frontier Town.

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