Most of the time that I spend in the desert there is no one around; maybe another vehicle passes along a county road destined for one of the mines or plants. Sometimes I hear the boom-boom of a shotgun from a distant arroyo where someone is target shooting. Like me, local people like to drive around the countryside just to drive; to feel like a Monopoly game piece moving on a vast rolling surface; to park on a rise and contemplate the broad and bleak universe of Wyoming.
City people find the prospect daunting: the scale is overwhelming. No trees; nothing taller than your knees. A trip to Mars, but without the lovely red color. From a high spot south of town, two opposite mountain ranges can be seen that are 200 miles apart. Human beings settle into a landscape that reminds us that our proper place in the scheme of nature is rather smaller than we’d hoped. The important result is that a reduction in scale results in happier people, and I don’t say this because I’m Asperger.
“Less is more” not only in architecture, but in nature’s placement of people in a landscape. Mies van der Rohe, 1947
When I do encounter signs of humans or animals in the desert, a peculiar emotion rises, as if a ghostly animal remains there – perhaps the reaction of a hunter who “learns” that signs and symbols can stand in for the real animal. A notion of time emerges: what “was” an animal traveling through, which stopped to drink water or was spooked by a predator, or laid down in a grassy spot overnight – all these create the picture of an animal that is no longer present, and yet is present in the mind of the tracker. It’s a peculiar overlap of then and now, which fuse into one “timeless” moment full of awareness, movement, relationship and fulfillment of function.