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The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in O'odham Country

The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in O'odham Country
Gary Paul Nabhan
University of Arizona Press
Publication Date: 

paper, 148 p., $16.95

In this fictitious essay, Gary Nabhan uses real acquaintances and experiences to describe the cultural ties of the Tohono O'odham (Papago) people with their Sonoran Desert environment. Their ability to use runoff from isolated thunderstorms to grow crops in the desert and their utilization of the local flora to supplement their crops makes for fascinating reading. Written in a documentary style, Nabhan expresses respect for a culture and admiration for a people who have lived successfully for centuries in an environment considered harsh by most standards.

A cultural historian and ethnobotanist, Dr. Nabhan has knowledge and appreciation of the people and culture of this region that is documented in the pages of this essay. Topics discussed include some of the ceremonial rituals of the Papago culture, conflicts with political boundary between the U.S. and Mexico that dissect their homeland, and the deterioration of Papago culture through outside influences.

An important message repeated throughout the essay is that by developing an agricultural system based on the environmental rhythms of the desert, the Papago people have prospered for generations with very little impact on their environment. In comparison, their non-indigenous neighbors, with all of their modern agriculture techniques and technology, have been unable to do so. Dr. Nabhan effectively uses the story of the Papago to make his point that we can all be better stewards of the land.

— David Sollenberger, Ecologist, Chicago Botanic Garden