Deserts In The Blind Spot

Driving through Nevada on vacation a week or so back, I had this epiphany about deserts:

In the presence of green and wet, we become blind to deserts, in the same way sociopaths are blind to the existence and reality of other people.

On the desert highways of Nevada, you’ll occasionally see an oasis off in the distance, a green, lush place — maybe a hay farm, or a little spring-fed resort — and you’ll think “Wow, that’s beautiful.” Your eye is drawn to green, and in that drawing, it looks away from the dryer stretches.

Those vast “other” swaths are the not-green, the dry, dead, useless desert, easily envisioned — if you think about them at all — as pavable, gradable, dirt-bike-able, atomic-bomb-able. Sacrificeable, without pause for second thoughts.

Scale that mindset down to the individual level and imagine someone who cared only about that which was of direct and immediate benefit to him personally. Imagine someone who thought everything else, everyone else, was nothing more than dirt — a collection of inconveniences whose trivial existence might be casually swept away to make room for something more useful.

We’d call that person a sociopath, someone so sick mentally we wouldn’t feel safe around him. Tragically sick, because we know that outside the emotional blindness of the sociopath, there is an immeasurably valuable universe of fascinating, vital, real people.

Just so, outside the green-blindness of human values and awareness, there is a rich, living domain of unique and astonishing splendor: The desert.

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  • starmom

    I love this analogy, Hank.

    It really resonated with me because I learned to love and appreciate the rich beauty of the desert when I moved to Eastern Oregon a couple of decades ago, and found myself describing and defending it to family.

    On visits back to the green side I would feel claustrophobic with the trees and hills looming up around me and restricting my vision. I instantly saw this idea in your analogy because when we aren’t among people different from us, it can narrow our thinking.


  • Janna Ellis Kepley

    From an Arizonan, constantly telling Floridian neighbors about all the Life in the desert. “Sacrificable” is a scary thought, and one I’ve heard from people about other deserts. Even ignoring humans, the biomes and lifeforms of the deserts are vast and variable. It’s a shame we’re as ethnocentric about landscapes as we are about culture and patronage.

  • Neeroc

    It may not be a desert, but even Ottawans are becoming keenly aware of the unique life supported in the sand – (the saddest, for me, are the rh pictures of how much of this dune have been lost)