Mary Austin wrote about nature, specifically in the American Southwest. The Land of Little Rain is a collection of essays celebrating the California desert, an area many would consider a formidable, unforgiving landscape. She brings it to life, describing the flora and fauna in minute detail. Even Scavengers, an essay about buzzards, makes for fascinating reading as she shows how the birds help keep the desert clean — except, of course, from the litter left by careless humans.
This book was published in 1903, and Austin’s language takes some getting used to. In the introduction, Terry Tempest Williams writes about recording these essays as an audiobook, and initially
missing her voice completely. It was only in hearing the text out loud that I realized the era that held Mary Austin. It was a Victorian diction written through the perceptions of a radical spirit. Mary Austin wrote through the lace of her age. (p. xiv)
Reading this book piqued my interest in Mary Austin, en early feminist who worked tirelessly for Native American rights and what we now call “sustainability.” I’m saving these essays for a re-read after I learn more about this fascinating woman.