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The Land of Little Rain

Mary Hunter Austin

Book Overview: 

The Land of Little Rain is a book of sketches which portray the high desert country of southern California, where the Sierras descend into the Mojave Desert. Mary Austin finds beauty in the harsh landscape: "This is the sense of the desert hills--that there is room enough and time enough. . . The treeless spaces uncramp the soul." Her story begins with the water trails that lead toward the few life giving springs--the way marked for men by ancient Indian pictographs. Life and death play out at these springs. Rabbits fall prey to the coyote; buzzards hang heavily in the sky above. She then writes of individuals who eke out their living in this land of scarce resources--an itinerant gold prospector, a sheepherder, a blind Indian basket maker. Austin's spare prose creates unforgettable vignettes: "Choose a hill country for storms. . . I remember one night of thunderous rain made unendurably mournful by the houseless cry of a cougar whose lair, and perhaps his family, had been buried under a slide of broken boulders . . ." Anyone who sees beauty in the Southwestern deserts, or who just enjoys good nature writing, will savor The Land of Little Rain.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .O'Shea was past recalling what he thought about things after the second day. My friend Ewan told me, among other things, when he came back from San Juan Hill, that not all the carnage of battle turned his bowels as the sight of slant black wings rising flockwise before the burial squad.

There are three kinds of noises buzzards make,—it is impossible to call them notes,—raucous and elemental. There is a short croak of alarm, and the same syllable in a modified tone to serve all the purposes of ordinary conversation. The old birds make a kind of throaty chuckling to their young, but if they have any love song I have not heard it. The young yawp in the nest a little, with more breath than noise. It is seldom one finds a buzzard's nest, seldom that grown-ups find a nest of any sort; it is only children to whom these things happen by right. But by making a business of it one may come upon them in wide, quiet canons, or on the lookouts of lonely, table-to. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Before Mary Austin there were very few people who saw American deserts as a place of life. They only crossed quickly or avoided those places by going around. They saw death instead of life. John Muir came earlier as a naturalist in California but had an easier sell. He stuck with majestic mountains

Back in the 20th century, before the world of online booksellers, I learned of a publisher that had a huge catalog of $1 classics. Dover Publications. At that time they were located in Mineola, so I asked Ted to drive me there. He had no interest in books, but he was happy to take me for a drive.


Apparently, Austin viewed her writing as the desert equivalent of Thoreau's writing on New England. There are similiarities between the two. There's much in the way of dry description that is not particularly interesting. The writing is void of Muir-like passion, but is interspersed here and there w

This is a set of essays unified by their setting in the deserts east of the Sierras at the end of the 19th century. I love this part of California and know a bit about its natural history (well, mostly its flora), but I go there very much as a visitor from a much greener, kinder part of the state. M

"Mary Austin was convinced that the valley [Owens Valley*] had died when it sold its first water right to Los Angeles--that city would never stop until it owned the whole river and all of the land. One day, in Los Angeles for an interview with Mulholland, she told him so. After she had left, a subor

The writing: pure poetry. Mary Austin's words sing just as brightly more than a century later.

I know there are many, many versions of this volume that are available, but I was lucky enough to read the volume produced in 1903. Inside the dull and worn brown library binding, sits a singular layout, wh

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