So, finding a new-to-me slim 1987 volume of three lectures thrilled. The American West as Living Space at its heart explores how water — and its absence, often enough — defines the region.
We’ve endured our third dry winter in a row in California. Pleasant enough to “endure” at the time, but the state needs the rain. Drought fills the news, including this article published while I was reading these essays in February. I live in a city whose very existence depends on shipping water nearly 200 miles from its source. Stegner blitzes by this fact in one sentence.
San Francisco drowned the Hetchy Hetchy Valley, which many thought as beautiful as Yosemite itself, to ensure its future water supply. (p.50)
In a light, skipping survey of a topic he knows so well, Stegner captures the environmental risks in trying to overcome the region’s inherent arid nature.
It’s a gloomy view, overall, but even when Stegner admonishes, he can’t help but notice the defiant optimism which shapes so much of the region. Convinced it can’t last, Stegner still understood the attraction of the West, in myth and reality.
The brief bibliography points to a few dozen sources, including his own biography of John Wesley Powell, Powell’s own report of his surveys, and Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert. I look forward to following up on these trails.