Thursday, January 08, 2004

A Hike for Mary

Today at Southwestern Academy--Beaver Creek Ranch:
Western writer Mary Austin lived a hundred years ago. Austin was a pioneering woman of the American West. She arrived from Wisconsin at the age of twenty with her family after the death of her father. The California desert captivated her and she went onto become one of the most successful female writers of her era--and a revered writer of the West.
Her most famous book is called “The Land of Little Rain.” In that book and in her other writings, Austin celebrates the desert southwest for its haunting beauty. She championed all that is wild, including the indigenous Indians. At that time the Indians of the southwest were still close to their culture’s traditions, though western civilization was beginning to overtake them.
During our long block period today (three hours since it spans lunch), our environmental history class, consisting of four young women (from four different countries), headed to Sedona to hike in honor of Mary Austin.
After a lunch in town, we did a short hike on one of Sedona’s many stunning trails.
On this warm and sunny January day, the sky was a vivid blue, the air clear and clean. We hiked up the trail, surrounded on all sides by soaring redrock cliffs. We did a short reading from Mary Austin, and took in the beauty of the desert around us. Even a sometimes jaded, beach-loving, Californiateenager begrudgingly admitted:“Yeah, it’s pretty beautiful.”

Today four young women of the twenty-first century experienced the words and passions of a woman of the nineteenth century (1868-1934). Here’s to Mary Austin and the western deserts she loved.