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The Land of Little Rain

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  628 ratings  ·  50 reviews
“Between the high Sierras south from Yosemite—east and south over a very great assemblage of broken ranges beyond Death Valley, and on illimitably into the Mojave Desert” is the territory that Mary Austin calls the Land of Little Rain. In this classic collection of meditations on the wonders of this region, Austin generously shares “such news of the land, of its trails and ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published July 8th 2003 by Modern Library (first published 1903)
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"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 subordinate came into his office and found him staring at the wall. "By God, " Mulholland reportedly said, "that woman is the only one who has brains enough to see where this is going." [Cadillac Desert, b ...more
Bob Nichols
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 with sentences that leap out as particularly good ("One must learn to spare a little of the pang of inexpressible beauty, not to spend all one's purse in one shop. There is always another year, and ano ...more
I read this in an English class I'm taking. I gave this book two stars because it is beautifully written and explores a terrain (the California desert) that is utterly foreign to me and that I knew nothing about. It is, however, long-winded and boring, and a mere 110 pages took me over a week to get through. Still, if you like nature writing, it's got merit.
Mary Austin is an intriguing figure. She was a woman who lived in the California deserts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a familiar of salty miners and Paiute maidens, mourned along with cougars who lost their young to cloudburst wreckage, knew the personal legends of sometimes violent men, and watched the desert plants closely.
Adrienne Beatty
I absolutely enjoyed this book in every possible way you can enjoy reading. Each night I treasured the 10 minutes I got (before getting too sleepy) to go back in time to the land and the era she describes. I felt as thought Mary Austin provided a literal time machine for me and all readers, to hop in and get sucked back into the wild nature of Eastern California and Western Nevada as it once were, stark and available and untouched and wild, no pavement, no roads. She describes "the Pocket Hunter ...more
“Go as far as you will dare in the heart of a lonely land, you cannot go so far that life and death are not before you.” (5)

“Somehow the rawness of the land favors the sense of personal relation to the supernatural. There is not much intervention of crops, cities, clothes, and manners between you and the organizing forces to cut off communication. All this begets in Jimville a state that passes explanation unless you will accept an explanation that passes belief. Along with killing and drunkenne
This country is gifted with great writer/naturalists, and Mary Austin is one of the best. The Land of Little Rain is an incredibly poetic collection of little essays on the theme of living in the desert. This is a book that is worth reading several times, not only for the sense of what Austin says, but also how she says it.
Mia Coolpa
Land of Little Rain is Mary Austin's 1903 account of the deserts of the American Southwest. Her text is as spare and secretly seductive as the deserts of which she writes.
Austin lived, for a time, in Independence, CA, until the water literally went south.
Complex woman; complex environment; straight-up text.
Mar 13, 2015 Chuck rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chuck by: Marlene French
This book is unique and fascinating, but would not appeal to many readers. My attraction came from its purpose which was to give an intimate look at the arid desert southwest of this country at the turn of the past century. It also appealed to me because in my travels around this country and the world, I have grown to love the desolate places like the tundra, the desert, prairies, grasslands, etc. I have no appeal in reading about Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Fisherman's Wharf or the likes. These f ...more
Perry Whitford
An 'Land of Little Rain' is an unsentimental and occasionally spiritual love letter to the vast, pitiless deserts of California and the surrounding High Sierras mountain range by an enraptured resident. Mary Austin writes this book like someone who lives to experience her chosen home, describe it to you, but not have it explained; at least not with any science, but intuitively, as a native american would comprehend and explain it.
More a series of essays than an attempt to encapsulate her love of
I am in that hopeless state of reading too many books at the same time, but they are (almost) all so delicious! One is Mary Austin's _The Land of Little Rain_ which I highly recommend. She is an ethologist and ecologist somewhat ahead of her time, I think, though I know little about the history of either subject. But in writing about the desert, she has a whole-world view that enables her to see the necessary connections among all the parts. And when she wants to show you the desert-dweller's vi ...more
I do love to hear about things from years ago. This book is full of descriptions regarding the desert, her moods and who lives within. I found it to be an incredibly interesting read, but for some reason (perhaps Reader Error) I could not easily assimilate what I was reading as much as I can with other books. It took a little more concentration for me. But other than that, I did enjoy it enough to want to look up each and every flower, shrub and plant mentioned.
(4 of 5 stars)

A nature-themed memoir could be pretty dull reading in some authors' hands, but in Austin's it feels more like poetry. And that's a good thing! While she speaks about desert ecology from the viewpoint of an artist, not a scientist (and I have handfuls of frustrated annotations to prove it), there's a lyricism to the words not unlike Darwin's The Origin of Species that has a way of winning you over regardless, and I can't help but admire it.

Austin describes splendidly and with dee
The 1950 edition which includes photos from Ansel Adams.

p24. "The Pocket Hunter" " "...a labor that drove him to the use of pack animals to whom thorns were a relish."

P72 "No doubt the labor of being comfortable gives you an exaggerated pain to be set aside."

P103. "Come away, you who are obsessed with your own importance in the scheme of things, and have nothing you did not sweat for ... To the kindliness, earthiness,ease of El Pueblo de Las Uvas."

Another book recommendation from Philip Connors in Shelf Awareness 4/8/11:
On your nightstand now:
I just visited a cool little bookstore in Truth or Consequences, N.M.--Black Cat Books--and loaded up on used paperbacks. Among them: The Liars Club by Mary Karr (yes, I'm coming to it awfully late); The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin (her classic about the California desert); and The River Why by David James Duncan (which my friends from the Northwest tell me is great). I also just finished two
A wonderful hymn in celebration of the California desert in the 1800s. The prose is so engaging that you feel like you are living in the desert with her and learning about the animals, plants and Native Americans. The Basket Maker is one of my favorite stories and provides a great insight to an early feminist's view of men.
Kristofer Petersen-Overton
I came to Mary Austin via Edward Abbey (he lists some of his favorite desert books in Desert Solitaire) and what a lovely surprise it was to read her. Austin is a clear master of the essay form. She weaves sensual tapestries in spare, descriptive prose. I could almost smell the sagebrush and feel the desert dust.
I received a letter.

Dearest, dig more deeply into my personal disarray. with dirt on your fingertips, past my bruised vaginal lips, in the desert sand of my lining, blow sweetly off the topsoil of my personality, find me. I am your little version of hooded release, premature death. But I am not violent where your are concerned. I grow in the desert but in the desert of the Northwest. Pediocactus Nigrispinus. If you wait long enough my flower is yours for the taking, if you take it away though,
A short descriptive book on Death Valley around the turn of the 20 th century. Mary Hunter Austin was an ethnologist who studied the area, looking at the lack of available water and how plants, animals and humans survived. She notes the hidden water sources that humans don't notice but coyotes often do. The way plants and animals sustain themselves and the native people who lived surrounding the area but not deep inside it. The settlers would often plan to travel in certain directions and times ...more
I have read many great books on nature - Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, The Sand Country Almanac by Leopold, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard and...many more. This book was disappointing in that some of her expressions were very dated and she kept herself so far away from the book that it became a set of impersonal observations with no real heart. Nothing really appealed to me, nothing she talked about inspired me to read more about them (which often does when I read books about plants an ...more
Very much like the work of Ellen Meloy, well vice versa I'm sure. A sort of stream of conscious collection of short, somewhat connected stories about life in the desert. I'm just not sure what to rate this book. I feel like if I was camping in Death Valley again, reading these pages, I'd completely love this story.
Mary Austin lived in the Owens Valley of California in the early years of the 20th century. This book is essays about the flora, fauna, and weather of the area. This was a time when Indians still clung to the ways of the land; miners still looked for veins and pockets; stages still connected towns to railroads; and feuds were sometimes settled with guns.
The book is a little challenging to read. Austen uses an archaic, formal sentence structure and some words that seem to be unique to her. But it
This is a wonderful little book describing desert life. It educates us on plant life, the effect of rain on the amazing plant life, the wind and rock formations and how the American Indians thought and reacted to the desert around them. There are some lovely native American stories and the whole book is relaxing, taking me away to a land of solitude. However, there is one huge flaw. This book fairly cried for PICTURES. They are, after all, worth a thousand words. I hope that is was only the Kind ...more
Don Wallace
This forerunner or prototype for tight-focus, on-the-ground writing about nature and a specific ecosystem is still fresh and strange. It tells the truth, but tells it slant. Austin is a presence but not a personality: you'll learn more about the coyotes than her life in the desert at the base of the Eastern Sierra Nevada ca. 1900. There's mystery here, an unusual mind, and an unforgettable landscape and its denizens, including the remaining local Native Americans.

A fascinating woman. Check out
Grady Jaynes
I have a strong interest in desert literature and particularly in literature of the Southwest U.S. Mary Austin's remarkable observations of the high desert and its people in the early days of westward expansion stands out as independent of the prejudices early American writers held for the arid climates and the area cultures.

The fact that my friend, Mary Austin Speaker, shares a name with this talented American writer adds a happy facet to my relationship with this excellent book.
A love affair with the desert landscape. Needs to be read as separate short stories and not one after the other as they can become a little monotonous. Still, beautiful discriptions and history of the Mohave desert, flora and fauna and environs.
Omg, you guys, that felt like it would never end. I'm sure it's a very worthy book, but the narrative threads are minimal, and long descriptive passages are just excruciatingly boring to me. Mary Austin does have several interesting anecdotes in this collection of essays, but they are few and far between in a book that rhapsodizes far too much about trees and mountains and lakes and weather. I'd rather look at a picture, thanks.
Karen Banks
Wow! It took me a year yo read this book! Old fashioned, rambling writing with lots of religious explanations and connections to describe or explain phenomena. I definitely read it in small doses. BUT, it was worth the read for her close observation of flora. fauna, and natural conditions in the southern California desert. Glad I read it. Glad it's over.
I should say that I mostly read this. Towards the end I gave up and started skipping through essays after the first few paragraphs. I thought I would like this a lot more - nature writing and the Eastern Sierra. Two of my favorite things. I guess I found her writing uncompelling, to say the least. Perhaps a bit too Victorian.
This might be a great book for people who like to read long, flowery descriptions of scenery and what animals are doing. I personally found it slooooow and boring. I was forced to read it for school, so I would never have chosen to read it on my own.

Perhaps the book just wasn't "for" me.
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Mary Hunter Austin was an American writer. One of the early nature writers of the American Southwest, her classic The Land of Little Rain (1903) describes the fauna, flora and people – as well as evoking the mysticism and spirituality – of the region between the High Sierras and the Mojave Desert of southern California.
More about Mary Austin...
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