A Villainous Desert

SAN LUIS POTOSI to MEXICO CITY -- Not far south of San Luis Potosi, the Mexican authorities reveal their presence for the first time, with the most haphazard checkpoint I have ever seen. Cars pass through at sixty miles per hour, which is too fast even to read the sign that says the federales are stopping vehicles to search for "contraband, weapons, and explosives."


View Mexico in a larger map

When Graham Greene took this journey, he looked at the desert scrub around him with a distinctly modern English eye, counting its pristine barrenness for nothing and its inhospitality strongly against it. "Nature appalls me when unemployed or unemployable," he wrote, and the desert here is "as villainous a tract as the world contains," capable of supporting only the maguey or Century Plant in its desiccated cracks.

To me these rural portions of the drive contain an improbable peace and calm -- perhaps lawless, as he claimed, but also without need of laws, since so much appears uncultivated and void of human life. Beyond some of the small rocky hills in the distance there may be a village or a house. There may also be nothing, just a desert moonscape, as silent now as it was a thousand years ago. England a thousand years ago looked totally different from today: rabbits had not been introduced, and had not yet gnawed away the glades in the English meadows where wildflowers, birds, and butterflies now flourish. I suppose it is harder to find tranquility in a changeless landscape when your native habitat's beauty owes everything to change.

3046939388_071f2d7d52.jpg

Photo by flickr user cristalcosmico under a Creative Commons license.

Presented by

Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is gcaw.net.

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Desegregated, Yet Unequal

A short documentary about the legacy of Boston busing

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

Social Media: The Video Game

What if the validation of your peers could "level up" your life?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Global

Just In