Posted by: Renee Owens | September 6, 2010

Finding Harmon-y in the Desert

I’ve acquired a lifetime supply of new freckles and wrinkles, but I’ve only just begun to really plumb this southwestern desert’s desserts.

Did you know with the help of a UV light, scuttling scorpions glow like little purple-white neon signs? For me, there’s so much yet to discover in this vast desert. I’ve listened with a bat detector to the foraging bats as they snag a late night dinner (or is it breakfast?).  I managed to get up close, if not personal, with endangered big horn sheep, and crossed paths with a badger in the middle of a flash flood. I’ve been seeing bobcat and even mountain lion tracks for weeks but no glimpse of the real deal for a while, the felines seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once. But like many I am worried: the southwestern desert has become no less than an environmental sacrificial  lamb for all kinds of development under the very hot sun.

neonate FTHL 3 - amy

And so I’m thinking it is time to visit my friend again, a hard core desert rat if ever there was one. She lives in a tiny oasis of green in the middle of this place of extremes. She doesn’t use air conditioning, has kit foxes sleeping on her roof, and doesn’t break a sweat until the temps reach at least 105 F. She cooks in an outdoor brick oven of her own creation and bathes in her cold-water-only outdoor shower. When asked the last time she went to the movie theater for fun, she thought for a moment, and said, “1975,  maybe?”  When we invite her over and  serve spaghetti with soy meatballs (no, really, they’re good) by candlelight, she calls us elegant and thanks us as if we just lent her the crown jewels.

Perhaps you are having visions of a female Thoreau collecting prickly pears for the dinner table (yes, also outdoors), surrounded by a towering stacks of books and papers.

Aproposkit fox 2 as these images are, a hermit she is not. Despite having to drive over 100 miles to engage in her volunteer activities (or to go shopping, for that matter) my friend is a fierce defender of the environment and her community, having won many battles  for her efforts over the decades. I can say without a doubt she is one of the most tenacious  and enduring partners you could ever ask for in a fight against an entity who is threatening a community and its environment. Not only that, her research endeavors in support of her battles put lawyers and professors to shame. She has spent many a night sleeping in a government office parking lot because she wasn’t able to copy all of the relevant documents she needed in one visit, and her most common battle cry is “I won’t be sleeping again tonight, because I have to complete my 100+ page comment letter as I was busy all day giving expert testimony to the (fill in the blank).”

Approaching storm

What I find most inspiring about my friend is that she is an unassuming and unsophisticated powerhouse.  She is guileless, and she wouldn’t be caught dead in a power suit. This is not to be confused with naivete. However, when not in the throes of the latest campaign,  she comes across as almost shy; and there is a vulnerability to her that she makes no attempt to hide with a professional veneer. Because of this she is underestimated, and this is her most powerful asset as a veteran soldier. Never turn your back on a junkyard dog – or an environmentalist motivated by love of place. You’ll regret it, as my friend Edie has proven time and again.

Edie Harmon is one of  those real life heroes, something we urgently need more of in a world over-saturated with people so plugged into their technology they have  unplugged themselves from real life, living in a world where judgment and negativity rule the media and mindset of our youth, and where all those who are not momentarily worshiped as pop stars of modern culture are deemed unworthy and “voted off” whatever fatuous pseudo-real life drama is on prime time. I’m not so idealistic to suggest we all can – or even should – aspire to live just like Edie, although we’d certainly be able to celebrate our huge reduction in global greenhouse gases (and not just because everyone would be driving on the freeway at a teeth-grinding 41 mph in an overstuffed minivan).  What Edie does is restore my hope in a world where people strive for the good things they believe in; no matter the odds, no matter the size of the corporation, and no matter what anyone else in the world thinks.

Lately my dear desert friend has been battling some demons closer to home, physical ones that are giving her the fight of her life. She has reached the point where she needs to slow down and smell the desert verbena and fight what may be her toughest battle, that is, whether or not she can pass  – ok, let’s be realistic, share – the torch for a little while. Her dilemma is such that she feels she will let down her community, and lose the desert she loves, if she takes an open-ended vacation to fight for her health and well-being.

Such is the dedication and enduring love of place that I’ve come to respect in people like her, whether their calling is for the desert, the mountains, the tropics, or for individual creature inhabitants themselves.

For the rest of you readers I say to you, if you love your wild places do not sit idly by while the dedicated few forge ahead holding the flag. Such dedication needs nurturing, and can’t survive on its own in this shrinking world of corporate power, a superficial and formidable power that invalidates the soul of all things wild. These real life warriors need our help, so yes this blog is in part a call to arms, pure and simple:  don’t hesitate, get involved, even a little, to save the wild places that support and nurture us and keep us alive.

I also write this blog not only to honor her beloved desert, but to tell ALL the Edies out there loud and clear: go ahead, take a break, enjoy the view for a while. Goodness knows you’ve earned it. And above all, stop worrying, for now. The rest of us aren’t going anywhere; you need us just holler (loudly sometimes), because when push comes to shove we’ve got your back.

me ‘n Edie



  1. Yes, thank “?” for Edie! I worked closely with her for many years, burning the midnight oil. She is awesome! Great write up, and some well deserved recognition for her.
    Thanks for doing this, Renee, and for doing it so eloquently.

    • You are one of those wilderness warriors, so this one’s for you too, lady. 😉

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