Greetings from the Salton Sea.
Folly and Intervention in the Southern California Landscape, 1905-2005.
Text by Kim Stringfellow.
Center for American Places, Chicago, 2005. 144 pp., 45 color illustrations, 12 half-tones, 5½x8½".
Kim Stringfellow's book charts a ten year obsession with
the peculiar Salton Sea in the deep desert of southern
California. This is an odyssey about an oddity, the condensed
story of the peculiarities that people and landscape
can inspire in each other when topography and
money collide. The Salton Sea is a western palimpsest: by
turns it has been a saline desert flatland; an irrigated
money machine; a disastrously
accidental inland sea below sea
level; the site of wild real estate
speculation; a classified military
outpost; a glittering destination
resort; an environmental debacle;
a designated catch basin for agricultural
runoff; and crucial
wildlife habitat. The area's story is
as instructive as it is deeply
American, and Stringfellow tells it well, deploying conventional
historical text and retrieved artifacts, as well as
well-realized color photography of the area as it stands
today. The book, which is drawn from an original installation,
is laid out rather like a handbook to the sights,
sounds and smells of the Salton Sea over time, chronicling
the series of disjointed visions and somewhat haphazard
events that produced the strange, ruinous present-
day Sea. Stringfellow is to be commended for going
beyond a standard denunciation of human hubris in the
western landscape, though. She also directs our attention
to the communities that have sprung up in the
cracks of the desert floor: significant populations of
migratory and resident birds (many of whom are threatened
by the growing salinity of the Sea), and a vibrant
human squatter community, that makes its way by
scrounging and recycling the remnants of past incarnations
of settlement. Her purpose is to highlight the irrevocable
bond between human and natural ecologies, and
the responsibilities we unwittingly take on when we try
to bend reality to match our dreams. PHIL HARRIS
Read Publisher's Description.
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