Ethnobotonist Gary Paul Nabhan is following food resilience in the desert Southwest. Gary Paul Nabhan wears many hats, but when we recently spoke in his hometown of Patagonia, Arizona, he had on a khaki ball cap emblazoned with a caricature of a horned toad.
For someone who lives within 12 miles of the infamous wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, it was an odd feeling to travel along the wall between Palestine and Israel last week just as Osama bin Laden’s death was announced to the world. Odd, because the parallels between the two desert regions are so remarkable.
It is spring, and I am kneeling with a few friends in front of the composted soil of the hillside terraces in my orchard-garden in the desert borderlands of Arizona. It is planting day, and as we place each variety of pepper plant into the moistened earth, we say its name aloud, as if reciting a prayer in the face of uncertainty: Chiltepin, Chile del Arbol, Tabasco, Jimmy Nardello, Datil, Beaver Dam, Yellow Hot Banana, Chimayó, Sweet Chocolate, and Sheepsnose. We hand-water each member of this tribe of peppers, place a frost-resistant row cover over it like a monk’s hood, and move on to the next, hoping for the best.
THERE was a frost expected here two weeks ago, but Gary Paul Nabhan, a conservation biologist and inveterate seed-saver, was out in his hardscrabble garden anyway, planting his favorite food, hot chilies.
Chiltepin, chile de árbol (the one that scrambles up trees), Tabasco, serrano, pasilla, Chimayó.