Winner of a 1990 Western States Book Award, this collection of deftly worded essays and meditations explores the desert as ""a springboard for introspection."" ""To steep in silence, to absorb the long view, is to become more comfortable with the emptiness that surrounds us, even in civilization,"" Berger argues. In 50 short pieces, he scrutinizes a southwestern landscape of sand (""vermillion, rust, ruby, cayenne""), canyons, and arroyos. He stalks desert creatures--snakes (reminders of ""a present tense one can't quite prepare for""), birds, tumbleweed, and tamarisk (""a mist on stilts""), and cult figure Everett Ruess, who was lost on the Colorado Plateau in the 1930's. Berger cringes at the ""designer desert"" that has sprung up in ""what's left of the Sonoran desert"" outside Phoenix. He characterizes the contemporary backpacker not as a pioneer, but as an astronaut on a space walk: ""in flight from contemporary civilization he conscripts every convenience produced in pursuing the alternative."" Berger's technicolor prose conveys the desert's sense of constant surprise, but the book meanders. Ranging from camping to Bach and the Coolidge Dam, the trail too often circles back to the author, who feels like ""an abandoned parent"" when he sees an empty hummingbird nest, and drags us through grotesque details of what happened to his ""fourth digit"" after being hit by a rock. An intermittently arresting translation of the fragile desert's unassailable message to marvel and respect.