In these powerful epic tales of the Sonora Desert, Bowden (Red Line, 1989; Mescal, 1988, etc.) peoples the harsh land on both sides of the US-Mexican border with saints and sinners, but his enduring hero is the desert itself. The seven essays are a poignant blend of history, science, legend and lore, naturalism, investigative journalism, portrait painting, and independent thinking. Personal encounters with S&L magnate Charles ``Charlie'' Keating are juxtaposed with illegal survival-acts of the almost extinct Seri Indians of Mexico's southern Sonora. Equally effective are the character sketches of Alfonso the painter, Mexican drug-runners cultivating their orchards in Culiac†n, Miguel the hunter, young Arizona men with the golden touch, or the Yaqui Indians' comings and goings across an international border that divides the unity of the desert. Bowden has as little patience for the sterile plans of puritan environmentalists as for the excesses of the Keating mind-set. He celebrates the survival skills of the mountain lion against all odds, has eyes for complexity, recognizes dilemma, and tries hard to look beyond the fray. ``Time runs long here,'' he says. ``The killings, they come and go.'' The killings (of humans and animals) refer to the collateral damages not only of the drug trade, but of cruelty, greed, development, and poverty. Thought-provoking and moving.