I looked up the word 'desert' in OED, and generally the word stems from
the latin 'deserere' - "to abandon" (desert like the food comes from 'de'
and 'servir' - "I serve", or "to serve zealously," which in late Latin
means "merit earned from serving well").
Broadly speaking, a desert is a place that is in the act of being
abandonned, or has been abandonned. 'Desert' is often concerned more with
the relation of living things to the wasted area, rather than the area
itself. For example, other than the population, many cities are the
equivalent of a hot, sandy wasteland. If people leave the area, there
will be little life left, a man-made Paria Canyon (Arizona, US, desert rock
But I have also found a problem with a the idea of lifelessness. One can
*expect* life in the most desolate areas. The only area which is truly
lifeless on a large scale is Antartica. All other areas have their
ecosystems, even if only lichens or insects. So, *is* there any place
which is a desert?
There is no need for such a strict definition of 'desert,' of course. It
can mean 'human desertion,' or 'large scale exodus.' People left western
Wisconsin after the lead rush in the late 1800's (Platteville, WI - French
term 'platte' used to describe the shape of lead that the American Indians
in the region sold to the early traders, before mining became more common),
creating a perfect location for farmers, who exclusively planted wheat
which depleted the soil, which caused another exodus until rotation farming
of corn and alfalfa for dairy farms helped restore the fertility. There
were two desertions of that particular area, creating a fertile desert.
More recently, economic hardship may cause another mass exodus to more
financially fertile cities. However, though cities have more jobs, they
are less able to maintain food crops or other vegetation, so you could see
this (if you squint) as an exodus *to* a desert.
I have also noticed that wind causes dunes to appear on the lee side of
things: trees, tents, other dunes, and so on. It seems that if a bush does
succeed in a sandy region, it dooms itself - eventually the sand closes in
around the bush, and buries it. I am not sure how long this process takes.
Do sand deserts grow, driving people out, causing desertion?
Which can bring up the idea that many other factors in life force
abandonment of an area. The great Dust Bowl in Texas (and surrounding
areas) during the 1930's Depression was caused mainly from over-farming,
which depleted soil down to sand, and then abandonment of planting, which
was the only erosion control used in those the flat regions. Once the wind
erosion went unchecked, the topsoil disappeared, blowing the soil and
underlying sand around stacking it up in some areas until it was many
meters deep, burying everything. An exodus caused by ignorance and a
long-term natural disaster.
That's it so far.
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