A search for an inherited plot of undeveloped land in New Mexico inspires this sprawling history of lies and broken promises involving railroads and ranchers, land grants and land grabs.
"When my father died on Christmas Day in 1989, he left his Deming Ranchettes to me in his will. Select Western Lands, Inc., a company that endures today primarily in the archived records of the lawsuits filed against it, had subdivided pristine New Mexican desert fifteen miles east of the city of Deming, population eight thousand at the time my parents bought their ranchettes, into a crazy quilt of eighty thousand half-acre lots. Infrastructure—paved roads, water, utilities—was nonexistent. I was the sudden new owner of two of those lots."
When two hungry and thirsty men appear on her property in southeastern Arizona, Renata must make some decisions, knowing that aiding illegal border crossers is a felony and that her neighbors are watching.
"We were unaware of anything unusual happening out there, a crisis arriving on our doorstep, until the greyhound, who had grown so accustomed to the scores of resident jackrabbits he didn't even notice them anymore, barked. If you spend enough time in the desert, where your closest neighbor might be half a mile away, you notice subtle shifts in color, small movements in the mesquite."
"Prairie dogs have one of the largest vocabularies in the animal kingdom, with more sophisticated language skills than whales, dolphins, or parrots. Prairie dogs have a call for human and can add syllables to that call to say tall, thin human in a blue shirt and short, fat human in a yellow shirt. A prairie dog in Utah can invent a new call for something she has never seen before, and a prairie dog in Colorado will understand what that call means the first time he hears it. And yet prairie dogs are killed in shooting competitions, to make way for development, and by law in some states. With only two percent of the historic population of prairie dogs remaining, time is running out to hear what they have to tell us."