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Lords of the Playa

Esha Chiocchio | United States

Gordon Tooley walks across a section of land that he has imprinted with his unique combination of tractor attachments in an attempt to revitalize this overgrazed and desertified land.

In the late 1880s, when settlers founded Lordsburg in Southwestern New Mexico, a sea of grass tickled their horses’ bellies and provided ample feed for their growing herds of livestock. By 2015, cattle had eaten the grass to the ground, and dust storms frequently enveloped Interstate 10, causing 39 fatalities along a 20 mile stretch of highway between 2015-2019. In 2020, desperate authorities hired a trio of earth whisperers to transform the landscape with a unique combination of tractor attachments designed to resuscitate the desiccated land. For three months, the men spent long days plowing, seeding and imprinting the lifeless expanse with a waffle-like texture. Their hope: regenerate the grassland to protect the soil from scouring winds. Locals saw their strange approach as a waste of taxpayer dollars and a threat to their grazing lands. In order to make this project work, they will need to find a way to listen to each other and find common ground. This is the very beginning of a long-term a story of bridging divides and working with the land to save people and bring life back to the desert.

I photograph to feel connected with those from whom we all must learn if we want to survive the changing climate and realign our priorities to regenerate our soils. Getting off the beaten path, finding environmental heroes and raising them up feeds my soul. My hope is to inspire change by telling stories of resilience and solutions.

Esha Chiocchio

+1 505.310.4425



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