The setting of the story is so pervasive that it almost seems to function like a character in itself. When Rafael's parents die...
The people whispered that the silence of the llano had taken Rafael's soul, and they respected his right to live alone. They knew the hurt he suffered.
The setting of the story is so pervasive that it almost seems to function like a character in itself. When Rafael's parents die suddenly in an accident when he is just fifteen, the people in the nearby town of Las Animas respect his desire to be left alone, though it is not the choice any of them make. All the other men invent reasons to go to town so that they can converse with others and return home to tell the stories they heard to their families, but Rafael keeps to himself and does not seek out contact with anyone.
The silence of the llano, a flat and grassy plain without trees, is so intense that it tends to overwhelm its residents. Without his father going to town to break up the silence when he returned with the stories of others, Rafael has given in to it.
She spent days planting flowers and vegetables. She watered the old, gnarled peach trees near the garden, and they burst into a late bloom. She worked the earth with care, and by midsummer she was already picking green vegetables to cook with the meat and potatoes.
Rafael's world seems bright and cheerful and full of life while his wife is alive. She sings to herself and fills the harsh, beige landscape with color. The image of her working in her garden in the coolness of the late afternoon permanently marks, for him, "the otherwise empty llano." His life and his heart are full with her near. This makes her passing all the more devastating for him. Rafael ignores his daughter, failing to speak to her, let alone raise her or love her.
The pile of rocks that marked [his wife's] grave was almost covered by windswept sand. The peach trees were almost dead. The girl had watered them from time to time, as she had watered the garden, but no one had helped or taught her, and so her efforts were poorly rewarded. Only a few flowers survived in the garden, spots of color in the otherwise dry, tawny landscape.
On the day he sees the cloud of dust near the home he shares with his now sixteen-year-old daughter, the landscape is so different, so barren. The landscape seems to represent what Rafael's experience of life is like. It is dusty, lifeless, and sad, and in neglecting his daughter, Rafael has inadvertently neglected the memory of the girl's mother. Despite the girl's attempts to keep her mother's plants alive, she does not know how, just as she has not been taught about her mother by her father. In the end, when he finally tells her about her mother's garden and promises to prepare the soil for her too, there is hope that both will find some joy in life.