Border Talk (Part 8)

MoccisiansMy husband stumbled across a backpack about a mile from the ranch left behind by an undocumented immigrant. Ron brought it home where we opened it together. Inside we found a few t-shirts, a pair of underwear, and a baseball cap. We also retrieved a phone with cords, a charger, and an extra battery. Phones are essential for human traffickers and drug runners who are moving cargo. These criminals often strap carpet remnants to the soles of their shoes allowing them to traverse the desert undetected. The carpet booties we pulled from the pack were hand-sewn and resembled moccasins. The owner of the backpack was most likely spotted by Border Patrol agents and opted to leave his things behind rather than risk getting caught. These packs are strewn across the border landscape like archaeological talismans of a troubled present-day civilization many of us ignore.

quartzI shook the pack to make sure it was empty, and a piece of quartz fell to the floor. This was the real story; a clue to the pack’s owner. Before finding the quartz, I imagined a hardened criminal strapping on the booties over his shoes. Someone stout and muscular with cruel eyes and powerful hands who wore a pistol at his hip. This was the kind of person I could reason into existence. A camo-clad criminal who preyed on the weak and who might show up on our doorstep in the middle of the night. The thought of this guy traveling so close to our house left me examining each item in the pack as though Ron had unearthed a monster in our midst.

What kind of drug runner would pick up a dusty piece of quartz? Certainly not a grown man with evil in his heart. I looked over the clothing again and realized that the t-shirts were size small, and the baseball cap was fitted for someone much smaller than me. The pack most likely belonged to a kid who had been recruited by cartel members to smuggle drugs. I imagined a boy maybe fifteen or sixteen crossing the desert, shielded from detection under a night sky. Alone and afraid, he may have wandered off the trail he had been instructed to follow. I wondered who he had left behind. Was his mother at home crying because her son did not come home from school? Did this boy agree to smuggle drugs because the money would help his family or because someone big and scary wielded a knife? Did he cross the border because he saw no other future for himself?

basketMy mother has a Native American basket hanging on a wall in her spare bedroom. My grandparents found it in the attic of their first home, a farmhouse not far from Green Bay, Wisconsin. The people who sold them the house had left it behind. I stay in that room when I visit my mom and have often contemplated the basket. It’s utilitarian, void of decoration. My grandparents purchased the house during the Great Depression. People in that part of the country were getting up in the morning hungry and out of options. Over weak coffee, many families agreed to flee their farms in hope of finding work in the city. A basket like that would not have been considered a necessity or an heirloom, so it didn’t find its way into a moving box. It was probably made by an Oneida Indian woman and found on the property when the fields were cleared for farming in the late 1800’s. I am surprised my grandma didn’t throw it out. She wasn’t one to collect things unless it was tied to her Irish heritage. In any case, I am the beneficiary of her wisdom to hold onto it and to pass it down to my mom. It is a reminder of the past and our part in it. The Oneida lost much of their land in bogus state treaty deals. The 18,000-acre Reservation southwest of Green Bay is a fraction of the land they once occupied. Like the booties, I may not know the maker of the basket, but both items represent a dark time in American history. A sort of cultural complacency that has allowed for injustice to occur on this soil.

Ron and I threw out the contents of the backpack, but we held onto the booties. They are the physical evidence of our nation’s shared role in agreeing to turn a blind eye to poor kids smuggling drugs across a desert border because their lives and those of their families depend on it. Like the basket, the booties are also evidence for future generations to contemplate.

The piece of quartz has a prominent space on our mantle, a reminder that I can always do better.

 

Come On Baby and Rescue Me

tank 1I called out to the juvenile Great Horned Owl born on the ranch this past spring. She returned my screech, and I was surprised to hear it coming from so far away. I hollered again. This time I realized she was somewhere down by my father-in-law’s place, a half mile away. There is an old cement water tank on his property. For an instant I feared she flew into the tank to snatch a bullfrog and got stuck. Coyotes yipped and cackled from the east. It was after dark, and I was outside with the dogs. I gathered them up and went into the house, forgetting about the owl. This was two nights ago. Yesterday, while hurrying to finish chores before a trip to Tucson, I mentioned to my husband that I didn’t hear the owl while feeding the hummingbirds. Errands in Tucson took longer than expected, and I returned home late last night too tired to walk the dogs or call out to the owl.

Ron left early this morning to help a friend. I had the house to myself and made a fresh cup of tea before sitting down at my computer to grade papers. The animals were fed. The dogs and I had been on a long walk, and they were sprawled out like rugs at my feet.

A subtle shift in the air poked at me. It was too quiet outside. The owl was gone. Her absence created a palpable void. I ran outside and the dogs followed as I screeched for her, hoping to hear something on the wind. It had been thirty- six hours since I last heard her. I wiped away tears knowing I was too late. I shouted at the dogs to keep up as I ran toward the tank. My anxiety kept them at bay.

owl 1The Great Horned Owl is a powerful spirit animal. In some Native American cultures, they are a sign of death; in others it is believed that they harbor the souls of the dead. A visit from an owl in a dream may signify transformation in our lives. They are symbols of wisdom and are keen hunters deeply committed to their mates. Aware of all she represented, I had ignored her screech, her cry for help. I had done a terrible thing.

I reached the tank, and before looking over the edge, I prayed for forgiveness.

The water was low, and her talons were sunk into a small patch of algae that grew on the cement. Her waterlogged wings drooped at her sides, but she was alive. “I’m so very sorry.” I cooed, not having a clue how to rescue her. “I’ll be right back.”

bullfrogThe dogs ran next to me as I rushed home. After securing them in the house, I went looking for anything I might need to save the owl. The above ground tank is fifteen feet in diameter and five and a half feet tall. Bullfrogs the size sewer rats live in a three-foot-deep rotting stew of plant and insect decay covered in two feet of algae-covered water. I prayed I could rescue her without wading through the muck and grabbed a rake, shovel, and hoe. I dug a cat carrier out of the barn and found a long-sleeve shirt, my husband’s rain boots, and a pair of leather work gloves at the house. I tossed it all in the bed of my pick-up truck and stopped at the woodpile on my way out to drag a seven-foot tree limb to the truck.

I moved cautiously, but the owl appeared terrified as I worked to wedge first a rake and then a hoe under her to lift her to safety. She would have none on it and flapped around until I feared she would drown. I heaved the tree limb over the side of the tank creating a makeshift ladder she could use to walk up onto the cement rim. I stepped back and waited. When she didn’t climb out on her own, I peered over the side of the tank. “Sorry, girl. I need to leave again. I promise to get you out of there.”

tree limb There are no procedures to follow for this kind of thing. No set of instructions. No employee handbook. I cataloged everything we owned as I drove home. I would need to go into the tank after all and that meant finding a ladder. I made a mental note to make sure that I took my phone with me. I would be no good to anyone dying alongside her. I would need to secure her, so she didn’t flap out into the middle of the tank. Just the thought of those giant bullfrogs gave me pause. I could use a bucket, but once I covered her with it, how would I get her out? Years ago, I volunteered for a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization. I learned on the job that an old sheet is a volunteer’s best friend. Whether I was rescuing an injured bird of prey, a den of motherless coyote pups, or a baby javelina separated from her squadron, throwing a sheet over an animal’s head had signaled lights out, and created a calming effect for all involved.

I scoured the barn and the basement for equipment and materials and headed back to the tank where I stepped from the truck and was greeted with a familiar screech. While I was gone, the owl had figured out how to walk up the tree limb and was resting on an old wooden post, her tail feathers dripping dank water.

She had spent the better part of two days in that tank. Disturbing her while she rested would have been cruel. I went home and waited an hour before I drove back to where I had last seen her. She was gone, and I worried she was off somewhere in the thick shrubs, dying.

I drove home cursing my stupidity. I should have followed her calls the night she went missing. I parked my truck and was greeted by a cacophony of songbirds in the pine tree on the west side of the house. It was their silence that had alerted me to the owl’s disappearance. The songbirds were frantic because the predator was back in their tree. I walked over and looked up. The owl’s feathers had dried, allowing her to fly home. “Welcome back, sweet girl,” I said.

She screeched as though greeting me, and the world and my place in it felt right again.

Saying Goodbye

 I found Sydney wandering with her mom when she was four weeks old. I didn’t want another dog, but there was an instant connection that lasted nearly thirteen years. Though we were very close, it wasn’t until she ran away during a thunderstorm several years ago that our relationship morphed from dog owner and dog into something I still struggle to define. A neighbor had told me he had seen Sydney running down the road toward the river about a mile from our house. I scouted the area for hours calling her name until she finally emerged from the tall grass. She ran toward the sound of my voice and without hesitation jumped into the river where she sunk like a stone. The water was deep, and I jumped in to pull her to shore. We lay together wet and cold on the bank in the mud staring at one another. “I will never leave you,” I said. She was dazed and panting but managed to raise a paw and rest it on my shoulder. A cosmic transcendence between species opened a new kind of relationship. I belonged to her and she belonged to me.

Over the years people often commented on our relationship. When we were home, we were never out of each other’s sight. When I traveled, my husband would report Sydney appeared anxious awaiting my return. I called her the love of my life much to my husband’s chagrin, but he also understood it to be the truth. I prayed that day while looking for her. I would not survive the uncertainty of not knowing where she was and begged God to return her to me. While I had God on the phone, I promised to be Sydney’s faithful guardian. I spent months after our reunion worried that some unforeseen event would take her from me: a car accident, a snake bite, valley fever. Time passed and the signs of old age and illness crept into our lives. It started with a chronic runny nose. There were tests, medications, X-rays, and even a CT scan. Meanwhile Sydney and I remained loyal to one another. Nature was taking her slowly from me while God granted me time to come to terms with what was to come.

In the end my prayers were answered. I had been granted the gift of letting go slowly. I shared this story with a friend who said he knew someone who worked in hospice. My friend had asked him how he would want to go knowing this man had seen a great deal of death in his profession. His answer? Cancer. He said that was the way to go. He said it’s best for the person dying and family and friends. As cancer is eating away at a person’s body, her mind, emotions, and spirit are still intact. This gives patients and their loved ones time to come to grips with what is to come. We hear of an old many having a heart attack or someone getting hit by a bus and we say, “That’s the way I want to go.”  Is it? The last fifteen months with Sydney were painful as I watched her body and mind change. But I had time to grieve and to let go. I cried countless tears fearing the worst, so when it was time to say goodbye, I could be with her, to hold her as she passed on to the next realm.

I find myself reaching down at my side scratching the ear that is no longer there or running to her aid when a crack of thunder ascends on the house. I am still grieving, but not in the ways I imagined. I did the best I could for her and her for me. In the end, that is all anyone can ask for.

 

“War Paint” The Musical, Right Here on the Border

helena_rubinsteingettyimages_0Last week I stopped by to see a friend who is working to restore the adobe buildings on one of the old cattle ranches in Sonoita, AZ. He said that in the day it had been owned my a “famous make-up lady.” I did some digging and discovered the ranch had belonged to Helena Rubinstein! This name may not ring a bell with some of you, but as a girl who once had aspirations of becoming a fashion designer, my jaw dropped.

Helena Rubinstein was a pioneer in the cosmetic industry along with Elizabeth Arden. She was one of the wealthiest women in the world. This is the same Helena Rubinstein who found the borderlands so captivating she purchased a cattle ranch in what was once, and still is, in the middle of nowhere. After twenty-five years of living down here, the stories along the borderlands still amaze me. Do you know of a house in a border town that was once owned by someone famous? If so, we would love to hear about it! IMG_3080

P.S. Elizabeth Arden would turn over in her grave if she knew that every door in Helena’s house is red, Ms. Arden’s signature color!IMG_3079

Geronimo Surrenders

Skelteton CanyonThe heat is unbearable! So, if you are in the mood to get lost for a while, take Highway 80 north out of Douglas, Arizona where a lonely stretch of road, flanked by the Chiricahua Mountains to the west and the Peloncillo Mountains to the east, cuts through spectacular grasslands and high desert. Sightings of other vehicles are rare, but if you are lucky, you may run into is a herd of prong horn. These beautiful animals can usually be found grazing off in a pasture across the highway from East Rucker Canyon Road. You won’t find a gas station or restaurant along the way, but if you get into trouble, ranchers in the area are willing to lend a helping hand.

Geronimo Memorial 2Forty miles northeast of Douglas start looking for the Geronimo Surrender Monument at Apache where you’ll find Apache Elementary School, a one-room schoolhouse that is still serving kids today, and the old Mattingly’s General Store, an impressive stone building that has stood the test of time in the harsh desert climate. Other than that, there isn’t much to it. Except there is if you pull into the small parking lot and step out of your car. Geronimo surrendered just southeast of the monument up in Skeleton Canyon. When the air is still, you may hear the whisper of those who were there on that fateful day of September 6, 1886. Look west to the Chiricahua Mountains, a majestic range where Geronimo and his followers hid and avoided capture for years. There is a small ramada where you can picnic out of the sun if you’re so inclined.

Geronimo memorialIt is rumored that Geronimo still roams the mountains. For those of you curious to find out, take Portal Road just outside of Rodeo, New Mexico and head west toward Portal, Arizona on Portal Road. Follow the road to Cave Creek and stop in at the Friends of Cave Creek Visitor’s Center. They can help you find a trail that fits your ability and schedule. Tread lightly on your journey, and you may hear Geronimo and his friends just beyond the next bend or through the trees. On your way back, stop in at either the Portal Peak Lodge, Store & Cafe or Sky Island Grill and Grocery for something to eat. And when you get a chance, send me a note. I’d love to hear that Geronimo is still out that way.

What Do You Do Down Here?

I am often asked by people who visit the ranch, “What do you do down here?” They look around and wonder how it is we survive. “How far is your closest neighbor?” they ask. “Is there a restaurant around here? What do you do for fun?” Ron and I are generally too busy to give a proper answer to any or all of these questions, but if folks are ready to put on a pair of work gloves and help out, we are happy to share our story.

The truth is I am guilty of asking these same questions when I am driving through small towns or down the Interstate. I wonder where people shop for groceries and what kids do when they are not in school. I think about broader issues like health care, education, and employment. I find myself creating stories about the people who live in these places, and there is a sense of bewilderment in my scenarios. I should know better because the people in these rural towns live like I do. Except I don’t know them. I don’t see them at  Valley Mercantile or at the Fourth of July parade. I don’t attend their school functions or writing groups. I have no history with them. They are strangers so I can make them into whomever I see fit. Instead of admiring the garden in a local park, I may see run down homes and think the whole town is poor. Instead of complimenting the cook on a great meal in a local restaurant, I may gripe about the terrible service. It’s easy to paint a community’s story with broad strokes when you have nothing invested and everyone is a stranger. I don’t want this for you or for my community when you pass through, so I’d like to share what the last month looked like down here along the border:

Animas High School Spring Play. Dinner and a show!

MVIMG_20190506_191103_2  IMG_20190506_181509

IMG_20190506_185501 IMG_20190506_191534

MVIMG_20190506_191929

MVIMG_20190506_191933

Animas High School graduation Class of 2019! Twenty-three graduates and over $700,000 in scholarships. Yes, we are all proud of these young adults!

IMG_20190518_140931MVIMG_20190518_144135 (1) MVIMG_20190518_144020 (1)

Two open mic nights. One in Sierra Vista, AZ at Broxton’s Coffee and one in Rodeo,NM at the new Sky Island Grill and Grocery. We have amazing talent in our communities!

IMG_20190601_183929 (4) IMG_20190517_192937  Open mic Portal June 1, 2019

IMG_2776 IMG_2785

IMG_20190517_192701 IMG_20190517_191849 IMG_2771 Portal June 1

IMG_2784

Open mic June 1 , 2019

My dear friend Denise Hoyos and I went up to the Chiricahua Mountains for a little bird watching and got caught in a rainstorm until a nice gentleman took us back to my truck. We had lunch at the Portal Peak Lodge Store and Cafe where a couple from North Carolina helped us identify some of the birds we saw.

bee flycatcher IMG_2710 flower

rede cardinal Mexican JayI

I went up to the annual Cave Creek Garden Party in the Chiricachua Mountains in the Coronado National Forest where I met wonderful neighbors and had a terrific lunch sponsored by Friends of Cave Creek. On my way home, Ron called. Three of his fly buddies flew into the ranch to spend the night. The winds were too strong to fly back to Phoenix. We set them up in my studio, and then we all headed back up to the mountains for dinner at the Portal Lodge and dancing. Entertainment was provided by Al Foul and his band. Al’s from Dudleyville. I’m not even sure that’s on a map!

IMG_20190525_174013

And to answer that question about what it is we do down here, well, we do a lot!

Border Talk (7)

2ff82e9a-677b-4dd3-b798-b568ff6b72de-3_United_Constitutional_Patriots_New_Mexico_Border_OpsOn April 16, a group of migrants crossing the border at night just west of El Paso were met by armed American civilians, a militia calling themselves the Constitutional Patriots New Mexico Border Ops Team. Children and adults huddled together in the dirt while the group, playing dress-up in military garb and armed with assault weapons, surrounded the exhausted and confused crowd.

Today a handful of white nationalists armed with a megaphone stormed the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC chanting, “This land is our land” in protest of a scheduled talk by Jonathan Metzle, author, and professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. The motley crew was met with boos by a shocked audience.

Two thousand miles separate these two acts of incivility. On the surface they have little in common: a group of migrants being held at gun point along our border versus a protest at a bookstore in our nation’s capital. But excusing these as unrelated problems has become the problem.

Maybe it’s time to take a breath. Instead of choosing a side, sharing an opinion, pointing a finger, throwing up our hands, or crying in our beer, we should just take a breath. I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I can breathe, and I can connect the dots. I can see that a group of adults dressed like soldiers and a group of grown men chanting a Woody Guthrie refrain are just as frustrated as the rest of us. The difference is that their frustration has morphed in to fear, galvanizing them. Instead of doing something constructive, they are acting out. And their behavior is rewarded by some of our high-ranking politicians.

40697553._UY630_SR1200,630_

Last week Larry Mitchell Hopkins, a 69 year-old, white male and self-proclaimed “national commander” of the Constitutional Patriots New Mexico Border Ops Team, was arrested after it was discovered that Hopkins, a convicted felon, is not allowed to carry firearms. Conversely, Johnathan Metzle was at the Politics and Prose bookstore to talk about his newly released book “Dying of Whiteness:  How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland.” As our country becomes more divided and many of us watch our friends, neighbors, and family members succumb to their fears, it is important to stay informed. Arming ourselves with knowledge dispels fear and helps us connect the dots.

Yesterday a group of migrants was caught by Border Patrol just over the hill from our place. We heard some got away. We had dinner plans, but I didn’t want to leave the house. What if they broke in while we were gone? I am guilty of having a vivid imagination and pictured big men carrying guns kicking down our doors and smashing our windows. By the time we left the house, I worried we’d come home to find the ranch ablaze. But we went to dinner where we had a wonderful time with friends. Returning home, we drove around the property looking for signs of people trespassing. It was after dark, so our heightened awareness nearly sucked the air out of the truck. When we were finally in the house, I collapsed in a chair in the living room. All that internal fretting about the unknown had taken its toll on me. In the end, this is what people like Hopkins are banking on. Build a militia and those of us scared out of our wits or at the end of our rope will come.

I propose that Hopkins and Metzle talk over a good meal. It’s not too late to bridge the gap.