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!

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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!

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

The Road Not Taken, Again

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Google Maps recently put our ranch on the road to El Paso. Logistically this doesn’t make any sense at all, yet several people have ignored the signs leaving our tiny town of Animas: Warning! No Service Ahead, Pavement Ends Next 20 Miles, End State Maintenance. They have ignored reason and instead have followed Google Maps’ prompt to turn left onto the dirt road that leads straight to our cattle guard, a mile off the pavement, and into our driveway. And they have ignored our flailing hands as they drive around the property looking for the road that will take them to the great state of Texas. One woman nearly ran over our dogs as she barreled down our runway toting a camper trailer behind her pick up. Ron finally caught up with her on the four wheeler and found her so flustered, she nearly toppled the trailer as she cranked the wheel 180 degrees to hightail it out of here. Last night while we were getting ready for bed, moving truck pulled in. Ron ran out in his pajamas to find out what the hell was going on. A few minutes later he came in shaking his head. “That guy was looking for Nogales.” Impressive, I thought. Nogales is a border town 193 miles west of here.

There is a correlation between the dependence on technology and our dwindling common sense that I fear is not being studied or addressed. The more we rely on our smart phones, lap tops, and tablets, the less we trust on our own good judgement. And I think we are all guilty of it. Not to the degree that I would turn off a paved road to get to a major city, but still. Last week Ron and I met my sister Kelli and her husband, Carl, along with another couple in San Antonio for Saint Patrick’s Day. Ron used flight software to get us to a local airport. We used the Airbnb app to select a place to stay, another for restaurant recommendations, and the Uber app to get around town. For our willingness to count on technology, we meandered up and down the river walk while Google and Visa tracked our every move collecting data on our preferences from what we like to eat to where we like to shop.

signTotalitarian novels like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World were the canaries in the mine warning us of what was to come. Whether it’s succumbing to Big Brother— i.e. Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc.— as Winston does in Nineteen Eighty-Four or rebuking it as John does in Brave New World, we are at a crossroads. I can’t imagine pulling out a map or asking for directions any more than I can getting lost in an unfamiliar city. But there is a price to pay for the ease and convenience of technology. As we become more dependent on apps, social media, and search engines to make our lives easier, we are whittling away at our free will. When a big yellow and red sign reads: Warning! No Service Ahead, it is time to turn around regardless of what your phone may be telling you.

Apps like Goggle Maps are available to assist us, not to replace us. As Robert Frost reminds us in his poem “The Road Not Taken,” in the end, we are gifted a discerning mind:

… Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.