“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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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.

Cats in the Cradle

catWe lost our barn cat yesterday. I found her sprawled out on the concrete just a few feet away from the cat door we have out in the barn. It looked like she may have died from a head injury, probably attacked by a coyote. I didn’t know this cat well. Occasionally she would dart through the barn to a proven hiding place when I entered to leave food and water. Last week she came around the house and even got into our back room where she drove our indoor cats crazy with her carrying on. I’d mentioned to my husband, Ron, that she was probably in heat. Our neutered, grey tabby, Fast Eddie, kept us up for three nights, some primal residual egging him on to mate. The sound was low and sorrowful, like he understood what we had done to him; what he’d missed out on.

I’d been out on a walk when I noticed the cat. After putting the dogs up in the house, I grabbed a garbage bag and a pair of gloves. I’ve had to do this kind of thing before: the kitten that was half-eaten by a coyote; birds, lizards, and mice that lost their lives to cats and other predators; the Great Horned Owls that perished atop a faulty electrical transformer; song birds that chased their reflection right into our living room window. Each animal I’ve stumbled upon has caused a catch in my throat.

The barn cat was brown and white. She was young and had six toes on her front feet like my nineteen-year-old house cat, Little Miss Molly. Seeing those paws, I fell to my knees and sobbed. You don’t belong here, Beth, rose from somewhere deep inside me. There is no taming this wild place. I either play by nature’s rules or pack my bags and get out. Last week it snowed, followed by three days of brutal, frigid wind. Today it’s seventy degrees. The trees in our orchard are confused. The plum trees have blossomed in tandem. The peach trees are giving it another go after the buds froze in the last storm. Songbirds are fighting for space on the feeders, and the bees, so heavy with pollen, are buzzing around like they’ve had too much to drink. All this was going on yesterday while I walked back to the house with the barn cat cradled in my arms. I cried when I placed her on a table in the garage where she wouldn’t be disturbed until Ron could bury her. I cried while I poured a glass of wine and got dinner started. I was still crying when I went outside to feed the dogs. By then I had convinced myself I didn’t belong here. That I would be better off in a small house in town where my life would be manageable, a place where I’d have some peace of mind for God’s sake.

Then I looked up from the dog dishes and caught the sun setting behind the Chiricahua Mountains, leaving in its path a crimson sky; a slice of cornflower blue cut through the middle exposing a glimpse of heaven. I wiped my eyes. “Okay,” I said. “For now, I’ll stay.”

Border Talk 6

A good writer does not ask questions on the page, instead she answers them:

I have had nothing but questions since the caravan of asylum-seeking people gathered in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Do I write about …

The people coming up from Honduras and Guatemala?

The proposed wall?

The illegal immigrant children locked up by our government?

The parents separated from their children?

The influx of border crossers here in our backyard?

The toll this is taking on Border Patrol Agents?

The toll this is taking on people seeking asylum?

The effect this is having on our rural border community?

The free pass the cartels have to move drugs along the border because Border Patrol Agents are stretched so thin?

The problems at the Port of Entry at Antelope Wells?

The government shut down?

A good writer does not include her process on the page, instead she begins with her subject. This may include an assertion or thesis:

hondruasI don’t know where to start. My thoughts are a jumbled mess. We live seventy-five miles from Antelope Wells Port of Entry, half that distance as the crow flies. A place on the border most folks never heard of before the caravans coming from Central America showed up. It is a border outpost a hundred miles from a hospital and grocery store. In the summer the temperatures can reach 110˚. This time of year, it can dip into the teens at night. Often 300 people at a time are crossing at this tiny dot on the map, and it’s taxing everyone from ranchers to Border Patrol Agents; illegal immigrants to medical service employees. It’s where seven-year-old Guatemalan girl Jakelin Caal crossed with her father and died shortly afterwards. It’s where three days ago a man with a flesh-eating bacteria was identified before being taken to a hospital for treatment. Those of us along the border have been warned to lock our doors. There are simply not enough Border Patrol Agents to spare. The drug cartels are having a field day moving drugs through the wide open, unprotected desert, and we are smack dab in the middle of it.

I should be afraid except we haven’t had any problems here at the ranch since this all began. But then I hear about neighbors who are finding dozens of illegal immigrants in their barns and Border Patrol Agents who are sick on the job fearful of what they may have contracted. Those who work for our volunteer ambulance service are working the border. If something happens to someone in the community, we’re on our own. Border Patrol busses loaded with unfamiliar faces are disrupting this otherwise quiet, desert landscape. Our president and some of the news outlets make it sound like we are living in a war zone. If we are, I’ve seen no evidence of it. That said, we are locking our doors. Admittedly, most of us down here are a bit edgy.

 A good writer writes what she knows:

honduras2I lived in Honduras back in the early 90’s. As an idealist, I thought I would help people less fortunate; give back something in return for all I had. I hadn’t even pulled my luggage from a heap in the corner of the San Pedro airport before I needed help, and it continued to be that way for the duration of my stay. I needed help with Spanish. Help with transportation. Help with a messy bureaucratic system. Help with shopping for food, asking for directions, finding a place to live. Help with finding a doctor, a dentist, and a pharmacist. I was the proverbial babe in the woods, and if it wasn’t for the kindness of others, I wouldn’t have lasted a week.

As the rhetoric continues to heat up over, “What do we do with these people?” I find myself sharing memories of living in Latin America. While in Antigua, Guatemala, I partnered with a medical student, Chris, who was working with a government sponsored program to inoculate children. The first house we visited wasn’t a house at all, rather a blue tarp secured at the corner of a concrete wall in the back of an empty lot where a divorced woman and her four children lived. Inside the two-sided structure was a small table, two chairs, a propane hot plate set on a shelf next to a few canned goods. Against the far wall was an ancient dresser and a double-sized mattress. An old car missing its wheels sat not far from the structure and contained everything else the family owned. The kids, shy and curious, smiled at us as Chris asked the mother for her children’s birth certificates. I looked around the small space thinking how insensitive this guy was asking for things this poor woman clearly didn’t own. Before I could nudge him, the mother produced a manila envelope from the top drawer of the beat up dresser. Proudly she handed it to David. Inside were the birth certificates along with family photos. I felt my face flush with shame. I had equated poverty with ignorance and lack of caring for family.

One day I missed the last bus out of the campo (a farming community) in central Honduras with no way home. A woman I’d worked with on a rural health project asked me to stay with her family for the night. I didn’t want to impose, but I had no other choice. A room divider made from flour sacks sewn together and strung tightly around a wood frame, something found in most rural homes, split the one room house in half. After a delicious meal shared with her husband and five children, her two daughters moved the divider to the front of the house while the woman unwrapped the finest cotton sheets I have ever seen from layers of yellowed tissue paper and made up the family’s only bed. I knew the sheets had been a wedding gift and had never been used. When I protested, she said it was an honor to have me as her guest. I slept in a room the girls made spacious for me while the woman and her family lay crowded together on blankets covering the dirt floor.

My first bout of malaria struck while I was staying with an American nun up in the mountains in central Honduras. When the fevers made me delirious, she didn’t know what to do. Leticia, a woman from the church, and a curandero (healer) came to the house. She made me strong teas from local plants to sip and kept my skin cool with damp washcloths. But mainly she sat with me and prayed. After a few day and no improvement, she arranged to have me taken to a doctor in Sulaco, a village an hour away over a bumpy dirt road. There Esteban, a doctor I had worked with in a cholera clinic, gave me an IV of electrolytes. For two days he sat by my bed reading the paper. When I mentioned he should go home, he smiled and said he liked the quiet. Leticia and Esteban saved my life.

This is what I know of the Hondurans. I was treated with respect and as a friend. No one ever asked me for money or for something of value. I didn’t meet a single person who took drugs or sold drugs. Instead I met hard-working people who were trying, like most of us, to provide a good life for their families.

I returned again in 1998. By that time the military police had all but been replaced by a civilian police force. In a few short years, I saw how this change was whittling away the spirit of the Honduran people. Strangers no longer looked at me and smiled when I went into a store or walked down the street. Folks kept to themselves on busses and in public spaces. Casually dressed men carried pistols in holsters on their belts. I went to a police station in Tela after my wallet was stolen and immediately regretted reporting the incident. There were men handcuffed to chairs, others laying on the floor handcuffed to desks. I was asked to write what happened on piece of lined paper. When I asked who was in charge, a tall man wearing a button down shirt and black jeans brandishing a pistol laughed, “Supongo que soy yo.” I guess I am.

I saw it then, a systemic weakening of the Honduran spirit. People were fearful. There were rumors of gang activity in San Pedro Sula and the capital city, Tegucigalpa. The cartels are moving in, I heard from old friends. It seemed Honduras was ripe for the picking. I left knowing I would never go back.

The caravan is made up of asylum-seeking folks like the divorced mother with four kids carrying her children’s birth certificates, the woman who graciously offered me a bed, and of course, Leticia and Esteban. They are beaten down and scared for their lives. What do we do with these people? We begin with compassion.