Chapter 1: The Opening
In a distant past, I stood alone at the side of the road peering toward the southern border next to my cherry top police car. My first glimpse into the true soul of the Chihuahuan desert came to me with the midday sun, as the sunlight fingered the burnished stones and filtered over the wavy sand on the desert floor. It was a vast and bleak landscape with a stand of ocotillo pointing into the golden sky.
Everything that I knew about my country shattered in that moment. I recognized the division of the land, between north and south, of course, from the unnatural seam shadowed by a 6-strand barbed wire fence. In those days, most of the border fencing consisted of strands of barbed wire, either 4-strand or 6-strand, pulled taught between studded metal fence posts that were intended, primarily, to hold cattle within a set perimeter. This was the usual manner for controlling immigration flow for more than 100 years.
Much like a Sharp-shinned Hawk, I squinted my eyes through the eyepiece lenses of my binoculars. I focused my gaze on the horizon in search for dust lifting from known trails obscured by cholla and thorny ironwood brush. In this hellish place, the sun bakes the soil and the searing desert heat melts the souls from the thin sandals of tired migrants headed north.
Yet the desert brims with life – a fact that many of my countrymen do not see as they speed past me on State Highway 80, the narrow highway leading from Douglas to Bisbee, Arizona. It was everything that I learned about this area, from her intricate and dreamlike paintings. I see black-tailed gnatcatchers and broad-billed hummingbirds fly between branches of iron wood and stalks of ocotillo. I recognized the coyote, of course, as it dashed across the rutted highway with it’s flossy black-tipped tail sailing behind it.
The infrequent car would pass, lifting a gust from the blacktop, I’d grab the brim of my hat and would hold on in anticipation of the wake of hot air that would follow behind. My tidy and careful upbringing could never led me directly to this seductive and threatening land.
This merciless stead of flatlands, this beachfront of hell, is broadly surrounded by curving mountains and is my home. The Chihuahuan desert can be a version of Dante’s inferno for many hopeful faces seeking a new life north of the border. Naive northbound migrants from the south, transition through their own nine circles of hell. Some travelers do not make it though the riparian corridors that finger through the desert floor. It is here where the promise emerges as a bleak lie.
There are sounds unique to the desert. The harsh alert of the rattler and the wistful flutter of the Lucifer hummingbird. The desert also harbors muffled sounds of famine, thirst, and untold sorrow. For one must remember, the desert is pitiless and does not care about the social status of any man, woman nor child.
For the north-of-the border residents that inhabit one of the few scattered ranchettes on this barren land, the desert serves as their respite, an assumed relief from the clamoring city and the unwelcomed infringement of authorities. We often believe that those who fled to some backward area were in search of a better life. Though now I do not know if that is true. Each country hosts a cultural regime, a dominant hegmon, that will embolden the disenchanted inhabitant. And whether one is the inhabitant or the hopeful traveler, a chord for a an imminent clash has been struck.
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