landscape meg

My host mom is up, ready for me with burritos at 7 am. “Mija, estás preparado para el desierto hoy?” Though I live here, and see the desert landscape everyday, I still imagine it as flat and sandy. The reality of its frequent crevices, rocky surface and various prickly plant life, are only known later as I pull thorns from my bare arms and stones from my Tevas. She hands me my water bottle and squeezes me goodbye.

We drive out of Tucson from the South Side. The group is lead by John, the oldest resident of Casa Mariposa who wears his thin white hair in a little ponytail, and is more energetic than any of us college kids this early in the morning (though as I’ve gotten to know him, I may argue that he is more energetic than any of us, ever). Kaïa, Brandon and I are all Border Studies students who’ve never been to the desert before.

We begin by talking about Arivaca, a very small town, just 11 miles north of Mexico and situated in the middle of the desert. A Border Patrol check point has put this small border town in the news recently (Arivaca check point). John tells us that a bunch of hippies moved here in the 60s, but the largest population in the town is that of retired school teachers. We fade out of the populated Tucson ground, and in and out of smaller and smaller towns. Arivaca seems like its own world. One bar, one grocery store, maybe two restaurants, a church and an art co-op. Everything looks over grown. Driving through the checkpoint was so informal, it looked like it was compactable, like someone just inflated a checkpoint in the morning and would fold it back up at night. This is part of the point, Customs and Border Patrol originally said it was only temporary, but here we are over six years later, stopped upon each entrance and exit. The presence of this checkpoint, and its attendants dressed in uniform, along with various surveillance towers in town, heightens the militarization of the borderlands. A witness sits outside the checkpoint in a fold up chair, the kind my parents would bring to my soccer tournaments as a kid. This witness, a volunteer from the Arivaca-based People Helping People, is one of many from the Arivaca area who “share a deep sense of anxiety and powerlessness when traveling through the checkpoint, feeling that continuing to be forced to stop and affirm their citizenship status to armed agents in order to leave the area is, at its basis, an unreasonable burden.”

Soon we even fade off of this main road and we’re unloading the car of all its water, packing them up in our back packs or arms. Two gallons of water in my backpack, and two gallons of water in hand, I follow the group into an overgrown desert. In the first twenty minutes we end up walking up and down steep rocky hills, getting caught in prickly bushes, crossing a pretty significant stream and, having completely missed the trail, ending up right back where we started. Though, off trail, we found some powerful things migrants left behind. A beautiful blue blanket is nestled off the bank of the stream, caught up in some mud. A delicate rosary hangs from a tree branch. John says that getting lost is never a mistake because we wouldn’t have been able to see those things. The intricacies of migration in the desert. He asks us what we would carry.

We’re on trail now, dropping off water at the first spot, I unload the two bottles I’m carrying by arm, what a relief. I sit down briefly and drink half my water bottle. John says that we’re about 1⁄4 of the way in, but when we got lost we probably walked twice that. The first water drop is on some big rocks in this little nook between two hills. I feel totally invisible, totally swallowed by the desert. I’ve already got scratches on my arms and legs. We keep moving, it’s harder for me than it is for the others. We’re directly in the sun now, and occasionally we walk through tall grasses that give the effect of a breeze, but I learn later just lead to massive amounts of bug bites. We’re also moving up hill. The view is absolutely incredible.

Its really hard to describe the combination of beauty and struggle that is the experience of the Sonoran Desert. I got scratched up, bit up, burnt up… in the however many hours that the desert swallowed me for. It gave me a new sense of what cruzando really means.

When we reach the major location for the water drop, at an intersection of two trials, we see running water, and a fairytale­-like tree which hangs water bottles, like elegant extensions of its branches. We hang the water bottles among water bottles, with messages for the people who will drink from them; “Salud!” “Que le vaya bien!” I sit down for a while; feet in the water cooling off, ankles just above it getting eaten by mosquitoes, I finish off my water bottle, then Brandon’s, and I guess I stand up to fast because dizziness overcomes me.

I lead the way back, imagining sitting down in the air­-conditioned car. The route feels faster, everything lighter. Instead of looking between branches and brambles, I’m looking out at the mountains and rolling hills. There is no wind, there are no clouds. Heat hits us and doesn’t stop, but neither do we.

A week later I’m in Oaxaca. Today we visit an indigenous community in the mountains, Analco. The community has faced a lot of out migration, whether that is to the city for education or the States for work; they are functioning with a remarkably smaller population than before. We’re hosted by a group of men working within the ecotourismo cargo. They take us on a walk through their forest, describing the ecology and research they are doing. This walk is very different than the one from last week. I’m wearing a sweatshirt and jeans (and still a little chilly). Everything I see is a healthy green or a rich brown, slightly damp from the morning rain. We talk about migration casually, where are their brothers and sisters? Have they personally left Analco? A lot of them have sisters who moved to the city for education and then marriage. A few of them have brothers with families in the States. The necessity of migration is evident, but the energy around it, on this walk through the forest, is significantly less urgent than in the desert.

group megI stand with Andres by a little stream on their land, just outside of the dining area. “Que bonito, no?” He asks me. In broken Spanish I tell him I live in the desert, where there is no water like this trickling stream, and no green like the mountains.

“Yo crucé el desierto en Arizona”

“Si? Estuve allí la semana pasada.” I told him about working for No More Deaths, and how I just recently was out leaving water. He asked me if we hung the water in trees. Yes, we do. He said when he was crossing, they had been walking for a while and found water hanging in trees. I think of those hours in the heat, and the beautiful desert tree we hung water from.

tree meg

-Meg Rose


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