my favorite part of a trip to new mexico, specifically las cruces, is the part where highway ten coming out of el paso climbs up a hill on the banks of the rio grande, and looks out across the river at juarez, most dangerous city in the americas or so they say. when i took the shuttle one time the driver regaled me with stories of mass murders and such that happened in juarez, and my parents verified that this is a place i would not want to take my four boys to, just to visit, as it is notorious for its danger and unpredictability, kidnappings and such, and on and on. yet if one lands in el paso and goes to las cruces, there is no other
way to take one's children to mexico, short of las palomas, a small town more than seventy miles the other direction; maybe i could go some other way? i don't think so. i have an impulse to at least show
the boys mexico, at least in some way, to tell them a bit about what it was like for me, over thirty years ago, when i just up and crossed the border and ended up spending a month or two hitchhiking all the way down to guatemala and part of the way back; it's a long story, which is documented elsewhere on this blog, but you have to look for it. in any case i give up on that; there's no time to go exploring, or driving out on wild new mexico roads, so we have to settle for looking across the valley at the hilly terrain of juarez, with its brightly painted houses and somewhat earthy, dim streetlights. it's clearly another country, different in every way from el paso, but we can't see it too well, and can only imagine what it's really like. el paso itself, it is generally agreed, is free of the sense of danger that juarez carries; the newspapers in the airport, one in english and one in spanish, show that very clearly, as the spanish one, presumably printed in juarez, speaks of crimes committed against even the governors and power-brokers of the place, who are in a battle for life to not let the drug cartels run the state, or at least to not bow to their pressure. i mull over a question that has been on my mind, as an anglo who obviously hasn't crossed the border in many years. to me, "el paso" refers to a mountain pass; the mountains, high, dry and clear, have a break here and it's clear that at one time, on horseback, one would value this opportunity to cross through them to get to the wide expanses of american desert to the north. but english has a habit of routinely omitting accent marks, so "el paso" could also be read as el pasO, stress on the o, which would mean "it happened," but the accent mark would be lost by generations of american typewriters which routinely omitted accents and such things as enyes, causing all kinds of confusion in other situations. so how could we know that it wasn't
el pasO? we couldn't. or at least, we could indulge in the fantasy that something
important happened here.
in new mexico, i'm often given my new granddaughter to hold and to love; this is a joy, except that the four boys (the uncles' club) use the opportunity to mob us and get all in her face, because they adore her also, as uncles should, and need the joy of a five-month-old, just as i do, to wash away the stresses of their lives and experience the pure boundless emotion of life as a young baby. in fact, it is so difficult to hold her, and protect her from this mobbing, that eventually i set her on her tummy, and get down on the floor as well, to see what she's doing as she kicks her legs, waves her arms, or puts her hands on the floor, in order to push herself up, in the first acts of learning to crawl, which we can see she is contemplating, though she's nowhere near actually being mobile. she can roll over; she can cry; she can laugh; she can show emotion with her voice; but, she can't just crawl over to her mom yet, or crawl out the door and down the hall. little do her parents know, that this is the golden age, when one can set her down, and leave her there, and enjoy her for a few minutes, before one becomes an eternal chasing machine, constantly preventing her from knocking over plants or sticking her hand in dogs' mouths. i can see, from the floor, at her own level, her process of learning, practicing, kicking, getting ready for the great mobility. she is very expressive and willing to show me all her tricks. she readily acceps the fact that she has a whole passel of uncles and a grandpa she hardly knows; she is aware that as relatives all of these people are crazy about her, and she tries to humor us as much as she is able.
high in the organ mountains, a group of go for a short walk up against a high rock wall that overlooks the huge mesilla valley, going all the way across that same rio grande and out to the western desert beyond. here, we find a cave that has clearly been occupied for centuries; though it is now clear of most of its markings, or any evidence that it has been occupied in the last hundred years or so, how could it not have been, for the five or six hundred before that? this high, dry desert with its shortage of places to take refuge from the sun, make such a wide, cool, mountainous cave, with a good lookout of the entire valley, extremely valuable to any of the native peoples that have been wandering this high chihuahua desert for the most recent millenia. the other question would be, what kinds of animals would one find, still hanging around in these locales? not sure; i'm not from around here. just passing through, i said to a tarantula on the path, not knowing how poisonous he was, not wanting to find out really, and especially, not wanting any of my young boys to impulsively reach out and mess with his life. later on the walk, the youngest got a cactus thorn, somehow, stuck in his finger, even as he was riding on my shoulder, and didn't even have the opportunity to pick it up off a cactus; maybe it had been on my shirt? in any case it scared him, and he cried until a ranger came along and found tweezers and a bandaid, later, in the shade of the ranger's cabin, protected a little from the high desert. it reminded me, somehow, of my first night in mexico, maybe thirty five years ago; i found myself in a desert, with a sleeping bag and blanket, middle of the night, warm air, dry, nobody around, and laid out the bag on the sand and slept like a baby. woke up in the morning to find out i was in the path of a large rattler who was letting me know quite loudly that i was disrupting his usual routine. i got up and rolled up that bag in record time; i had never heard a rattler, but still got the message quite clearly. one must respect the dangers of the desert, especially when one doesn't know much about them.
snakes here in the low country tend not to be poisonous, though we often don't know for sure, and the ones that come right out of the rivers when you paddle canoes down them, are often some of the more dangerous ones, at least the ones that can cause you the most grrief and suffering. we have rattlers, but we rarely see them; the others, like black snakes, etc., very rarely put people in hospitals. there's an art to grabbing a stick, getting a snake all interested in it, and diverting him so that you can continue your walk wherever you're going, without an expensive detour to an emergency room, but we rarely even hear about this unfortunate kind of outcome. we are more likely to have our household pets snatched up by outlaw wolves, foxes and bobcats that are coming out of the nearby wooded forests that come up against our houses.
we have a one-eyed cat; it was mauled as a baby, and has a scrunched-up face, sinus problems, but loves people and will sometimes eye you from the floor, sneezing, and then leap, in my case almost six feet, to land on your shoulder in order to be held. this will occasionally startle visitors to the house, who don't quite yet know the subtle clues that the cat will provide before such a jump; its claws are out, and if you react too suddenly or wildly you can get hurt, or lose a shirt. it's quite a sudden thing, but of course she means no harm, only wants to be held, wants to sniffle in your arms for a while, and is unfazed by the pure enormity of a five to six-foot leap. the other cat wouldn't dream of such a thing.
in new mexico they have this huge blue sky, clear and dry, high mountain-desert sky, but this time of year huge colorful and dramatic clouds pass through; the sun often hits them and makes all kinds of colors. these clouds change quickly, and pass through, evolving and changing as they go, but they rarely make rain; although they call it 'monsoon' season; it's very rare that it does anything more than sprinkle. still, you never know; one night it rained kind of hard, and there were puddles everywhere and it was a lot cooler. and this happened to be the night before we went up the mountain. it just so happened, that it actually had rained that night. and that was one reason i was a little vigilant. i figured, if it rained, especially here, in this dry, cactus-filled sandy kind of place, then it's obvious that anything can happen...
back home again, i miss the granddaughter; i'm left with the pictures of me holding her, the evidence that i was there, that i saw what i did. i read the news, about lindsey lohan or america's obsession with some golf star or television personality, and it doesn't do it for me; i want somehow to lift myself out of this tepid cesspool, and look back at the world of lights, from a distant exotic mountainside, even a cave from centuries past. it would be irresponsible, yes, to simply take the kids across the bridge to juarez and say, well, this is what i did back when i was young. one doesn't step on a snake, just because it's there, or because you want it to die before you do. my students all believe that the entire country is a wild jungle, with untamed wasps, bees, spiders, snakes, rabbits and squirrels all waiting to bite and kill them with one false move; they are partly right, in that anything can be dangerous if you don't know how to let it go its own way and leave you alone. you can come upon a squirrel so suddenly that it falls into the garbage can it's pillaging, and at that point it's scared and trapped, and well awre that its only real defense is its teeth and the possibility that it has rabies. let it go; tip over the can and clean up the french fries later; don't let the disrupted animals of this world destroy what little good true sleep we all are entitled to. which reminds me, one more time, of the baby. she's right there, at ground level. she knows how she feels. she needs our constant attention. she is afraid of nothing, yet. but she lives her life to the absolute fullest; she experiences everything, and, if we give her a chance, she will wear herself out so completely and thoroughly, that she will give each of us an entire night's sleep, at some point, if not tonight. be patient, and be vigilant; protect her; teach her the ways of getting by in this world. it's a big place, once you get to crawling around in it, and you can never quite predict what you might find in your path someday.