What’s this all about?
I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
Gaze at the moon ’til I lose my senses
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in
— Cole Porter & Robert Fletcher
Tracking Nana is a pop history cum travel, hiking and camping guide. a meditation on the meaning of life and the experience of aging, and a fond farewell to country I’ve come to love over the past half century. It’s a haphazard search for wisdom in the deserts and mountains of the Southwest. It’s the chronicle of one stubborn, irascible old man chasing another over hundreds of miles of rough country and more than a century of time.
I was going through a rough patch in my own life when I embarked on this project. I felt old and tired, beset by an overwhelming host of enemies at a time in life when I had hoped to be taking a well-earned rest from the labors of a lifetime.
It was in that mood, seeking distraction in re-reading some of the Western history books I had collected over the years, that I rediscovered Nana’s story. I was familiar with the tragic story of Victorio – whose heroic and ultimately doomed defense of his home and family rivaled the much better known struggles of Cochise, Crazy Horse, and Chief Joseph.
I knew something of Nana as well, but the account of his raid occupies no more than a paragraph or two in most popular histories, and his odyssey did not resonate with me when I was a younger man. It was only as I began to see “70” looming on my own horizon that I began to appreciate the old man. In re-reading his story, I wondered whether I had the stamina and determination – the cojones – to complete the same journey.
Tracing his path proved to be both a physical and an intellectual challenge that carried me through a difficult time in my own life, helped me confront the reality of my own aging, and gave me strength to face the inescapable end that awaits us all. As Thurber said, “even a well-ordered life can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in the skies.” We can only face it with courage and dignity. Nana taught me that.
So I came to feel I owed him something in return. He deserves to have his story well told, not as supporting actor or footnote, but as the central actor in his own saga. And surrounding him is a host of other men and women whose stories deserve to be captured and recounted before they fade into the dim recesses of our collective memory. Stubborn young Lieutenant Guilfoyle, the conflicted Apache scout Chihuahua and the defiant, fearless warrior Kaytennae; Sgt. George Jordan, the ex-slave who won the Congressional Medal of Honor with not one but two acts of heroism, the blustering, belligerent George Daly, who led a posse of drunken miners to disaster and his own death – and at the center of all these individual dramas was one stubborn, angry, crippled old man. I’m compelled to tell their stories as best I can.
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