Death in the Desert

I occasionally do posts on desert survival (or lack thereof) that offer worthwhile life lessons for feckless wanderers like myself.  Although I’ve written newspaper columns about the border, the death toll on the line is rarely remarked by myself or anyone else.

There are few descansas along la frontera — no one has the time or inclination to pause to honor the dead, and their passing is marked only by discarded plastic bags, empty bottles and rags of clothing blowing in the wind. I remember a black bra dangling from the thorny limb of a palo verde tree that told me more of a story than I wanted to hear.

The grief and anger of survivors dissipates with time, allowing historians and archeologists to pursue their trades unharried by ghosts. Most of the deaths on the border I’ve referenced occurred more than a century ago.

But the death of a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl apprehended by the Border Patrol in the Bootheel is a tragedy we all need to confront, wherever you stand on the spectrum from open borders to the Great Wall of China.

Unfortunately, we’ve already raced past the fact-finding phase of this story and rushed on to the political outrage theater that is now the default setting for any story that momentarily engages the nation’s increasingly short attention span.

The little girl’s father has lawyered up.  (For a Mayan peon the global media/legal circus must be like being abducted and anally probed by space aliens.) The feds have gone to the mattresses, awaiting a coroner’s report guaranteed to stall questions until the news cycle turns to the next hot story. And a flock of political spin merchants have descended like a murder of crows on a roadkill jackrabbit, ending any chance we will ever really know what happened to the poor little girl.

Without knowing anything more of the story than I’ve read in the Journal and seen online, I will say this: I’ve spent more time in the Bootheel and in northern Mexico than 99.95% of  the “journalists” bloviating on this story. I’ve met and talked with some of the men and women who guard that remote corner of our nation’s border. I cannot believe any of those people would not do everything in their power to save a little girl’s life.

There are EMTs, nurses, doctors, pilots and Border Patrol officers at home tonight, staring at the ceiling and wondering whether there was anything more they could have done that might have made a difference. While we grieve for young Jakelin Caal, let’s spare a prayer for them as well.

‘Chasing Shadows’

I’m re-reading Hatfield’s Chasing Shadows, an excellent, in-depth history of a century of border disorder as viewed from the Mexican side. It’s a thoroughly researched (and extensively footnoted) work of scholarship with a unique perspective so far as I know. All our popular histories necessarily address the long and bloody conflict in the Southwest from the American point of view. Hatfield draws heavily on primary Mexican sources to provide new insights into incidents like Captain Crawford’s death, as one example. Plus the book places the Apache Wars in the context of all the Indian depredation, banditry, foreign invasion, filibustering and rebellion occurring along the whole length of the border, beginning before the Mexican-American War and continuing into the 20th Century.   Exploring the significance of the Yaqui and Mayo rebellions  in shaping Mexican efforts to suppress the Apache menace really helps in understanding the whole period.

El Tigre

A trail camera somewhere in the Huachita Mountains of SE Arizona recently captured a candid selfie of a jaguar. Though not uncommon in the Amazon Basin of South America and still clinging precariously to a niche in the Sierra Madre, there are no known breeding populations of the big cats north of the border.  The one snapped in the Huachitas is apparently a mature male, which roam further from home than the females, and almost certainly a visitor from Mexico. The largest felines in the Americas and close relatives of tigers and lions, mature jaguars can weigh more than 200 pounds and measure six feet from nose to the base of the tail. They’re “stalk and ambush” predators with powerful jaws who have been known to take down an 800-lb. bull and drag it away.  Beautiful animals, but not one you would want to meet on a hiking trail at night.