Tag Archives: Arizona

Frank’s Bar Always Did Need a Woman’s Touch

Joe Arpaio’s been in the news so much, finally getting a little bit of what is coming to him I thought I’d share this and got permission. I wrote it for Southwest Noir, edited and with art by Vince Larue, which you should totally buy. When Steven Seagal is in the news I’ll share it again. Not that this is about them. It’s one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever written to be honest, though I still don’t like the ending. I should probably let everyone write their own.

Clock said over an hour ‘til dawn. She could feel the light coming, knew that warmth followed. She could feel things waking in the stillness. Sad to break it with footsteps crunching across the gravel, keys jingling in her hand, the roaring of the truck. Excitement walked with her, streaked through her sleepiness. Sat tingling between her ribs. She always forgot just how fine, how very fine the earth felt this early.

The coffee smelled so damn good.

Lena didn’t care for mornings most days, but damn she loved these early starts. Heading out far out into the desert. These mornings that came with extra adrenaline, heightened awareness because water runs weren’t no simple hikes. Never knew what you were going to find, who you were going to see. Made you nervous all this bat-shit crazy militarization of the border. Made you feel righteous too, doing something about it. She smiled at Rosita beside her. Pulled out of the drive. They headed south and west through nearly empty streets towards the border.

She hugged the highway’s curves. Saguaros took form and the world brightened and glowed all along its edge. The sky looked like the inside of their abalone shell, some wisps of cloud like sage smoke. Dolly Parton sang let it shine. They turned off on the dirt track and Lena wrestled with the gears. Rosa opened one gate, and then another. Both now sat closed behind them. Nervousness sang in the air and in their shoulders, but they saw no one. First drop off point, and they loaded up their backpacks with jugs of water. It pulled heavy against their shoulders.

Lista?” she asked.

Rosa nodded, grumbling. “I wish water weren’t so damn heavy. I wish they’d get the tanks up here already.”

“Shit,” Lena said. “Me too. Bill keeps saying soon.”

“Couldn’t be soon enough.”

They walked, came to the place they had been shown months ago and had been returning to regularly since. Dropped off their water for those who were thirsty, sick, lost, dying here in the desert driven by desperation to leave homes and families and everything familiar, driven by walls and drones and agents to avoid safer trails, traditional wells. Driven to carry their dreams in life and death struggle among desert stones.

Lena wondered if this water might have saved Rosa’s brother. She always did as they stood there hand in hand. Her grandmother’s peoples had been massacred for these lands. Her father’s people drowned in sea water or suffocated in containers trying to get to them. Rosa’s dehydrated and mummified in deserts. Now they stood and thought about Hector, the heat already beginning to rise, the cicadas about to begin their chorus. Every time they did this, Lena wished she could believe in God. She knew it would make it easier, most of the people who left water like this did. Her and Rosa though, they just couldn’t manage belief no more. It was like a hole inside them. They turned and walked back to the truck, more drops to make.

But someone waited for them.

Crouched down the other side of their truck. Stepping out as the two women approached, and Lena could see that one of the two had a rifle in his hands. White men. Not border patrol. Standing there between them and the truck. Bandanas over the lower half of their faces because they’d probably seen one too many Westerns.
“Shit,” she said under her breath. Rosita’s hand squeezed hers tight. But they approached with heads held proud, as though masked vigilantes were as smart as dogs in leaving the fearless alone.

“You fellows think we’re the stagecoach carrying payroll to Yuma?” Lena asked them. She stared at the big one, knew she knew him. Didn’t know from where. Those little piggy eyes; that long mullet tied back in a ponytail. Damn. She knew him.

“A fucking comedian,” the man said, rolling his eyes. “Now what’s a fucking pair of comedians doing way out here?”

Lena bit back another wisecrack. “Hiking,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place.”

The silence dragged out a moment or two. The men looked them up and down.

“You wouldn’t have been dropping off water for no illegals now, would you?” the other asked. A gravelly voice, unpleasant, old. Wrinkled around the mean blue eyes. Retired law enforcement she guessed.

“Because why would a nice pair of ladies be doing something like that?” Pig-eye asked. “Why would they betray their country like that? Except maybe it’s not their country. No, maybe it’s not. Maybe they got some kind of allegiances to a foreign power. What do you think, Abe?”

“They might, George, they just might. Though I hate to call any woman a bare-faced liar.”

“I know Abe, but look at ‘em. And this water in the back of the truck here is definitely for some illegals. I bet we’ll find a pile more of it just over this ridge.”

“I wouldn’t take that bet.”

“You never been much of a gambler, Abe.”

Law Enforcement smiled, they could tell from the light in his eyes.
“Only ever bet on a sure thing, George. But I hate to think of what will happen to them if we’re right.”

“I know,” said Pig-eye. He pulled a large knife from some kind of buckskin sheath complete with fringe and beads, tried to nonchalantly pick at his nails. Fucker was playing both cowboy and Indian.

“Are there some hidden cameras round here, or what?” Lena snorted. “If you’re done teaching us a lesson, we’re just going to head on home now.”

Rosa squeezed her hand so hard it hurt as they took a step forward.

“Don’t you bitches move,” said Law Enforcement. His voice cut the morning like barbed wire.

They stopped.

Pig-eye had become even squintier, face like tomato above the bandana.

“Funny, you talking shit like you’re the ones armed.” He pulled a bottle of water out of the back of their truck, ripped his knife up on through it like he was gutting a fish. It looked a hard way to eviscerate a harmless bottle of water. Still, that was a sharp knife.
He pulled out another bottle. Having learned something maybe, he stabbed this one near the top. Water spurted out and he pointed it at them. The thin stream hit Lena before dying away, spent. She worked hard not to flinch. The asshole had aimed at her breasts, and now he smiled.

“Not bad for an old lady,” he said.

Her free hand clenched into a fist. The light in his eyes slimed over and fell as he leaned into their truck, methodically stabbed each bottle of water one by one. Watched their faces. Water sprayed over the edges and dripped from the bed along the tailgate, released the scent of desert rain. Lena’s heart beat uncertain between uplift and rank fear.

Pig-eye straightened

“If you’re done there, George, we got some more wetback supplies to spoil,” said Law Enforcement.

“I’m done here,” said Pig-eye. “But what are we going to do with these two?”

Law Enforcement spat. “Don’t rightly know,” he said. “Maybe they’re illegals too. Can’t take no chances now, can we? We’ll just tie ’em up and leave ’em here while we think on it. Maybe send back the patrol.”
Lena saw now that plastic handcuffs dangled from his belt.

Pig-eye took a deep breath. Leered as his hands moved down past his gut to hook into his belt. He rocked back, looked from handcuffs to women to handcuffs. His aim seemed to be suggestion; Lena’s lip curled as his eyes glinted dark at her over his puffed cheeks. Something about him said money smug, not like the other one who just looked mean and old and boiled down into leather with skin as dark as hers but burned that way by the sun. Unnatural colour. She figured he’d be meeting the cancer soon, if he hadn’t already.

“Move it. Over there.” Law Enforcement snapped. The two women walked to stand beside the truck. Rosa’s hand trembled in hers now.

“Take off your shoes and socks and throw ’em over there.” The women stared at him, and his hands tightened on the rifle. They bent down and did as he said.

“Pat ’em down, George.”

Pig-eye grinned wider, moved over to paw them. Lena drew a breath and tried to hold it until he was done, shoulders squared and head proud and rage boiling in her heart. She had to take a few breaths. He groped and pawed and she bottled down the boiling. Play it smart, girl, play it smart. Her keys now jingled from his finger and he launched them out into the desert. They flashed towards the morning sun, fell out of sight with a jagged sound of metal on metal.

“You’re sure quiet,” Pig-eye said as he came to Rosa. “Bet you don’t speaka-de-English so good”. His hands fumbled at her breasts, and her knee came up square into his balls. Bent over double, he stumbled back to lean against the truck, a thin whine emerging from beneath the handkerchief. Lena smiled even as Law Enforcement cursed them for bitches. Stepped forward and brought the butt-end of the rifle to connect squarely with the side of Rosa’s head. She collapsed in place. Lena stood frozen a moment, smile stuck in rictus to her face. Half turned, fists raised, only to meet Law Enforcement’s rifle butt driven into her stomach, driving breath from her. She fell to her knees beside Rosa, stones cutting deep.

Rosa groaned as consciousness returned, came to hands and knees. Raised a hand to her head.

“On your feet,” rasped Law Enforcement.

Supporting each other, the women stood. Pig-eye had almost recovered, but he waddled not walked. He walked up to Rosa and slapped her hard, deliberate. First across one cheek and then the other. She half fell into Lena as Pig-eye finished his search, slipping her lighter into his pocket.

He cuffed them, then. Standing too close with his smell of sweat and expensive cologne. His fat fingers caressed even as he closed the cuffs meaning to hurt. He cuffed them one to the other, then forced them back to their knees and used the second pair to cuff Rosa’s other hand to the truck. The thick plastic dug into their wrists.

“I wouldn’t struggle too much, ladies,” grated Law Enforcement. “You don’t want those cuffs tightening any more or they could get dangerous.”

Lena stared at the horizon with the fury inside of her, pain radiating from her stomach as she struggled with every breath.

“Now think about what you owe this country, and the sanctity of its borders.” Law Enforcement’s voice had razor edges. “Because it don’t owe you or those wetbacks nothing, and good Americans like us just won’t tolerate your aidin’ and abettin’ those filthy criminals bringing their drugs and their diseases over here.”

Pig-eye traced the line of blood his ring had left across Rosa’s cheek before moving to stand over their shoes. “We won’t take these too far,” he said. The women watched silently as the two men walked away from them, up over the ridge. They clearly knew where the water was stored.

“Fuckers,” spat Lena. She rearranged herself more comfortably, came to a cross-legged position, her free hand holding her stomach. She could hear herself breathe.

Rosa settled down beside her, bloodied lips worked to fluently curse gavachos in a low tone. Both sides of her face was swelling and blood rolled down her right cheek. Blood collected at her hairline. She spat more blood onto the ground.

Lena’s heart broke looking at her, and she held Rosa’s hand tight tight.

“My head is ringing,” Rosa said.

“They hit you hard, those mother fuckers.”

Lena studied the cuffs. Law Enforcement had been right, struggle risked tightening them.

“Why’d they take our goddamn shoes?” Rosa suddenly whispered.

“Fuck if I know,” Lena whispered back. “Pa’ chingar mas.”

“You think those fools are really gone? Where’d they even come from? I didn’t hear no truck.”

“Me neither.” Lena frowned. “They’re smart, looking to catch people up here. It must be back down the road a ways, which means they’ll be back, or maybe they’re walking up to the next drop off. Maybe they’re just getting off watching us from behind some rocks, sadistic mother fuckers. We gotta get out of here.”

“There’s a release mechanism on these chingaderas,” said Rosa. “But we need a pin or something. We don’t got a pin, do we.”

“Nope. You got an extra lighter they didn’t find?”

“Nope. You?”

“Nope. We’re fucked.”

Jodidas.”

Fregadas.”

“Shit.”

“We shouldn’t have left the rifle in the truck, huh.”

“Nope.”

“Still, you don’t expect two crazy vigilante crackers to jump you in the middle of the desert, do you. Even out here.”

“Shit, we got careless. But you recognize that big dude?”

“I think so. If he’s who I think he is, I been wanting to punch that pendejo in the gut for years now. Getting him in the balls was pretty good too.”

“He’s gotten a lot fatter, no? I’m still not sure, you’d think he’d have better things to do.”

“My wrists hurt.”

“I know, mine too.” Lena sighed. Twisted to look up at the sky. “We’re going to be fucked when the sun reaches us.” Her eyes returned to study the plastic bracelets cutting into their skin.

“Won’t be long,” Rosa whispered. Lena laid her head on Rosa’s shoulder, still staring at their hands.

“I know this is all Hollywood and shit, but I bet my glasses would work a little like a magnifying glass.” Lena looked up. “They might melt that way, no? How much shit have we melted in the truck over the years leaving it in the sun?”

“Maybe.” Rosa said. She was crying now, trying hard not to but crying all the same.

Rosa smoothed back her hair with her free hand, tried to smile. “Don’t hurt to try.”

The sun hit them sudden and hard, harsh, unrelenting. Heat rose in waves from the ground, cooked them like an oven, sucked moisture out of skin and breath. Lena chose two little pebbles from the ground.

“Here, suck on this. It will help you feel less thirsty.”

“Oldest trick in the book.”

“Girl, who needs new ones?”

Lena held her glasses over the plastic ring fixing them to the bumper as steady as she could. Heat radiated from the metal, it hurt to be so close. To stay so close.

The sun hurt.

Lena could feel her skin burning.

“I hate the desert,” whispered Rosa. The blood had dried dark and scabby, and her skin was burning around it. “This is what my brother must have felt before he died.”

“I know, baby, I know. But ain’t the desert’s fault. Humans are what’s fucked us.”

“Shit, it’s the vultures will be fucking with us soon. They’re circling already.”

“But not over us.” Lena squinted into the sky. “Hopefully just some road kill. Bet those vigilante motherfuckers swerve to hit ground squirrels might’ve crossed the border by mistake.”

Rosa sighed. “Assholes.”

The sun hurt.

“It smells like death,” Rosa whispered into the silence, and Lena realized it did. Strong. The vultures circled.

“Tell me a story, Lena.”

“Oh man, a story?”

“Anything,” said Rosa. “Any nice happy story.”

“I don’t think I can tell a nice happy story right now.”

“Please?” asked Rosa. “I just got the shit beat out of me by two white dudes. I need a happy story.”

“Shit,” said Lena, eyes shifting. Stayed silent a little while, thinking. Her gaze suddenly landed on her feet, white and smooth and soft, tucked under the truck so they didn’t burn as much as the rest of her.

“All right, I got a happy story.” She took a deep breath, smiled when Rosa smiled back at her and shut her swollen eyes the way a little kid would.

“I’ll tell you about when I was little, well. Tell you about how the rains came once upon a time, the monsoons. Those were different days, magical days, you know? Those days when we were little in the desert. And the biggest storms always started with a tiny little black cloud, like a smudge of charcoal. That cloud had to be sitting over Cat Mountain, or the rain wouldn’t be for us. But when it was our turn that black cloud would sit there in the middle of a great blue sky, so small I could block it out with my little thumb. The sun would be shining like this, hotter and hotter. You feel the sun, Rosa?”

“Mm,” said Rosa. “It’s burning me, this pinche sun.”

“Well, imagine the other clouds, they would come along, from East and North, South and West the other clouds would come. Dark and black they’d come. We’d all be humming like the energy in the air, storm energy. Like the spirits coming up from the earth, coming down from heaven to make our whole sky dark, hide our hills in mist and then all of a sudden the rain came. We’d watch it move across the desert like a curtain. We’d watch it coming like a wall of water. And then it would come. Imagine it Rosita, dark and misty and the air full of rain.”

Rosa licked her cracked lips, her smile grew.

“This rain pounded on the roof until we couldn’t hear talking. It pounded against the sliding glass windows so we couldn’t see outside. Then the sound of it changed, cuz the hail had come, and the winds, so strong they knocked down powerlines. The lights would go out, all at once, and we got to light candles and sit around in the rain dark. The lightening would flash, and we’d count the seconds until the thunder sounded so we’d know where the center was. We counted that storm center moving towards us, moving and moving until the lightening and the thunder came together. Crack!”
Rosa jumped. Laughed and caught her breath with pain at the same time.

“Crack! So loud our ears would ring. We’d sit there in the dark like we’re doing right now, sit there warm and dry listening to that storm blowing outside. To the hail beating against the windows, little balls bouncing across the ground.

“Then we counted the seconds as the storm moved away, counted the seconds until the hail stopped and the rain came less and less, counted the minutes until we were allowed outside. Finally dad would say we could all go out. Then there’d be no time for shoes or coats. We’d run outside barefoot.”

“Shit,” said Rosa. “No shoes? Really? You?”

“Shut up, yes me. All of us. We’d burst out of the sliding glass door, dance out of the sliding glass door and run on bare feet to try and look out and see the wash beneath our house, see how high the water was. Always that wash flooded with that little cloud over Cat Mountain. We’d run down our little path without our shoes, so excited we didn’t care about those sharp desert rocks, walking right over all those spines and thorns the rain’d made all soft. We ran and ran, and the rain made the desert smell like life. Like the creosote was breathing. Breathe deep Rosa, deep. Can you smell it?”

Rosa smiled. “You know I can smell it. All our damn water leaked out under the damn truck.”

Lena squeezed her hand. “We’d run breathing this air in in gulps, and we only stopped when we got to this little grassy bank and we could watch the crashing water. It was taller than we were, that flood. It drowned the acacias that grew on the little island in the middle, it covered the rocks we always used as spaceships. It roared down the wash full of mud and crests of white water that swirled along the banks. It left thick dirty foam behind it. The sound of it filled the whole world. Imagine that much water, Rosita. Can you hear it roaring in your ears?”

Rosa nodded.

“We couldn’t play in it until the next day when there’d be just a trickle left, full of water bugs. There’d be little blue butterflies all along the ground where it was still damp. Like the butterflies here, these ones.”

Rosa opened her eyes again, really saw the butterflies. “They’re beautiful, Lena.”

“I know. We’d walk up the wash to the old dam; the water made pools up there big enough for swimming, us being little and all. Cattails grew there. The desert would fill up with red-spotted and spade-foot toads, climbing out of the earth when the rains came. Had their babies. We’d catch them and hold them squirming in our hands, dry and just cool to the touch, the perfect size to nestle into our palms so we could feel the beating of their hearts against our skin. We once went up to the damn at just at the right time to find hundreds of baby ones, the size of my thumbnail, leaping across the ground to escape our shadows, so that we couldn’t walk all scared we’d crush them.”

“Shit, I’d like to see that.”

“Me too, even just one more time. We’d walk up and down that trickle of water in the wash. Until we were all tuckered out.”

“Poor you.”

“Naw, those were my favourite times. But look at my feet now, dude.

I used to run around barefoot all the time and now they’re all soft and useless like some old city girl. So the moral of the story is, that you’re the one who’s going to have to go look for our shoes.”

“Shit,” said Rosa, laughing. “That was nice, right up to the end. But I didn’t ask for no moral.”

“You get what you get.” Lena smiled.

The sun hurt. Climbed the sky. They curled up small as they could, hid their faces.

Lena still held her glasses steady as she could, arm aching, watched that small point of light from beneath her lids.

“Maybe this is some wishful thinking, but seems like maybe this plastic melting shit is going to work.”

“Oh man, I think you’re right,” said Rosa. They stared anxiously at the spot of light on the white plastic.

“Not for a while though.”

They sat still, quiet. Waiting. Burning.

“It smells like death,” Rosa whispered into the silence.

“I know.”

“You think those two mother fuckers are coming back?”

Lena frowned. “If they do, it better be after we get out of these cuffs.”

The minutes dragged on and on.

The sun rose. It hurt.

Cicada song filled the world. Lena could feel the heat rising from her own skin, radiating out an angry red colour. She could feel her lips cracking and her eyes locking into a squint. Flesh shrivelled as the water was sucked out of it, the sweat drying even as it beaded along her skin. Muscles ached from holding position, and red welts burned along her forearms from touching the metal bumper. She struggled to hold the glasses in place, her arm like lead and her muscles knotted and screaming.

The sun peaked directly above them. Began to fall. She worked at the plastic circle now, almost melted through. It came away and she closed her eyes and breathed and said a prayer in thanks. Opened her eyes to find Rosa still praying.

Slowly they helped each other rise, joints creaking, skin feeling like it would tear as it stretched into new position.

Rosa stumbled, and Lena half caught her. They almost fell. The world dipped around them and Lena saw lights, heard static.

“I don’t feel so good,” Rosa whispered.

“We just need to get to that water in the truck, beautiful. We’ll be all right.”

They hobbled in joyless hurtful dance up the slight trail of burning cutting rocks. Stood at the top and saw a wreckage of water bottles amid blue butterflies. Their shoes and socks thrown up into a mesquite.

“Bastards,” said Rosa viciously.

They awkwardly half-climbed half-waded into the shrubby tree, still connected by the other set of handcuffs. Emerged with footwear and deep bleeding scratches across their forearms and their legs. Pulled socks on over bleeding feet with a gasp, and then shoes. Laced them with difficulty. Made their way back to the truck silent but for their angry breath, cracked and swollen lips in straight lines.

“Right,” said Lena. “Keys.” It hurt to walk. They followed the memorized trajectory, found them glinting beneath a cactus.

Back at the truck Rosa pulled her bag up from under the seat. “You know how we were going to see if there was time to drop by Nana’s this afternoon because she’s been bugging me about those roses?”
Lena suddenly grinned back. “You brought the pruners!”

“I did!”

Cabron, the first bit of luck we’ve had all day! I just hope they work.”

With effort and more pain they did. Lena rubbed the angry ridged line the plastic had left in her skin. They drank silently and with great concentration the two gallons of emergency water stashed behind the seat. Sighed. Leaned against the truck. Smiled. Top of the world for a minute, two. They’d left a little water to wash the blood off of Rosa’s face. It stained the ground but the butterflies didn’t mind.
Rosa grabbed the rifle from behind the seat. Loaded up the clip from the glove box. Smelled the air with an ugly twisting of her face.

“Let’s find whatever’s dead. Dios permite, it’s just a cow.”

They drove slowly a short distance back along the road, hopped out and walked painfully the short distance to where the zopilotes circled.

Found a man. Vultures with wingspans his length watching the women with bright eyes as they hopped deliberately away. Red beaks, red like ocotillo blossoms. He no longer had eyes.

Lena stood, one hand over mouth and nose and the other clutching Rosa’s. Rosa suddenly sagged into her, a great animal cry of rage and grief emerged from her. Grief and rage. It rolled from Rosa in a terrible echoing and fell from Lena’s eyes in great drops of salt. They doubled over around it and let it shake their shoulders, rob them of air. Lena buried her face into Rosa’s mane of graying hair, held her tight. The birds watched them, curious, unable to understand. Hungry.

Y la revolucion?” whispered Rosa.

“I am ready, but I don’t think it is ready for us.”

“I don’t want to die before the border comes down.”

Lena chuckled in spite of herself. Still sad. “Some things you don’t choose, mi reyna.”

They stood, one at his head and one at his feet.

Abuelito,” said Lena. “Forgive us that we will not be moving you with much respect.” Tears dripped from her chin, splashed on what was left of his face.

The nightmare journey back to the truck was not at all respectful. Rosa threw up, and then they drove away, his body in the truck bed staring up at the forbidden sky. His smell covered their hands, their clothes. Ignacio Gutierrez. 65. Born in Jalisco. Pictures of children and grandchildren. A few clothes in a backpack. No water left.
They turned a corner and Lena had to hit the brakes, face to face with a massive truck souped up on big wheels. She thought she recognized it from its excessive headlights and small-dick-compensation. Caught proof in fragmentary bandit faces staring down at them before Rosa threw open the door and lifted the rifle to her shoulder. The windshield exploded as the truck swerved and came to a halt beside them.

Rosa ordered them out of the cab and they came. Pig-eye shook, but Law Enforcement looked like a coiled rattlesnake.

“Take off your bandanas, cobardes. Might as well be hoods, no? But I guess those would get too hot during the daytime.”

They removed their bandanas.

“Assume the position,” Rosa said. Her laughter grated. The men turned and put their hands on their truck.

“Not there, go over to our truck pendejos. March.”

She watched them march down the barrel of her rifle. Watched their faces fill with disgust.

“What the fuck is that,” said Pig-Eye, choking on the smell.

“Not what,” corrected Rosa. “Who. The question you should be asking is who did we kill with our borders and our free trade agreements and our targeting of wells and destruction of water and our nasty vigilante ways.”

Lena got Law Enforcement’s rifle from the gun rack, a pistol from the glove compartment, the knife from Pig-eye’s belt. Placed them on the ground at their feet and Law Enforcement cursed bitches under his breath. Patted them down and removed three lighters, two wallets and a Swiss Army knife. She checked the wallets had ID, smiled, and threw them on the front seat of her truck.

“We were coming back for you, we wouldn’t have left you there in the desert,” said Pig Eye, his voice greased. His teeth flashed too white and straight in his face.

Rosa ignored him. “The answer to your question is Ignacio Gutierrez. 65. Born in Jalisco. Father of three children, grandfather to five children. A working-man’s hands. You say a prayer for his soul.”

“What shall we do with these vigilantes then, when their prayers are done?” asked Lena.

“Kill ‘em?’ Rosa responded, always the hopeful one. “Break their faces?” Her hand rose to feel the welt across the side of her head.

“Shit,” grinned Lena, “I feel that little bit of Apache in me rising.”

De veras?”

“Yes. But then we’d probably end up in jail and that’d kill me too.”

“Might end up there anyway,” Rosa said. They came closer, thoughtful in the silence. Lena explored the contours of her rage.

“I just want to kill them.” Rosa’s eyes had never left the two men, and her fingers twitched on the rifle.

“Me too,” Lena said.

A shot rang out, splitting the heavy air in two.

“Fuck Rosa, what the…”

“Just scared ‘em a little.” Rosa grinned. Levered in another round. Raised her voice. “That blow to the head’s making me see all double,” she called, firing again. “This is fun, Lena. You’re missing out.”

“At least shoot at their goddamn truck, not ours.”

Rosa ordered them back to their own truck. Lena looked down at the shiny semi-automatic she’d taken from Law Enforcement. Picked it up and sent a dozen bullets into the tail gate. The men fell to their knees, arms protectively over their heads now. Pig-eye had pissed himself.

“Shit, this thing’s a fucking disgrace,” she said with disgust. “No skill required at all.” She laid it back down on the ground. Turned back to Rosa.

“Well, we got two problems,” she said, her voice low. “We got two bad guys need picking up and some retribution, and one good guy needs burying. Third problem is that really, we don’t want anyone in authority to know anything about us. Right?”

“Right.”

“Right.”

Lena whispered her thoughts to Rosa.

Rosa pondered them, fired off another bullet with a chuckle, nodded.

She ordered the two men to remove their shoes and throw them into the desert. Ordered them to move Don Ignacio into the back of their own truck. It was real awkward and took some time. Once Don Ignacio was settled, Lena ordered Pig-eye to lie face down in the back of the truck. She could tell the metal burned his skin. Grabbed his ponytail with distaste but with a joyful light in her eyes. He twitched angrily.

“You got that rifle pointed at his balls?” she called out to Rosa.

“Gift to the world to shoot those off,” Rosa replied.

Pig-eye lay very still as Lena hacked at his hair with the knife. It came away like a greased worm in her hand. Her eyes met Rosa’s and they both looked at it.

Rosa’s lips twisted.

Cabron, now you can say you’ve actually scalped someone,” she said. “All these white European immigrants, done invaded our lands, and you finally get to scalp one.”

Lena threw it onto the floor of their own truck, wiped her hands over and over again on the front of her jeans. Ordered the vigilantes to sit on either side of Don Ignacio, ankle to ankle, hands on their heads. Lena cuffed each of them to the dead man, cuffed their ankles and wrists tight tight. Cuffed Pig Eye’s free wrist to the gun rack, pretending she could smell his nasty urine over the smell of death. Swung down, grabbed the keys from the ignition then returned to Lena’s side. The keys jingled and flashed silver in her hand. She didn’t throw them into the desert.

The women stared at the vigilantes sitting there in the back of the truck with Ignacio Gutierrez between them, his head fallen forward onto his thin chest hiding the wreckage of his face.

“I hope he will be ok,” Rosa said, crossing herself. “I hope he is enjoying just a little this payback. You think he’ll be ok?”

Lena bit her lip. “Maybe we should cuff Law Enforcement to the truck too. I don’t trust him not to disrespect the dead while trying to free himself. You?”

“Hell no. But we need them to keep the vultures away from Don Ignacio.”

She’d never forget the panic on Pig-eye’s face.

“They got their free legs, no?”

Lena nodded, cuffed his other hand, jumped down from the truck bed and put an arm around Rosa’s shoulders. They turned to go.

“You’re just going to leave us here like this?” Pig-eye’s fear made Law Enforcement wince.

“We could kill you instead.” Rosa smiled.

Lena’s lip curled at Pig-eye’s whine. She took a few pictures with her phone. “We’ll let the police know where you are. You say anything and I’m sure our friends at Channel 5 will enjoy this little story, you being who you are, and they’ll have your ID’s as proof of course. We’ll leave it there unless you want to start something. It’d be real embarrassing for you, I’m sure, to drag it on further than that. We can do old and frail real well.”

“Fuck you,” said Law Enforcement.

“No,” said Rosa with a huge smile. “Fuck you.”

Back in the truck, back on the highway, Rosa used her foot to nudge the ponytail on the floor with disgust.

“What the hell are we going to do with that?”

Lena smiled a great golden smile.

It looked real nice, their trophy. Mounted on a piece of painted plywood, hung in legendary ceremony over the back of Frank’s bar.

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New Year

New Year’s was golden this year, spent at home in Tucson with Mark and Dan, Mum and Julie. We had my favourite soup and biscuits and pumpkin pie and wines still and sparkling. We talked through the new year and then Mum and Julie left the three of us still talking until late late.

Our last night was golden too. We bought mum a record player for Christmas, and so sat around playing old records. Some of them are mine, bought in LA years and years ago, the others we aren’t quite sure where they came from. I remember buying the songs of the Grand Ole Opry (the amazing Dolly Parton singing Mule Skinner Blues), but did I buy Don Williams (Amanda is one of my mum’s all time favourite songs, whether Waylon’s or Don’s — possibly because she too decided not to become a gentleman’s wife) and Jimmie Rodgers (In the Jailhouse Now) and Eddie Arnold (oh man, Cattle call, amazing)? There were three polka records, they must have been Ricki’s, she lived with us for a while but long before we knew her she owned a Polka bar in Chicago. She told me once she left because the mob requested the use of her basement. Those were pretty terrible, well, the one we listened to. Yet at the same time they sounded so much like the Mexican music I am more familiar with and do like, I couldn’t quite say why I prefer it, I kind of want to puzzle how they connect. I’d have to listen to the old Polish records more I guess. Then a couple of old falling apart albums that must, must have belonged to my grandfather I think, and come when my grandmother came to live with us. Ancient foxtrots. La Marseillaise. Tchaikovsky.

I can’t remember what else, but it’s been a long time since I just sat around and listened to things, almost all of them a surprise.

Family and walks in the desert and good food and sitting around talking and lots of reading, music, Rogue 1, El Corral, roadtripping and dreams of gardening in space…the days I will remember. The haven that still remains for us, which I am so thankful for in this world where that remains for so few.

I took pictures of the best covers, but lost my phone on the flight home. Gone too are the pictures of the Tucson Botanical gardens, cacti, the hommage to Frida and Diego’s Casa Azul, me and mum being a two headed butterfly.

I took no pictures in Nogales, where everything has changed. It was almost empty, making people less anonymous in the streets. Tourists now too afraid to come here. The wall is not as big as Tijuana’s I don’t think, but still too big, rust red, dividing people from their people, animals from their habitat, water from its dispersion, migratory birds from their pathways and often their lives. Most of the little shops I remember have closed down, and it is weird to miss the tourists but you can see how much harder life is in people’s faces. It is weird to miss the hordes of kids selling chiclets, but I know their absence isn’t because kids and their families are no longer driven by poverty to make some extra money, but because there is no one to be generous. I wonder how they survive now. There are four casinos that give free meals to get people in the door, the shop owner I was talking too said it with anger, because people eat and then gamble away their money because there is no hope of anything else. There are more pharmacies than I could believe possible, though that’s the reason we were down there I confess, I had forgotten my prescription. I suppose business will pick up more once the Republicans have succeeded dismantling Obamacare, we have a tradition of buying medicine in Mexico. Dental care. Glasses. Another shop owner (from him we bought tiles) pulled out his wallet to show us ticket stubs from the Tucson Convention Centre going back to the 70s. For some reason the only one I can remember now is Deep Purple.

I finally bought a ceramic parrot, the kind I have wanted since the first time we ever went to Nogales, decades I have wanted one. Now I want two more, so they hang from my ceiling like they still do in one or two remaining stores, a glad cascade of wild colour uncaged.

I have settled for colour and reminders of warmth and home instead of gambling I suppose.

Last year was so bleak, I had to sit and reflect on it in a blog for Verso, and it hurt to do it. 2017 doesn’t look much better. Still the struggle goes on, I’ll be part of it from Manchester now, have to find the best way to plug in and do what I can though all I feel is tired. Have to finish my book rewrites. Have to write more articles. Have to finish book one of the trilogy I have in mind and a little on paper. Want to read so much more. Have to find a little more hope that words can have any impact at all, or marches, or letters, or protests. Have to exercise, eat better. Have to get to know Manchester. Have to fill into my new job, find my new directions. Have to stay in touch better, respond more quickly to emails.

Have to spend more time with the people I love.

Those are the times that are golden.

Annie Box and William Curly Neal: Race in Early Arizona

While at the Triangle L ranch in Oracle, I picked up Annie’s Guests: Tales From a Frontier Hotel by Barbara Marriott. I love local history — this emerged out of an oral history project of the Oracle Historical Society. People of color have been erased almost entirely from many histories of the west, so it was brilliant to find them here front and centre in the history of the Mountain View Hotel. First a couple views of the hotel itself as it once was.

Mountain View Hotel launched in a blaze on 19 Feb 1895, with champagne, music and dancing until morning. The Neals built, owned and ran it  from 1895 until 1950s, although it experienced its heydey in the 1920s. For the first time I can almost imagine a kind of golden age in this building owned and run by a couple who were each of mixed African American, Cherokee and European heritage, a place that attracted visitors from around the world and became the social centre for the entire area.

The building of it took over six months, and used over one thousand adobe bricks all made on site. They had it stuccoed and painted red, with white lines drawn on to make it look like brick. It’s high ceilings were covered with panels of pressed metal. Wood lined its interior. The luxurious first floor rooms each contained individual fireplaces trimmed in black and gold. The second floor rooms had individual freestanding wood stoves.

The Mountain View once consisted of two building connected by a walkway to form an L. The main house with its bedrooms and terraces, where visitors coming for their health and hope for healing of TB often slept in the summer, is now First Baptist Church. I’ll end this post with the picture of the present, it makes me a little sad. The second building contained the kitchen, dining room, and ballroom Additional shacks and bunk buildings for staff, corrals and stables surrounded them, all torn down in the 1960s.

Annie loved events — they held picnics, cardgames, dances, shooting competitions. They built a nine-hole golf course – the grass was lubricating oil mixed with sand. They built a croquet court and outdoor dance pavilion. Small wonder it became the social centre for Oracle, Mammoth, Florence, Tucson. From 1895 to 1920, they hosted visitors from 45 states and 12 foreign countries including Russia, China and Australia. My favourite, though, was Lautaro Roca from Camp Number 2, or “Camp of the Horribles” in Tumacacori (22). I never had heard that, though I’ve the Mission at Tumacacori has given me the terrifying creeps since I was a toddler.

By late 1920s, Biltmore and others began a building spree of luxury resorts and hotels in Tucson & Phoenix, which put an end to many of the glory days of the Mountain View. But I wish I had been able to stay there, even afterwards.

So to turn to the main characters — Marriott’s book looks at six different people who lived or stayed there, it was a nice way to organise the book. William Curly Neal (1849-1936) arrived in Tucson in 1878. He was working as the driver of an Army Supply Wagon – to avoid Indians he had come by back trails, stopping at Camp Oracle. After leaving the army a year later, he would decide that Oracle would be a good place to build.

Born 25 March, 1849 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Curly was part of the Cherokee Nation. His father was of African descent, and his mother Cherokee and a survivor of the Trail of Tears. Mother and son left Oklahoma after the murder of his father. They moved in with two aunts, but when his mother died he ran away from home at the terrifying age of seven. At nineteen he met Buffalo Bill Cody (before he was Buffalo Bill and just William Cody, aged only 22). Neal was shining shoes at the railroad station where he had long worked and survived with odd jobs — the brakemen called him Curly for his long black curling hair (his Indian name was Sitting Bear). He left with Cody as an aide, became a fellow scout and friend. They surveyed land, killed buffalo for train barons, scouted in Indian wars, and Buffalo Bill would often show off the scar along Curly’s head from a near deadly bullet.

The West has such a tangled history of race, exploitation and conquest.

In Tucson Curly took a job as a cook at the Maison d’Arcy restaurant, joining a tight-knit community of African Americans in Tucson (Marriott notes there were only about 150 in whole of Arizona territory). He started his own business digging cellars. He opened Coral Stables/ Opera House Library Stable on Pennington which became his central business, earning him enough money to make loans to other members of the black community. He started running a stage line from Tucson north up to Shultz, Oracle, Mammoth and the surrounding mines, then won a mail contract for Tucson-Oracle-American Flag Mine (there is nothing there now where once sat an great tent city), this expanded to Manleyville, Southern Belle mine and Mammoth as miners and their families settled the area. Curly also contracted with the mining companies to move ore and water and wood for mines. His most dangerous business hauling bullion from Mammoth to Tucson. His wife, Annie, often rode shotgun.

William ‘Curly’ Neal:

Another picture from the book:

While in Tucson he had become friends with Hannah and Wiley Box. Hannah’s father a German, and mother Cherokee,  like Curly’s mother a survivor of the Trail of Tears. Wiley’s father a white English physician, and his mother from New Orleans of African descent. Their daughter Annie was born on the Cherokee reservation on 8th January, 1870. Hannah was only 16. Wiley was mostly a gambler and prospector.

In Tucson Hannah ran a boarding house where Curly stayed, before marrying her daughter Annie. Annie’s sister Josie remembered he always smoked the best cigars, carried a silver flask, and always had a bag of candy for her.

When they married in 1892, Annie was 22, and he 43. Despite the difference in their ages he was already her third husband.

Annie Magdalen Neal (1870-1950) was pretty damn amazing.

She had been educated at St Joseph’s Academy until she fell ill at the age of 14 — she remained a devout Catholic. She played the piano and composed her own tunes, two of which were published (though now lost, which I find so tragic). The Oklahoma March had been inspired by their family’s journey to Tucson when Annie was only 9. They moved like so many others for health reasons, after her father came down with yellow fever. She remembered thirst the most, and then the cold — they couldn’t light fires for fear of (other) Indians. When they arrived in 1879, the total number of African Americans in the county was only 57.

She first married James Lewis. A soldier, she went with him to where he was stationed in Yuma. She was there when her parents were put in jail, accused of stealing $1000 from a man named John Bryson. Later they were charged with attempting to poison Bryson on the testimony of another man who claimed they had hired him before he fled to Mexico. Both were found not guilty. Curiously while in jail, Wiley wrote letters to Lewis, not his daughter. After gaining their freedom the couple went to Mexico themselves, returned with daughter Josephine. In the meantime Annie had left James and married William Easton in 1887.

Curly had also married before, to Jesus Leon in 1881. The match between himself and Annie was pushed by her mother, who promised them gifts of land in Oracle.

Thus they bought land in Oracle, and Hannah  deeded her daughter a number of acres.  Annie, like Hannah, acted as a midwife, and had authorization from Catholic church to baptise babies. Curly built hotel as a business venture, but also to help Annie emerge from the deep depression she suffered after the death of her mother in 1894. It succeeded.

Before Oracle’s first church was built, Annie arranged from priest to come once a month, and they held services in the hotel’s recreation room. They had also adopted her sister Josephine, who was only 6 yrs old at Hannah’s death. Wiley lived until 1913. At his death he had been staying at an old-club in Tucson, on Court st between Pennington & Myers that catered to black men (I wonder what is there now…). A side note — he had been drinking for days, apparently, and in a stupor when his friends wrapped his legs in burlap, added kerosene and set them on fire as a joke. I assume they were only slightly less drunk than he was, only taking him to hospital when it became clear they wouldn’t heal on their own. Wiley died of the burns. On his death certificate Annie stated he was white – there is, of course, no way now to know why. One possible reason was to ensure he could be buried in the cemetery without problems — cemeteries in the area were often segregated. Annie saw her father off in style though, with a procession of 5 automobiles.

Marriott notes an increase in racism — and while I am doubtful there ever was a time in Tucson where racism was not a problem, it is a good reminder of how things actually got worse after the turn of the century. Jim Crow only really arose during that period, though Marriott casts all the blame on the increasing numbers of wealthy East Coast families in the area who after the 20s stopped including the Neals in their social visits and functions, who opposed Curly’s attempt to legally homestead the area their cattle had long been grazing, and who would destroy his business through a suit claiming he was collecting too much local wood.

But enough about racist white folks. Another picture of Annie, also from the book:

She used to have shooting contests with Buffalo Bill and his men when they stayed at the hotel. There is nothing I do not love about her.

A little more on race relations can be found in the chapter on Elizabeth Lambert Wood, an author who left a wonderfully detailed journal. Originally from Portland, she clearly came from a family with some money, and her husband was a doctor (she continuously refers to him in the diary as Dr Wood, most curious). They came to stay at the Mountain View when her husband fell ill, then bought land and stayed there most of the year. The Neals are hardly mentioned in the journal entries found in the chapter, and while she was clearly on friendly enough speaking terms with various African American and Mexican residents in Oracle, the four women with whom she seemed to plan events and gatherings were (wealthy) white women from the principle ranches. In November of 1929 she wrote the following entry in her journal:

Oracle put on its annual Indian Pageant last night. We held it in the park, in a hollow where the main village road turns toward Cherry Valley. We parked our cars on the hill overlooking the hollow and turned on our lights. We lit up the area like a stage. We were able to get some Indians to come from New Mexico and Flagstaff, but we didn’t have enough. We used local boys to add to the tribe. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and the gunny sack outfits we made for our local boys offered little protection from the wind. We tried to make them look authentic by painting their bodies. Mike Munoz, one of the children, complained loudly every time they dipped the brush into the bucket and rubbed it on his skin. I thought he looked and sounded like the real thing. (113)

I confess I find that entire passage astonishing. Written on land so recently belonging to the Apaches and taken by deadly force. The idea of importing Indians (not Apaches I would guess) for entertainment, and painting Mexicans (ignoring their own mestizo heritage) is mindboggling. The costumes are as well. I wonder what  Annie and Curly thought of it. I wonder how this connects to minstrel shows, I wonder how people explained this kind of appropriation of the cultures of those they believed inferior, and how these events contributed to such dynamics. Honestly though, I cannot fathom it.

A few more tidbits from the chapter — the entry about hearing that Arizona had been admitted into the union, and wondering if anything would change. It seemed that nothing really changed, at least not for some time. her own story is fairly tragic, her husband died fairly young, her first son was killed in action in WWI. Her daughter had severe post-partum depression after the birth of her first child, and drowned herself on the return journey from Europe (her husband had tried to cheer her up). Elizabeth Wood thus raised her grandson, only for him to be killed in action in WWII. She gave a great deal to the town, sharing her wealth as it were. She had a public well dug, paid for the building of a community playground, donated stained glass to the united church, and before her death donated her Southern Belle ranch to the Salvation Army as a youth camp.

She also writes about Jane Russell visiting the Linda Vista Ranch, having publicity shots taken at the Cañada del Oro. The ranch was owned by Goerge Stone Wilson, and Harold Bell Wright had stayed there to write, and then film, The Mine with the Iron Door. That would eventually be partly what brought Buffalo Bill to file mining claims there, and Wood knew his wife, but that is all for another blog.

Some final views of the Mountain View and all the people who lived and worked there. I love this photo, and only wish it were a bit clearer.

A final view of the hotel as it looks today, its outbuildings torn down, stripped of its balconies, and incorporated into a Baptist Church — makes me a bit sad to be honest.

Mountain View Hotel

[Marriott, Barbara (2002) Annie’s Guests: Tales From a Frontier Hotel. Tucson: Catymatt Productions.]

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Days at the Triangle L Ranch, Oracle

The Triangle L Ranch — our getaway for a few glorious days in Oracle, AZ.

A dirt road off of the 77, a sign of welcome:

Triangle L

The company was quite sparkling, the breakfasts absurdly varied and delicious (I mean, we had our first but not our last taste of clafoutis), everything wonderful. Our casita — the guest house, in a rare ray of sunshine:

Triangle L

I got no pictures that did justice the small but quite exquisite main room, but the sleeping porch came out all right — the perfect place to escape the summer night’s heat.

Triangle L

On the side table sat a couple of books on local history, and of course I read one of them. Annie’s Guests: Tales From a Frontier Hotel by Barbara Marriott. It mostly looked at Oracle’s Mountain View Hotel, built and run by Annie (Box) and William Curley Neals, who were both of mixed Cherokee, African American and English ancestry — a fascinating discovery, and one I shall write about more. But there was a chapter on William Bloodgood Trowbridge who once owned this ranch, so I shall start there.

He came from East Coast money, and arrived in Oracle on what seems a most slender whim — when hunting with friends on the other side of the country they became fed up with their luck and headed out west without even going home for a change of clothes first.  Money, like I said. He decided to stay on a while, and returned regularly (staying at the Mountain View of course). When it came up for sale, he bought the Triangle L in 1924. It had been built for Mrs Westry Ladd, another woman of East Coast money whose family had built the Baldwin locomotive engine. This began its life as a place of privilege with its wooden floors covered with Navajo rugs and comfortable antique furniture.– but it feels a surprisingly modest, comfortable and welcoming one.

Most of the chapter, however, is about Trowbridge’s rather tawdry love affair — I am a bit more judgmental than the author I am afraid. It seemed Trowbridge had some kind of understanding with the daughter who with her mother managed the ranch — when he broke that informal engagement to marry a Miss Smith from Edinburgh, he moved them to another ranch in the area. The marriage did not appear to be a happy one, and he commenced an affair with a woman named Margaret in Tucson. While he burned the letters he received from her, she failed to burn his. They are a rather depressing look into a relationship where you really hope she was just in it for the money — Trowbridge, despite all protestations of love clearly had no intention of leaving his wife. His parsimony is often hinted at, and in fact he asks Margaret to keep an accounting of her expenses and the money he gives her so he can review it. It all goes wrong, he is blackmailed by the family, the wife finds out (though she seems to have known much all along).

Not very interesting but for the fact that somehow, some way, the packet of his letters to Margaret were found in the disused well on the ranch itself — I imagine it must be this well, right next to our temporary home.

Triangle L

Behind it you can see the main house — I realise I failed to take a good picture to give a sense of the whole, there is a wonderful old picture on the website, though this view is just as you enter:

I did get a few pictures from inside, though they fail to do it justice. It is a perfect kind of house to my mind: thick adobe walls, wood floors, dark stained vigas and wood ceilings. What Marriot called the 360 degree fireplace, with three openings all leading to a central chimney shaft. From the dining room

Triangle L

Triangle L

The sitting room:

Triangle L

A most wonderful enormous screened living room/sleeping area/porch:

Triangle L

In addition to the extraordinary breakfasts to be enjoyed in the main house, the ranch also now serves as host to artists’ workshops, a wonderful little gift shop and  a very large sculpture garden, primarily showcasing constructions of salvaged metal and glass, but plenty of other recycled materials here too:

Triangle L

Triangle L

Triangle L

Triangle L

This maze had music set off by motion detectors — some rabbits had triggered it while we were still some ways away, making it all a bit creepier than it should have been…

Triangle L

Pictures did not do this bird justice, nor its pair across the path with plumage of old shovels, I loved them both:

Triangle L

As I did these robots (most robots I confess):

Triangle L

This made quite an impact

Triangle L

Music Tree!

Triangle L

A beautiful new take on bottle trees:

Triangle L

Sabretooth tiger.

Triangle L

Triangle L

The country surrounding the Triangle L — hidden gullies and rocks of granite, dusk falling:

Triangle L

The old corral:

Triangle L

A wonderful place to stay and explore the surrounding country — Oracle, Buffalo Bill Cody’s mining claims, beautiful hikes through country teeming with wildlife and the most wonderful views, the Biosphere 2. All coming up.

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Enrique Salmón: American Indian Stories of Food, Identity and Resilience

13226644I came to Enrique Salmón’s Eating the Landscape through The Colors of Nature, this covers some of the same territory, but I learned even more about the Colorado Plateau that we had just been driving through. The landscapes of my baby-self, and so many of my dad’s stories. But no one in my family ever had anything as awesome as this:

I recall the many plant-related lessons I learned in my grandma’s herb house. this latticed structure was filled with hanging dried and living plants as well as pungent and savory smells from the many herbs hanging from the ceiling. The roof was no longer visible through the layers of vines that draped over its eaves to the ground. (3)

I love this connection between food and landscape, so obvious and yet I had not quite seen it in this way before.

…because so much of the food we are discussing in this book comes directly from the land, food landscapes remain intact when old recipes are regenerated. The food itself, and the landscapes from which it emerges, remembers how it should be cooked. This can happen because the food itself activates in us an encoded memory that reminds us how to grow, collect and prepare the food. (9)

Thinking about what our food teaches us about our landscape…well. I have learned a lot through my short time on smallholdings, through growing up in the desert, but I don’t know enough.

An essential lesson for us, as we continue on our current self-destructive path of monocropping, genetically modifying our food using artificial irrigation, and overfertilizing, will be to relearn how to cook our landscapes: the manner in which we sustainably steward our food crops, relying on a process that began in our home kitchens. (10)

It is not just loss of knowledge through city living or supermarkets, I think of Vandana Shiva writing about just how much the proponents of monocropping have actively destroyed. Yet there is so much happening that gives me hope. Like Emigdio Ballon, come from the highlands of Bolivia to Tesuque Pueblo of New Mexico. Working now with the Pueblo to grow fruit trees and beans, and maintaining a seed bank of heirloom crops.

I think too of settler and scientist arrogance, the kind that has driven unsustainable agricultural practices through the fields and lives of small farmers on the land for generations. Not seeing the complex systems these farmers were often embedded within:

For the longest time, the conservation and environmental movement had assumed that the human-environment equation would always result negatively for the land…until recently, researchers had not considered the possibility that humans could actually enhance their landscapes; that human communities might actually play a role in enhancing diversity; or that humans could be a keystone species of some ecological systems. (75)

In southern Arizona the Hohokam are everywhere, I remember hearing stories, imagining their presence across the land. There is a chapter on the Sonora desert and this:

The word Hohokam from the Pima language — always translated as ‘”those who have gone,” or “those who have vanished.” Archaeologist Emil Haury, who has studied the Hohokam, provided a more literal translation of “all used up.” (82)

Damn.

Up near Phoenix, along the salt river, they built extensive irrigation systems. Left them. Salmón writes that this is possibly because they became salinized, silted up. Instead of upping the ante, the people returned to a simpler agricultural system, one that was more beneficial to their landscape and more sustainable over the years.

Damn. I can’t imagine that conversation, our current reality is worlds removed from that kind of thinking. Perhaps this is a great part of the problem. One other thing I never have experienced, but so want to:

The diversity of the Sonora Desert seems more obvious the farther one travels through its namesake Mexican state. (128)

There are lots of stories here of the Colorado plateau, the fields in canyons and along washes hidden from sight — oh, I wished so much we caught just a glimpse. He writes of Peabody Coal’s draining of the aquifer and the drying up of springs. An enterprise bringing death to extract energy, destroying place to facilitate movement. A mindset alien to the people here, and to me. I loved the description of a concept from Juan Estevan Arellano:

Hispano querencia: that which affords his people a sense of place. Querencia is also simply the love for the land and place. (118)

Salmón continues:

To Hispanos, querencia is a blend of mental spaces not only involving bioregionalism but also including emotional, spiritual, cultural and ecological health. When people think of land the concept is enmeshed with notions of cultural memory. These and other mental spaces merge into a multidimensional blended space… (118)

This is the space of resilience, of community, of words. The thing evoked so powerfully in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry describing these same places. It is strange finding the language of development I am so familiar with rewritten, recoded in this way:

Story is at the core of community resilience. It comprises the matter, substance, and adhesive of human capital. Stories communicate our values through the language of our heart and our emotions. Stories are what we feel. In northern New Mexico, enough of the viable land remains in which the story of querencia can be housed. (121)

More ways to reframe development debates, from The Declaration of Seed Sovereignty that came out of the Traditional Agriculture Conference held March 10-11, 2006 in Alcalde, New Mexico:

Sustainable stewardship and cultural resilience are neither decisions nor rights. Nowhere in the Declaration of Seed Sovereignty does the notion or term of rights arise. Instead, the associations conferred to include in their “living document” concepts of relationships, generational memory, embodied practices, spirituality, caring, respect, traditions, and celebration when declaring their revival and survival of their way of life. Together, these concepts reflect identity connected to responsibility towards one’s place in a community within a landscape. (150)

Everything is relational and connected.

Salmón, Enrique (2012) Eating the Landscape: American Indian Stories of Food, Identity and Resilience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Navajo Nation to Aztec Ruins, New Mexico

Before leaving Tuba City, we went to the museum right next to our hotel, one of my favourite stops on this trip.

Navajo Interactive Museum

The Navajo Interactive Museum shares some of the Navajo’s own history. It is the first place I have ever been that does not try to whitewash the history of conquest. It does not shy away from how people were killed, enslaved. It tells of the forced march, relocation, return. The immense loss. Grief. It shows how much has been saved, how custom and belief are not things of the past but of the present. It shared versions of the creation. Methods of weaving, the sheep that are the sources of wool. The building of hogans and some of their spiritual meanings. It is divided by the four directions, reclaims history for its own people, and offers it as a gift to us.

From one of the signs:

Indigenous languages are holistic, fluently expressing intrinsic human relationships with everything. Navajos believe that their language is a spiritual gift from the Holy People, for it connects them directly to the entire universe. It is a language of webs and motion, relationships and process, not of nouns and objectivity.

I have been thinking so much about language and patterns of thought, the limitations of science and how perhaps it is built into the English language itself. Spanish too, but just knowing two languages helps you understand language’s limits. There is still so much I cannot express, I wish that I had been honored to speak such an indigenous language. It is not hard to see why conquerors would work so hard to destroy language, it is so intertwined with culture, with worldview. It is always a place of strength and resistance.

Next door was a small museum in honour of the Navajo code talkers, the men who joined the US army and used their language to keep our transmissions from the Japanese. The whole text of the ‘Navajo Code Talkers Act‘ was on the wall, and it surprised me. I have put in bold the things I never though the U.S. government would say out loud, and we circle around language…

(1) On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor and war was declared by Congress the following day.

(2) The military code, developed by the United States for transmitting messages, had been deciphered by the Japanese and a search by United States military intelligence was made to develop new means to counter the enemy.

(3) The United States Government called upon the Navajo Nation to support the military effort by recruiting and enlisting 29 Navajo men to serve as Marine Corps radio operators; the number of enlistees later increased to over 350.

(4) At the time, the Navajos were second-class citizens, and they were a people who were discouraged from using their own language.

(5) The Navajo Marine Corps radio operators, who became known as the Navajo Code Talkers, were used to develop a code using their language to communicate military messages in the Pacific.

(6) To the enemy’s frustration, the code developed by these Native Americans proved to be unbreakable and was used extensively throughout the Pacific theater.

(7) The Navajo language, discouraged in the past, was instrumental in developing the most significant and successful military code of the time. At Iwo Jima alone, the Navajo Code Talkers passed over 800 error-free messages in a 48-hour period.

(A) So successful were they, that military commanders credited the code with saving the lives of countless American soldiers and the successful engagements of the United States in the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa;

(B) So successful were they, that some Code Talkers were guarded by fellow marines whose role was to kill them in case of imminent capture by the enemy; and

(C) So successful were they, that the code was kept secret for 23 years after the end of World War II.

(8) Following the conclusion of World War II, the Department of Defense maintained the secrecy of the Navajo code until it was declassified in 1968; only then did a realization of the sacrifice and valor of these brave Native Americans emerge from history.

I am unsure what the U.S. government has done since then to grant full, respectful, honoured citizenship or to encourage the speaking of indigenous languages, but I suppose medals were something. It would take a few years before other tribes were honoured for similar roles, the Comache and Choctaw among them, in WWI as well as WWII.

navajo_code_talkers_617_488We drove and drove, Northeast, out of the red rocks towards New Mexico. We passed Black Mesa, and the Peabody Company’s coal mine — another reminder of exploitation, another form of resource extraction.

EACH YEAR PEABODY COAL COMPANY PUMPS MORE THAN 4,500 ACRE-FEET OF PRISTINE NAVAJO AND HOPI DRINKING WATER FROM THE “N-AQUIFER.”

Peabody uses this pristine water supply simply to mix with crushed coal-called “slurry.” This “slurry” is then pumped through a pipeline over 275 miles to the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada.

With every breath we take, 50 gallons of pristine ground water has just been pumped from the dry lands of northeastern Arizona. On Black Mesa, home to the Hopi and Navajo people, more than 300 gallons of potential drinking water has, in the last 10 seconds just been mixed with crushed coal. In the time it took to read these sentences Peabody Coal Company pumps over a thousand gallons of the cleanest groundwater in North America, simply to transport coal. Today, Peabody Coal pumps more than 3,600 acre-feet (equivalent to 4,600 football fields, one foot deep) per year of pristine water from the Navajo Aquifer.

You can find out more on the Southwest Research and Information Centre site. These beautiful lands are also be exploited for their uranium, in summary of the report on uranium mining on the Navajo Nation from Brugge and Goble:

From World War II until 1971, the government was the sole purchaser of uranium ore in the United States. Uranium mining occurred mostly in the southwestern United States and drew many Native Americans and others into work in the mines and mills. Despite a long and well-developed understanding, based on the European experience earlier in the century, that uranium mining led to high rates of lung cancer, few protections were provided for US miners before 1962 and their adoption after that time was slow and incomplete. The resulting high rates of illness among miners led in 1990 to passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

You can read and listen to more on Democracy Now’s program ‘A Slow Genocide of the People’.  Even now people gather to stand against another exploitation of the earth and threat of contamination for land and water — the North Dakota pipeline.

In North Dakota, indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, which was launched on April 1 by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

I wish I could be there too. Instead I am here, writing. We drove onward. It looks pristine, but corporations are poisoning this land.

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

Shiprock.

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

A sea of crushed metal, old cars left here.

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

Up to the ‘Aztec’ ruins. Midway between Chaco and Mesa Verde, this was an incredible Anasazi construction, planned and for the most part built within a very short time. Labelled Aztec because that’s all people apparently knew of indigenous cultures building in stone, too ignorant or racist to ask its real name. The National Park Service did try to give a ‘balanced’ history, but such radically different ways of seeing the world sit uneasily next to each other. There could be nothing too critical of the role archeology has played in the mythologizing of western expansions, nor of those expansions, nor the disrespect of native histories. A disrespect that stems from their attempted destruction. But it was good to hear native voices here, and the contrasting ways of seeing.

Aztec Ruins

This is a place that feels good, a place left to the ancestors before white men arrived, like Chaco, like Mesa Verde.

It’s construction is beautiful, full of details. The corner openings:

Aztec Ruins

T-shaped doors

Aztec Ruins

Stones rolled smooth from the river

Aztec Ruins

And other bands of decoration:

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

Once standing three stories high

Aztec Ruins

This wall traces exactly the path followed by the sun during the summer solstice

Aztec Ruins

It is a beautiful place. To see with eyes open and with eyes closed. The ground story of storage rooms still stand

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

They open into other rooms, a mat left behind is still here, hundreds of  years old.

Aztec Ruins

From archaeology we see the map of the whole. Almost all of it built between 1100 and 1130, which is amazing. Then slowly added to.

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This map shows its symmetries, though it cannot explain their meaning.

Aztec Ruins

They have reconstructed the great kiva here, I am not sure about entering such a place of ceremony without ceremony. Without invitation. So I didn’t take pictures, but I did give thanks to be there. With mum. They are wonderful sacred spaces.

Aztec Ruins

Several of them, along with the large central one, are surrounded by smaller rooms. I have never seen this before.

Aztec Ruins

I didn’t love the small museum as much as the one in Tuba City, but the pottery was beautiful (so much here, as in the other NPS museums, on loan from far away. Pottery and artifacts taken away as property by the institutions who sponsored digs, I do not understand how they do not see this as a living place to which things still belong). Apart from the maps of the place itself, the trade routes were also wonderful:

Aztec Ruins

From here we continued on and on, up to Chama. A good day.

Dinosaurs and the Martian Canals: From Tucson to Tuba City

Road trip! Day one, a long driving day to get up past the sprawling monster of Phoenix, up up to the top of our enormous state. This all used to be two lane highway when I was a kid, but it’s four to six now most of the way…and has traffic to fill it. If you build it bigger they will drive it say the planners, and they are right.

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I just realised there is almost no traffic in this picture. But honestly. It’s there. It is anything but carefree. I kind of admire the effort some planner put into this though:

Tucson to Phoenix

We put a lot of effort into destroying the desert too… sucking up the groundwater reservoirs to grow crops, leaving the rest of the valley dry as dust edged with an unbelievable green:

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Like the efforts of a corporate chain pretending they have any kind of authentic history, but without making too much of an effort:

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Enough of that kind of effort though. Getting up to Flagstaff, cooler air, and the Lowell Observatory, now that was amazing. Lowell — built in 1894 by millionaire Percival Lowell of the Lowell, Massachusetts mill owner Lowells. You know. Those fucking Lowells. Which makes this a place that combines a quixotic history with quite a lot of space-exploration awesomeness.

So…I was excited to come here because Lowell believed — and tried desperately hard to prove — that Mars was covered by immense canals being built by martians in an immense hurry to channel water from the poles to held save their dying civilization. That is my all-time favourite Mars theory, and yes, yes it was inspired by reading a lot of science fiction (it also inspired a lot of science fiction, as you can guess). But also because a famous Italian astronomer by the name of Schiaparelli wrote a book about the canali of Mars, which should simply have been translated as channels (natural), but were instead translated as canals. And Percival Lowell being one of those fucking Lowells and the guy who funded and ran the observatory, there was no one who could really budge him from that hobby horse. So he spent a lot of years working on these maps, drawing canals that no one else could see because they just weren’t there given the low resolution of the telescope.

lowell mars map2bI still love them. Especially as there are apparently three theories about where these lines actually came from. The first is — his own eyelashes. The second — shit, I have forgotten the second. The third — that he spent a lot of time staring into bright skies and he was actually seeing the patterns of his own retina reflected back the way you sometimes do when getting your eyes checked. That was my favourite.

But back then he had some credibility — this from the New York Times on August 27, 1911 (105 years ago yesterday! That’s a bit of a coincidence).

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The Clark observatory today:

Lowell Observatory

Inside it’s even better:

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory

Lowell hired two guys to build this dome who had never built a dome before — and you can pretty much tell. But it works. It needs to move of course, so originally that dome sat on great castors and two men with ropes had to move it according to Lowell’s instructions. The next attempt was my favourite — to set it floating on a course of salt water (to prevent it from freezing). Our tour guide (who was awesome) noted that it worked great. For all of two hours. All kinds of things went wrong, some of the stains are still visible on the wood. So they went back to castors and two guys pulling it with ropes, but then the next director came along and had the bright idea of using tires. So it is now cushioned on original Ford 1957? steel rims and hubcaps — the tires themselves have to be replaced frequently given the weight of the dome.

Lowell Observatory

I haven’t even gotten to the more exciting parts, like the way Vesto Slipher (!) actually discovered from his observations here that the universe was expanding, though his measurements of the various spectrums of stars and the realisation that most of them were moving away from us. Spectrum analysis also proved that those spiral things people were seeing were actually entirely separate galaxies. This meant that universe was actually much bigger than just our galaxy. Imagine that jump when the two had always been conflated. Imagine how the universe expanded then (not literally you understand, but our understandings of it).

Vesto presented his findings and had astronomy’s first ever standing ovation in 1912 — in the audience sat the not-yet-Doctor Hubble, who would first try to put a number to the expanding universe.

Then in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.

That turned out trickier than expected of course, given it was not a planet at all, but still.

I loved the Rotunda too, though we didn’t get enough time here as we still had far to go.

Lowell Observatory

Inside we had a little fun with spectrum analysis ourselves. We got to wear glasses.

Lowell Observatory

And these simple and flimsy things revealed wonders when staring at tubes of neon or mercury. Not quite this good, but close enough. This is neon:

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We got a quick look at everything else…I wanted more time but we couldn’t wait until evening when they were opening it up fully.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory

From there we drove up to Tuba City…and a sign on the side of the road said dinosaur footprints and mom said ‘hell yes, let’s do it’ (or something to that effect). We had seen a dinosaur earlier of course:

Tucson to Phoenix Dinosaur

But look at these things, they are amazing…

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

I’m not sure I can say the same about this toenail polish which I bought on a crazed whim — I am never colour coordinated like this.

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

This place is one of my favourite in the world. Mum says it took her forever coming from England to get used to the space, it made her feel so small, so insignificant. Me, I feel like this space makes you humble and at the same time opens you up, gives you a spirit big enough to fill it. It makes me so happy to be back here again in the red rocks. Especially staring across an ancient seabed at dinosaur tracks.

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

We gave our guide and her partner a ride into Tuba City, it being the end of the day, and then found a hotel. An expensive hotel. Damn. But the Hogan Restaurant next door? The best waitress ever and they had mutton stew with frybread on the menu which probably gave mum more joy than anything else through the day — she grew up on that in postwar England don’t you know.

Hogan Cafe, Tuba City

Me, I had a cheese burger — on fry bread. Which was delicious but oh. my. god. Filling. I can’t tell you how filling. I could eat almost no fries, but that was probably a good thing. As it is, I feel I should run the first ten miles tomorrow alongside the car…

Tomorrow, Anasazi ruins! Chama! So exciting.

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Tucson’s Everyday Architecture

Tucson’s everyday architecture sprawls across the desert in dusty houses and apartments, it feels utterly different from anything on East Coast or Midwest U.S.A. As much as it feels utterly different from anything in Europe.

When I go home now, I am ever more struck by just how sprawling it is, how much space lies between homes, how many empty lots there are, how much unused land. How small and boxy the houses are, yet how I like those better than newer developments — they are not pictured here because we only drove past them, tracts and tracts and tracts of them where houses never where before. Huge boxy houses that fill as much of the lot as they can manage.

I am struck by how in older neighbourhoods, so many of the newer houses look more like bunkers than anything. How much colour improves things, but can’t improve everything. How much I hate the fake look of expensive corrugated iron and false painted gaps in the plaster showing false adobe bricks. People trying desperately hard to make their boxes interesting, but doing it in a way that shares a terribly kitsch vision of the Southwest and a terrible sameness. Like the vigas that emerge from both sides of the house so you know half at least are false beams and carry no weight.

Everything false in its conformity to some southwestern idiom, a moving target from howling coyotes with neckerchiefs to kokopellis to the next culturally appropriated fashion that lies in wait. I don’t know what that means for us.

Strange too, just how many mobile homes will never again be mobile, despite the themes of wolves running wild, freedom. How lots with 5 to 20 of them have become housing integrated with all the other kinds of housing, a regular patchwork. I never much questioned mobile home parks further out in the desert where I used to live, or those lonely settlers perched in areas without services. But here in mid-city, how exactly did it happen here?

It struck me how streets look so much the same, one after the other. They are charmless really, and this is how we have chosen to build them. Charmless as a whole, but at the same time in my mother’s neighbourhood between Pima and Speedway, Swan and Columbus, there are some wonderful old houses you know people constructed themselves when this land was first subdivided, their uniqueness invisible unless you look hard. There are even a few lots here and there filled with almost natural desert where the old house is hidden somewhere back there behind it all. If you want the real, it is old faded wood with paint peeling, tiny houses with their big porches often screened in, dusty collections of assorted junk in the yard. Probably they were here before anyone else, definitely here before air conditioning. Back when porches were essential things. These lots stand as they were, refusing to believe the city has grown around them.

I love that kind of stubbornness.

I didn’t take pictures of all or even most of it, I didn’t quite know how. And some of these are from up along the Rillito where Columbus dead ends into it…the rich people’s homes conquering the hills, but an awesome old round stone house sits up there too. It’s not as fun taking pictures of what is resolutely non-picturesque, but I am going to try it more often, try harder. How else to capture the meaning of a place, this everyday dust and space that sits alongside all those beautiful things that people are proud of here, the gracious and historic buildings, the places we go to wonder or to relax. The desert. Yet none of this compares to the desert, and I am sad to think that this sprawl of wood and brick and purple-painted bunkers is what destroyed so much of it.

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The Chiricahuas in the Clouds

The Triangle T ranch looks pretty good in the daylight, and it’s cool to walk in the footsteps of Glenn Ford — here’s part of the set from 3:10 to Yuma:

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We drove down Dragoon Rd to the mountains, had to pull over between the stalked rubble of harvested corn fields filled with hundreds of Sandhill cranes. I have never seen anything like them, beautiful and all massed together in mid-migration, their backdrop the waste produced by human need for energy. I wanted my canon SLR more than anything, but didn’t have it, so this is as good as the pictures get.

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Despite the sunshine, a handful of low clouds gathered along the Chiricahua mountains, and we drove up into them. Land of the standing-up rocks and of the Apache once, before white soldiers spilled their blood into the ground, stole this land. Stole these rocks, Rhyolite carved by ice and water into beauty.

These are taken from the Echo Canyon trail, which was unforgettable and I cannot believe we have never done it before…

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A climb through the grotto…

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…then down through a land of wonder.

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Down a passageway that almost looks like cut stone and out again…

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leaving the cloud for the sun (rather than the cloud leaving us, as Mark first thought — I’m usually the one to say things like that).

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Down into the valley and looking back out where we had come from and where we would return…

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Then around to look deeper into the Chiricahuas, and loop back around to the car.

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From sun to cloud and ice.

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The day didn’t quite end there, but this post is.

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Sonoran Desert Easter

Easter was one of my favourite days, a day to celebrate Spring and Handel on KCET and Easter baskets full of candy. I didn’t even mind church, it would smell like wax and masses of Easter lilies and the sermon would be about love and joyfulness and life and the hymns would be some of my favourites. Then home and an ever more challenging hunt for Easter Eggs and later a feast of a dinner…

But early Easter morning was mine and clear and bright and full of promise and I would wander out in my shabby old robe to pick flowers for the table and Spring in the Sonoran Desert is extraordinary though I think many people never see it. I love England’s banks of daffodils and masses of bulbs, but miss the more secret, delicate beauty of flowers that bloom amongst the rocks and gravel.

Penstemons:

Penstemons

And Phacelias, these do often grow in banks of glorious blue:

Phacelia

The queen of desert flowers because they are more rare and the colour of cobalt, larkspur:

Larkspur

Globemallows, these grow everywhere, especially in old lots throughout the city, thriving where nothing else seems to grow:

globemallows

Fiddleneck — but those little hairs along the stems hurt your hands, so I often left them out:

butterfly and fiddleneck

Desert Sage:

sage

sage

California poppies:

poppies

There were other poppies, tall and pale yellow and also rare. Desert honeysuckle:

trumpet flowers

Eriatrum Difussum or miniature woolystar — these carpeted the hill behind my house along with monoptilon bellioides:

Eriastrum Diffusum or Miniature Woolystar

monoptilon bellioides or Mojave Desertstar

Erigeron divergens:

Erigeron Divergens or Spreading Fleabane

Wild onion:

wild onion

Desert lupins (but is that what we called them or what they really are?)

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Fairydusters:

fairyduster

Not all of these went into the bouquets of course, clutched in my little hands and lovingly arranged. And there are a number that are missing from those recovered in this March expedition, like desert chicory. I took all of these pictures in the Spring of 2009, I can’t remember why I was in Tucson but it was the last Spring spent with my dad.

Funny that I was born on Easter Sunday, so I remember we used to treat it as more of a birthday than the day I was actually born, though I think that stopped when I was quite little. My dad died on Easter Sunday the year after I took these. I can’t decide now if it is a day too overburdened by significance, or good that life and death should all be wrapped up like this. It is not my decision anyway.

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New-72

I am often sad, however, that I am not still running around the desert in my sandals and faded blue dress.

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