The Roadrunner, the River and the Border

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They sit on a desert path bordering the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park in Texas: The “No Wall” cans for collecting money and the handmade wire roadrunners and scorpions.  Mexico is visible across the river. I put my $6 in a can and take a roadrunner.  I wonder who will retrieve the dollar bills as we continue the dusty walk and fade out of sight.

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Limestone cliffs with rock art from thousands of years ago line the trail.

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I have never been by the Rio Grande river here as it borders our two countries.  It seems so peaceful in this spot.

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This water and this land have been life-giving for thousands of years to Indigenous communities, Spanish people, Comanche Indians, Mexican settlers, and Anglo-American farmers. In the quiet walk along the path, I hear whispers of those communities through time.

“Histories never conclude; they just pause their prose. Their stories are, if they are truthful, untidy affairs, resistant to windings-up and sortings-out. They beat raggedly on into the future….” Simon Schama.

A short way down the path, modern tourists relax in a hot spring that bubbles with 105-degree ancient water. The spring is surrounded by the remnants of the bathhouse built in the early 1900s by J.O. Langford from Mississippi. A Mexican family was on the land before that. More whispers from the past.

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National Park Service Photo/Cookie Ballou

The wire roadrunner in my pocket pokes me. I wonder again about who made it. I am curious about what their future will be.  The masking-tape price tag that was wrapped around its neck is now taped to my Kindle. I want to remember that all lives in this world are not equally valued and sustained.

However, there have been valued and sustained relationships between the communities existing across this river from each other.

On President Trump’s inauguration day last January, some of those communities joined together in protest of the suggestion of a new wall. Demonstrating cross-border solidarity and sisterhood, some 50 women from Texas and Mexico gathered along the international pedestrian bridge between El Paso and Juárez to braid their hair together. Xochitl Nicholson, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the decision to braid hair was symbolic in several ways. “We wanted something that referenced women directly, but that also sends a message about our common heritage and common backgrounds in a broader context,” Nicholson said. “It’s a symbol of collective strength.”

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Photo by Sasha von Oldershausen

Earlier in November, West Texans met in Presidio and walked to the international bridge between Ojinaga, Mexico and the United States  where they met up with their neighbors across the border. It was a solidarity march designed to show that they are all part of one border community.

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The Rio Grande river flows 1,240 miles between Texas and Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it changes shape and depth as do the borders on either side. As I gaze across the river to Mexico I see small towns, farms, desert land and beautiful mountains.  There is no one definitive way to describe a border.

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There is no one definitive way to contain this border. People disagree on what needs containing or if it needs containing at all. Life is complex and to say there are no problems along the border would be naïve.

As I walk with my friend, who lives in the area, she tells me of two friends who were returning to their car at dusk from a hike and saw what appeared to be a drug transaction happening. They rushed to their car hoping not to be shot in the back. Drug dealers don’t leave witnesses alive here, she said.  She never goes on the familiar backroad anymore because of too much danger from drug cartels.  “Those of us who live around here are concerned about the cartels much more than the others who are crossing.”  She does think there should be a program to give people temporary visas to do work in our country.  “Many people depend on those workers.”

The roadrunner symbolizes something about the journey that people take across the river “road” – dashing after hopes of a better life or those driven by greed to increase wealth through destroying the lives of others.

Perhaps, like me, your knowledge of a roadrunner was falsely informed by cartoons of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner and the coyote’s numerous failed attempts to catch and contain him.

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Watching a real roadrunner dash across the desert, I was reminded they are much more complex than the cartoon depictions I absorbed.

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The border is more complex than I knew. I keep the wire roadrunner to remember the human connection at the border. To remember that not having all the answers can be an opening to revelation.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. —Wendell Berry

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Post by Diane in honor of the person who made my roadrunner.

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