23 July 2009
On any given day there's an invitation to go to the ranch. On this particular day after returning from the Sierras down near Copper Canyon where Berto and I did a photo shoot to for the Tutuaca Mountain School. We return to the Casas Grandes Valley. I was feeling out of sorts-and thus Carmela invites me to go to the ranch with her grandchildren, Virginia and Lalito.
There is nothing like going back out to the land for reflection....just to drive around and check the cattle. Los sauces, The Willows, is her ranch, once apart of the Carolitos, one of the oldest haciendas in Northern Chihuahua.
We go to feed the cowboys and check the cattle that afternoon. I love these children - I love this family and feel a kinship to them and this land and it is this love that connects us to the past and the future. Summers with YaYa, their grandmother, my dear friend is a woman I admire for her undeniable spiritedness. With hair like a lioness, she always wears the fire red lipstick and talks like a cultured truck driver, seasoned rancher with a bit of a Texas twang punctuating her observations with a couple 'Gawd Damns' thrown in for emphasis. Regal and down to earth, a Diva with the wonder of a five year old with the light of passion sparkling in her eyes as they scan the landscape almost as if she's tasting the air like an animal scents for what is safe or not.
It is just wind, and a vast landscape. The children ride out the window; the world of their American life falls away as they learn the ways of the land of their ancestors. We have a lesson on how to pee outside; we drink water from a jug, and listen to French and Mexican songs on the satellite radio. My heart is somewhere else thinking about the path of love I've been called to; it yearns and it wants to run at the same time and I feel confused about what I want. I focus on the horizon reflecting over my life's loves....there are no easy answers... and I resign myself to the land. We stop and watch a new baby mare. We peer into the water tank and chase clouds in reflections of sky on the still liquid surface. Lalito exclaims, "LOOK at the baby cows!" his Ya Ya(grandmother), corrects him, "they're calves'....he is learning....
The windmill creaks in the wind that is picking up. The heat of the day gives way to the pregnant air that teases with rain....but none falls.... My eye continues searching going out far to the horizon. I see the clouds and dust- a phenomena of air currents....Lalito sits on his grandmother's lap and drives the road with concentration; we bounce along....I shoot from the window a hail Mary shot when what was the dust cloud grows darker. Through the lens I strain to discern is it dust or smoke rising....the wind has picked up considerably. We move towards the ranch through the pastures, past cattle....the air feels all of a sudden tense....we pause and we all strain looking out the windows south....it is smoke and it's dark cloud gets bigger and is moving fast towards us; the ranch house....the instinct of danger encroaching kicks in. FIRE..out of control moves fast on the plain.
The dust rises high and the wind is fierce. There is no communication. Of course in a moment like this all phones have lost their ability to connect.You need a new phone card. Dead battery. No answer. It's not like anyone driving down the highway will stop because your ranch is about to catch fire. It's not their problem.... Carmela the rancher grows serious and determined. The little people begin to cry.... - we each have our reactions-the innocent tears, the protectress-the Lioness roars; In one moment everything seems to be volatile-I have no idea what to do...the wind whips the land harder and the emotions rise to a new level of intensity...my gut is in my heart or is it the other way around? I anxiously try to remain calm and go to those places in memory when there is nothing to do but wait out the storm- or look for a calm line in the midst of chaos. I envision being above a rapid in Grand Canyon.... I remember what it means to be in the calm of the hurricane.... It is my position to be calm and steady for those I love. My heart aches for the land, the ranchito, the history that could be lost. It aches with an unrequited feeling of love. Lalito whispers in a tight voice, " I wish I could be in Las Cruces..." he fights to be brave and crocodile tears escape his child's eyes....This is real. This is his history. This is his legacy he can barely comprehend in this moment that I doubt will ever be forgotten. We drive down the highway to sit and watch fate play out. The fire, bright orange moves rapidly a line of line. It jumps the mesquite fence and across the dirt road dividing the neighbors field and the ranch. We move again, Carmela commanding the Blazer as if it were a horse. We drive down the road watching the fire sprout in ten places at once...we go in reverse and retreat to wait at the gate. The children's hands squeeze mine and I squeeze back.
We drive aggressively towards the fire that leapt out of control from a neighboring field. The children grow pensive...my personal thoughts give way and become very small. Carmela resigns to prayer; "there is nothing we can do but pray."
I visualize Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Jude, the saint who helps with the impossible. We hold hands tight and I watch the little ones squeeze their eyes....What do I say? We focus on the color of love. What color is it? "RED," Lalito says... "Pink," says Virginia. I close my eyes and see the flames. I verbalize what I imagine.... Imagine a big swirl of red, and pink....it gets bigger and bigger....Imagine we are blowing away the fire....breathe in and blow it all out....the children's eyes are still shut tight. Their lips pucker and blow and blow....salty tears bubble from their lips so soft and sweet like angels imploring God..."please make the wind stop." The color swirls of love make me dizzy as I feel their little hands in mine. I see the concern on Carmela's face; I feel the steadfastness of what I imagine her father would have shown in a moment like this and I see him in her discerning face. There are no tears- her jaw is set...and she doesn't have time for pity or fear. She faces into the storm like a captain at sea which is the desert- wind in her hair. There is no room for cowards in this harsh, beautiful land. The swirl of our hearts love intermingle in the silence of the car and it rolls out the open window with our every breath. When I reopen my eyes and pull the little people closer to me I feel what it must be like to be a mother for a moment. I think of all the mothers of the world facing their fears,comforting their children in the madness of war, destruction-natural and man made. I experience the loss of control and the fierce tenderness to steer through the storm I am witnessing. The dark cloud has receded across the horizon and I can't tell if it's my imagination or real, but the wind seems to have calmed down.
Miraculously the phone rings. The ranch is burning- hurry back. Carmela's son is in El Pueblo 45 minutes away after just having left the ranch an hour ago. The saying is true-anything can happen at any time....he had just been at the ranch and now turns back from the Pueblo to return to come meet us. We wait and watch. The wind IS subsiding... a calm descends; the fires burn.... It is truly a moment of relief. I wish Berto was here. I wish Melissa was here. I wish it would stop burning.... time is indifferent and there is no discerning how it passes; so slowly, so quickly. 'He should be here NoW," Carmela says eyes straining down the highway....and surely in that moment her son's truck makes the turn down the ranch road; People are in back; Melissa, Berto, her cowboy,Aristero- Marcello, the tall slow boy from el Pueblo. Another set of ranch hands has been deployed from Corralitos comes from the other direction. We all jump out of the cars and embrace. "Your knight in shining armor-' Carmela announces... and just like in the movies, Berto sweeps me up into his arms and kisses me long and hard...
and then we are all running with whatever tools, shovels, blankets, clothes we have to chase the fires down....It is dusk now...
the mountains in the distance purple and gold. It is amazing to see each tuft of dried grass instantly ablaze....I run with my camera and follow the cowboys from Corralitos....we branded cattle together a year ago....we move in a circle; smoke and flames; swinging arms wildly and stomping out the flames- I look through the viewfinder of my camera clicking away....and I hear the cowboys singing....this song I don't understand brings the first tears to my eyes...we are all running in the darkening light. The children stay close with Carmela cheering us on...the excitement is contagious and we move in unison containing each patch of flame. The smell of mesquite like incense in a church is surreal and holy....I pour water and give it the men to drink and to douse out the burning fence posts. The ranch has been saved!
The sky is full of storm clouds as the sun goes down and I am amazed,elated and awed as the cloud takes the form of a giant dove wings outstreched n the last light of the day-the bird of peace,it's breast is ablaze with the colors of love red and pink glow from it's heart. We walk the road smiling and working, the kids cheering us on- all of watching for the dying embers; everyone smiles with dirt, smoke and something within us we never knew we had before the storm. On the drive home the children curled into Berto's and I's lap and we drive home in the dark....I think about how the storms of our times threaten us with fear and hate; the drug wars, the border walls - It seems impossible to do anything about, and yet this fire has shown me
what it will take to overcome the impossibility of it all in times yet to come. In the eye of the storm, the innate goodness, the love for land and country, our family , and Love and Faith enduring.