04 June 2011

Field NOTES : El ARIBABI Ranch The Return of the JAGUAR

Sergio Avila under the canopy of a Cottonwood tree.

Aribabi-The Cottonwood trees rustle as I stand under them waiting at the green gate for Carlos' son, German. After a 5 hour drive across highway 2 from Chihuahua to Sonora I arrive as the sun sets. German takes me for a walk where we wander down the stream bed; I stand in AWE of the trees that remind of the those along the shore of the Manu River in Peru; the headwaters of the Amazon... how familiar it seems ; different and the same - the spirit of nature speaks.

My first impression are the Alamos; Their long graceful profiles- A rock. A river. A tree. I try to conjure those Cottonwoods I've know along the shores of the San Juan river and those planted along the Colorado to bring them back. I stare up and long... listening; gathering their pressence; they remind me of Yeii' dancers on Navajo rugs; Long Spirits dancing on the world.

There is a place not far from the fearful headlines of the borderlands where the river sings beneath towering Cottonwood trees. The wild nature has returned because of the visionary efforts of rancher, turned conservationist, Carlos Robales. It is the revolutionary act of stewardship to protect water resources and habitat for the flora and fauna who live within the canyons and rolling folds of the grassland valley of El Río Cocóspera.

The watershed of Cocospera Canyon rises and drops across narrow canyons. Bears and Jaguar roam deep and high in the Sierra Azul. The Canyon lands and river forests wind, rise and fall and flow to the main stem of the Cocospera River valley. There is the sound of running water under shady Alamo trees. There are patterns in nature, of the land and the movement of predators who walk long, and the prey that runs across the loose trails ; havalinas, deer,man, pumas, birds ; a squirrel scampers and observes us curiously and none too trustful.

I've been told one doesn't really want to personally confront a puma or Jaguar one of these amazing animals in the wild - but like diving in the sea and knowing there are sharks ; or going down river knowing there's a missing person report of some poor soul whose drowned because they didn't heed common sense or underestimated the randomness of natural selection - One looks for the floating corpse out of the corner of ones' eye - I have been intrigued perhaps by the story of Gabrielle Garcia Marquez ; The Most Beautiful Drowned Man in the World ; What is that engages us with the larger sense of LIFE ? there's a desire to see something.

One is aware a stealth shadow could appear - that from where we stand there could be other eyes observing us; just like what people said about the Apaches who roamed and knew these borderlands before they were borders and even after - I want to see and don't want to see 'it' - but you can feel it or wonder about it; you can feel it almost like a breath or an instinct that has been out of use ; the imprint of the presence alone makes you contemplate your own insignificant life in the larger picture. It also heightens the awareness of knowing there are less free places in the world and even those within yourself. Borderland drug wars and the politics that keep the fear machine oiled fade to the background when I reflect of standing on the same path with something more wild and unknown. and even though unseen, I want to protect it's existence; I am content to think even if I can't make a picture of 'one' how do make the beauty real enough to feel? how do I give an image to the words of Carlos' dream?

Carlos and writer Tony Davis

It is the place where the rarely seen jaguars and pumas can exist and roam. It is enough to know they are there - like the early morning chorus of birds I hear but can not photograph because of limitations of my vision and knowing or having the right lens, I hear the magic of their song and pause in the green shade of the wetlands and remain still to feel my physical presence merge into the shimmering leaves; the song of water, and wonder about the unseen eyes that may be watching me.

I think of all the people afraid to come here and thus will never know this beauty -
the passion of one man, and his family's conviction ; the shared stewardship with the alliances who dare to dream and come to know what is of value; this peace and grace and reverence for the wild ; May we have wisdom to protect it and open ourselves to be changed by it. Carlos asks me to photograph his cousins cowboy Hector. I appreciate the invitation because I know it's about inclusivity to bring into the fold not just the conservationist and bird lovers but also for those who are apart of the local community to be seen as being apart of this stewardship. I sip water with his mother in the ranch house - Mexican radio, chickens ; The Families coming home to the ranch.

Carlos Robales and Hector in the old barn of the family ranch.

The day we leave at high noon the quiet but unmistakable track; a barely discernable shadow of retracted claws; the soft padded whisper has left it's indelible presence within the soft river sand barely seen in the blare of the sun. The silent presence belies the puma's great presence knowing it has been here - I wonder about the definition of the Fears we are willing to believe - things seen and unseen ; real or imagined. I contemplate this paw print and think about it's subtle message in the sand.

Come across the line and discover for yourself something that is not on TV but in the presence of what is sacred, mysterious and divine. Replace fear with awe of the land.
Map and brochure links:

I was so excited to go to the Jaguar Ranch. It has been one of my dreams ever since I came to Mexico. My best friends' husband gave me a book on Jaguars ; I got to thumb through Nick's book dummy when I was the Camp Cookie on his Grand Canyon trip a few years ago -it's not just a book - it is A BRICK of wonder ; heavy and deep for contemplation. I packed it along in the Mariachi Van to share with the Robales - to share the inspiration of how land can be protected and the way photography can help champion the cause. This is a beautiful meditation on natures' wild. Proceeds go towards the established National parks in Africa.

Nick Nicholas is the bad ass daddy of camera traps; huckin' it all out there to get the shot. http://michaelnicknichols.com/gallery/cameratraps/

Shot on assignment for an upcoming article in High Country News. www.hcn.org/

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