Hello from sunny Terlingua, Texas, the ancestral home of the Chisos (Chizo) Tribe, as well as the Mescalero Apache and the Comanche. I wanted to take a minute to just be thankful for the land we’ve gotten to explore these past few days, and the history etched into this place. I like to think of us as guests here, leaving our preconceived notions like shoes by the front door. I wanted to share some of the lessons our host has taught me so far:
The River: The Rio Grande is the lifeblood of this region and the focus of our trip. We have been ruminating on what the river means, both as an important ecological and geological feature, and as an international border with a fraught history. The animals don’t know any countries. They cross back and forth across the Rio because it is their home and what sustains them in the desert. For us people, though, the river marks an invisible line imbibed with so much meaning. Land borders between the developed and the developing world are rare, and none are as storied as this one. We have learned a little bit about US Policy surrounding the border, including how fortified walls at major cities and established ports of entry have pushed immigrants to dangerous crossings in the harsh desert. Looking at the river, it seems so innocuous. It is not hard to imagine someone standing on the opposite sandy bank, but impossible to picture crossing, and even more difficult to understand the journey a person would have gone through just to stand on the edge of that winding river, and the difficulties they’d face even after crossing. For us, American Citizens of stable legal status, the Rio Grande made for a refreshing respite after a day in the hot desert sun. The duality is absolutely mind-boggling.
The Mountains: Everywhere we have traveled so far has been under the shadowy gaze of enormous, craggy mountains and flat-topped mesas. The land here holds a history so much longer than we can possibly conceive. Just looking at on cliff side one can see layers of prehistoric time, revealed after millennia of wind and water erosion. It’s easy to look at the mountains and envision the seafloor it once was hundreds of millions of years ago in the Paleozoic era. We are reminded by these impressive rock formations how we are all just a short chapter in the history of this land, which has existed and will exist long after the memories of our trip fade.
The Plants: At this point we’ve all gotten to know the cacti of this region perhaps a little too well. The prickly pears and spiky ocotillos have kept us on our toes the entirety of the trip so far, and the yucca and agave plants were staples of our Big Bend trek. I think the plants of this land teach us resilience in the way they thrive in such unwelcoming conditions. Their thorns assert their presence, warning us that we are guests in their home, yet when the sun and heat overwhelm a wanderer, they offer sustenance, soothing ointment, and water. What at first seemed like a barren, scrubbed-over landscape is actually a garden of generous neighbors who can teach us multitudes.
I am so grateful for the chance to learn from this place, as well as the incredible people I have met here. Onward to the next adventure!