2021 LEGENDS OF THE RIO GRANDE SEMESTER BLOG #9
Fresh out of Phoenix, we started really exploring the meaning of the borders, which opened into our next block of discovery. Camped at Catalina State Park, we spent a day in Tucson, AZ with a semester alumni, Hannah. She brought us to Flowers and Bullets, an urban community oriented farm, where we helped out for the morning.
The sun rained down onto the dusty earth, sending swirling, rippling air dancing with heat. I remember feeling it seep into my body, drying my hair, stiff and brittle on the wind. How do people grow food here?
Brandon, Jacob and Silvia lead us to their garden beds, shaded by trees and full of leafy green things, kale, lettuce, peppers, onions. These people cultivated this land to help sustain the community and bring people closer to their roots, their culture, the earth, and one another.
After a lunch of cream cheese bagel, tortilla chips, and fresh seedy watermelon, we set off for a day of exploration of Tucson under the guiding hand of Hannah. I found it especially incredible how art was bringing the entire city closer together. We spoke of culture and community, of the notion of borders themselves, and where those things find space within ourselves.
Willow’s birthday! Beautiful seventeenth year, beautiful her!
We spent an entire day–waking at 4am in the darkness–to drive to Amistad National Recreation Area in Del Rio, Texas. Tents set up in familiar fiery orange, sun just setting over the horizon, bushes, sage green dapples…I knew our time in the desert was coming to a close. I slept, curled in my sleeping bag, tucked away in the darkness, and I held those colors close to my chest in slumber.
The next day as the sun rose, we met Willie, a Vermont Semester alumni, and his mother Kim, to go see Del Rio and Acuña, over the border. We traveled by van into Mexico. Never have I seen this. The buildings are low and colorful, hand painted signs secured to the storefronts. I gazed out the window at the bright orange paints, dashing blues. The streets are far from clean, stray cats and dogs roaming about, but it pleased my eyes in a way little has before.We drove to a beach by the side of the Rio, and as we explored the waters, selecting pretty river rocks, a helicopter came low, circling us.
“As we arrived at Invisio de Amor in Acuña, Mexico, I was met with a deep coldness. The cracked cement walls, the garbage, the dilapidated building, the green iron gate. A broken place for children with no place to go. At first, I was scared. I didn’t know how I could help, what would I do? It would just be another person leaving them, so young and alone.
We filed into the building as the pastor was delivering a sermon. He was short and stout, with a bushy mustache, and a golden ring with a black jewel laden on his left hand. As he spoke to the kids, I couldn’t understand him, but I felt his words in my chest. He paced the brown tile floor, pausing to let the students speak, then returning to the scripture. As we interacted with the kids, I saw no difference. I didn’t see Mexican or American, brown or white, have or have not. All I saw was the light radiating from a source of endless love. I felt no border or division, I didn’t feel strange or out of place; I felt home.
I looked at a child and saw my sister, Mary, looking up at me with hopeful eyes, eager to be hoisted into the air, to fly above what they know. I looked at two boys and saw my brother Owen, and myself, kids who just want to play, kids who love to smile and laugh and run around getting bumped and bruised and not caring because you’re only kids and that’s what you do when you’re young. I felt purity in my heart, a feeling of uninhibited bliss with the children, like my heart would lift out of my chest. I was at home in a place our culture tells us to be wary of. I was home barefoot in the front playing fútbol with these kids.
These children are no different than you and I. These children love as we do and are loved just the same. It was an honor to be with them. To each of child I met, I love you. I hope you know you are always loved in this world. I don’t know why your people left you, I don’t know what happened, but I want you to know how much light you bring into this world and how much love is still out there and that you are never forgotten, I promise you that.” – by Patrick
We spent about a day and a half working at the Val Verde Humanitarian Coalition, reorganizing a warehouse of donations and delivering backpacks of gifts to churches in Acuña. The experience of actually working with these immigrants was as humbling as it was heartbreaking. To tell a mother you cannot give her child clothes, to look in the eyes of a desperate woman asking “Where is my son? Do you know where my son is?”, and hold space within yourself to be able to help, took a toll on each of us.
“If everyone worked just one shift down there…” Kim said over dinner that night, “…minds and lives would be changed.”
It is moments such as this that force us to not only recognize our privilege, but step into it, and through it.
Before our trek back to frosty New England, we stopped at an archeological research facility called Shumla, where we hiked into the desert to view the White Shaman mural, rock art, in silent respect.
Over 2000 years old, plastered up on that cave wall, overlooking the water, the moon goddess and earth monster and grandfather deer gazed down upon us.
Back in the van, homeward bound…Needless to say, the van was very bunchy. We dished out snacks every couple hours and phrases like these echoed off the van walls:
“Where’s the yarn bag?”
“What song is this?” “What?” “Thank you!”
“Does anyone have a spare crochet hook?”
“I HAVE NO LEG ROOM!”
“Pee break in four hours!”
On the way home we stayed with several lovely people, sleeping on floors and porches (Thank you, Sarah Scherschel!). To top off all of our hydrology studies, we went to the Old River Control Auxiliary structure and spoke to Jacob, a local who had worked for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers for the last 14 years and had an accent that was new to my ears. “Water is the most powerful thing on ‘dis earth.” he told us, hands hooked in his belt loops. “Not wind or weather. Water.”
Running from a thunderstorm that very night, we met two lovely people. Tricia decided to find us a place to stay out of the rain, and found David and Edie on a website called Warm Showers. We pulled up to this house and were greeted by a small army of dogs. We all went down and swam in a clear, shallow stream with a blanket of small, tumbled rocks that reflected the moon on their shiny little faces, and we splashed about in the darkness like fairy sprites in a far off jungle. We slept in the heavy humid air.
David and Edie took us on a tour of their property, and as we walked across a mossy bridge sheltered by a canopy of trees, Eden seemed to open before me. Fruit trees with heavy bows, the tangy taste of kumquat juice, garden fountains, moss and vines, bells and rocks and hanging chimes, twisting. A greenhouse full of succulents, flowering desert plants and fuzzy monkey tails curled and falling down from a hanging pot. Out to the fields we walked, Thai ginger in hand, fresh from the earth, and flowers tucked behind our ears. The morning sun cut golden beams, shining in the new day’s dew, the kittens, basking in the grasses, this home I felt I knew. Polished river rocks were gifted and slices of orange cake, and we sang out our gratitudes. We were all welcome to return, wherever we may find ourselves. I smiled deep down into myself, for I knew I would return.
We hopped into the van as a wind started to rush, lifting my hair away from my face and whipping it around my head. Leaves came down in showers and I felt rain upon the wind. Someone had written “PAT PAT PAT” all up on the trailer and we laughed as it came into view.
Little streams and hilly lands, the smell of frost and numbing hands…twelve do walk and sing and dance. We got dropped off at Warren Lake and walked to Kroka campus. We walked under a canopy of clasped hands once again, and cedar and beech wreaths were laid upon our heads.
It is time to go home.