On the Trail

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The time is September of 2008. The place is Ojinaga, Mexico. Observing the peaceful beauty and outward normalcy of the pueblo, you could not tell that bad things are happening.

Two unusually brutal murders interrupt Capitán Benito Escalante’s weekend visit in Texas. One perpetrator, a gringo covered in his victim’s blood, is behind bars. The other is, for now, still in the wind.

As the capitán says, “Crime doesn’t stop just because the police captain is busy.” Who is the woman claiming to be the gringo prisoner’s friend? What do a box containing a fifty-year-old mystery, a man with “eyes like a cat,” and a homeless boy with a sobering secret, have to do with the murders? What does the blind curandera know?

Capitán Escalante invites you to ride, run, and walk along with him as he tries to figure it out. “Invite” might be the wrong word…his tale of intrigue and adventure will force you to turn pages until all questions are answered. When he rests, you can rest. Then everybody can take a breather on a bench in the shade on the plaza.

But not for long.

 

What about Love?

I have tried to stay quiet on what is happening in and to my country. Every time I start to write something for my blog, I end up in a rant. Who needs that? I don’t want to add to the collective anger, and I sure don’t want to be a political pundit; we have too many as it is. I want to make people laugh, and I want to spread love and hope. That is still my desire, but now things have gone too far for me to stay silent. A cowboy pushed me over the edge. You know the one because I’ve written about him before; my last name is his last name.

Last week, he came to Alpine and I met him for lunch. Before we even established our health and all that polite stuff, he said, “Beth, I want to ask you something.”

He sounded so serious it scared me, and I’ve not written anything about him in ages, so it couldn’t be that. What he wanted to ask me completely broke my heart.

“If a Republican becomes President, do you think I’ll have to go back to Mexico?”

His question stunned me. I couldn’t get one word to come out of my mouth. My heart had become wedged in my throat.

He mistook my silence. “You don’t know if I’ll have to go or not, do you?” He glanced around as he spoke, as if armed enforcers were already advancing.

My god, people! This man has lived and worked in peace and hope, and within the law, in the USA for forty-five years. Yet he feels the climate of hate all the way down in out-of-the-way, edge-of-the-country, Terlingua, Texas. Think about that for a minute.

“No,” I finally managed to say. “Why do you think you’d have to go back?” Of course, I knew the answer to my question. I was just stalling for time, trying to think of some way to take the horrible sting out of my country being shamed by a front-stage, hateful sham of a man who is not even worthy of polishing my cowboy’s boots.

And I knew that going back to Mexico wasn’t what upset him. What had upset him was being lumped in with an entire group of people who are now being called rapists and murderers. “All Mexicans are rapists and killers.” That is just as stupid and ridiculous as saying, “All white people are educated and think for themselves.” Ha! We all know how untrue that is.

How about this unbelievably stupid statement? “The Mexican government is smarter, much smarter, and more cunning. And they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them. They don’t want to take care of them.” This is a direct quote. There are so many things wrong with this statement I don’t know where to begin.

I’ve only loved one adult immigrant male, so I can only speak to what I know. Cowboy is not a rapist or killer. He doesn’t even cheat on his income taxes. He is so morally straight-arrow that in all the years I’ve known him, I never admitted to him that I tried all kind of drugs in the 60s. He lectured our kids until I thought they’d go out and become narco-trafficantes just for spite. Of course, they didn’t. They heard the angst and passion in his voice when he spoke of the harm done to Mexico by drug cartels.

No country sends their citizens to the United States. The overwhelming reason people come to this country is for freedom, for a chance to improve their lives and their children’s lives, for work. Work is the reason my cowboy came here, and it was the reason my grandfather came from Austria ever-so-long-ago. He did not come to rape and plunder. He wanted to work. He died in an explosion because unsafe factory work was what was available to immigrants at that time. Fortunately for me, he left behind a tiny son who would grow up to be my father. My grandfather was considered a lowlife, and he was WHITE. So imagine how people of color feel.

Okay. Rant over. I’ll get down off the table now.

As I studied my ex-husband’s face, a face I adore, I thought, please, please let love win. Love is the only thing that can. If love doesn’t win then we all lose; every single one of us, no matter our color.

California, for Real

I made it to California, no more “California dreaming” for a while. The important thing about arriving in CA is that I made it to my girls. I was an exhausted, depleted wreck, but when I saw their faces, I knew everything was all right. It seems I made a very long trip to a brand new place in order to come home.

Right now I’m watching rain and leaves fall with equal abandon. The wind is forceful enough to sway the limbs of the huge trees that surround me. They’re wearing their best colors—gold, yellow, rust, and many different shades of brown. Some show off red berries and some, red leaves. The wind is trying to strip them bare but we’ll see. Many trees hang onto their leaves as if they believe they won’t have the energy to produce more ever again.

Early this morning there were deer grazing in the “yard.” In reality, my girls’ yard is a small spot in a forest with a photogenic view in every direction. I’m talking about forested mountains, giant trees—all sizes and kinds of trees—and a lake. What’s not to like? Even a woman with her heart planted in the desert can’t help but appreciate what this area has to offer. I know a magical place when I see one.

From this large picture window, I usually get a clear view of Lake Berryessa, but today there is fog. Yesterday there were ducks and geese. I’m sure they’re still hanging out, but I can’t prove it.

For a while, the mountains are shrouded, and then they come into view in a hazy way. As the fog dips and lifts in and out of canyons, I realize how layered these mountains are, like the ones I love in Texas. After a few minutes, all of it disappears for a while.

The scene  I’m watching is as purely autumnal as any I’ve ever witnessed: ground a carpet of discarded leaves, showy splashes of color everywhere I look, leaves still dropping, steady rain, fog, a damp chill in the air, and a bright, warm fireplace inside. Some would call this a dreary day, but I see it as absolutely perfect—nature doing its thing with pizzazz. What will it do tomorrow?

That place in me from which all writing flows is filling up again—I feel it. I don’t even know what to call it, but when it’s empty I’m miserable. When it’s full, I’m whole and alive. At last, I feel the urge to write instead of procrastinate. That makes me happy.

And my girls are coming home for lunch.

 

A Healing Touch

I want to tell you about something good…something so good it makes me tear up to write about it. Twelve years ago I met a man who changed my life forever. I’m pretty sure he saved it. You see, this man is a doctor. He’s one of the foremost pulmonologists in the world, and he lives in San Angelo, Texas.

A friend who also lived in San Angelo told me about this doc and wouldn’t stop bugging me to see him. I had given up on doctors, even pulmonologists, because none of them had ever heard of my disease. I was “fighting” the disease by ignoring it. Yeah, that always works.

In truth, I only agreed to see this specialist so my friend would give it a rest. He also suffered from a rare and incurable lung disease so I gave him the courtesy of a listen.

I am the woman who tries to put a positive spin on everything, yet I drove the five hours from Terlingua to San Angelo with mixed feelings, none of them very positive. I insisted on going alone so I could cry all the way home without anyone to shush me. The medical profession in general had failed me since 1985, when I’d been sent home to die. “You have this fatal disease, but we know nothing about it.” “You probably have about six months.” “Good luck.”

Thanks a lot.

Did I dare hope some “San Angelo specialist” would help me? Against all odds, I did dare. Just a little.

Before I ever met this doctor, I was given breathing test after breathing test. After those, his nurse took the most comprehensive medical history I’ve ever given anyone. Then she said, “You were diagnosed with a disease in 1985? Please tell me the name of it.”

Lymphangioleiomyomatosis.”

“Say what? Can you spell that?”

“No.”

She left it blank and took me into the examination room where I would finally meet the doctor. He came in, introduced himself, and shook my hand. His hand was warm and strong and his smile made it to his eyes. I warmed to him a tad.

He placed the test results and my new folder on the exam table and studied them. I knew that he knew I was in trouble, but he stayed calm and asked, “What brings you in today?”

“I have a rare lung disease that nobody seems to know.”

He had his back to me for a moment because he was washing his hands at the sink. “The name of it?”

I told him and added, “Have you ever heard of it?”

He turned to me with an incredulous look on his face. “Of course I’ve heard of it! I’m a pulmonologist.”

Tears sprang into my eyes.

He finished drying his hands and then he said, “The disease you have is now referred to as LAM. Were you diagnosed by lung biopsy?”

“Yes.”

“What year was that?”

“It was January of 1985.”

“Did you say 1985?” He couldn’t hide his surprise.

“Yes.”

“What did they tell you?”

“That nothing was known about the disease and that I should get my affairs in order. They gave me six months to live.”

“Doctors should never do that.”

“I’m glad they did because I set out to prove them wrong. And I have.”

“You certainly have.” He gazed at me as if I were a rare pink unicorn.

After a bit more talk, he said I would need many more comprehensive tests. I told him I had no insurance due to pre-existing conditions and would not be able to afford those tests.

He took my hand and looked into my eyes and said, “I will never charge you one dime for anything. I don’t need your money. I want you to live. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” I could barely speak. I felt I was in this presence of a holy man. I was, but I hadn’t taken it in yet.

“I want to be a part of something this fantastic. God wants you alive for some important reason and I feel called to help. I cannot say no to God.”

I have come to know this doctor well in twelve years of seeing him every three months. He cares for me as if I am his own mother. True to his word, he has never charged me one dime. He treats me as though I’m his only patient. He is so full of love; it spills all around him. When he touches me I feel the healer in him, as though I’m being touched by a deity. And I always, always feel his love. Sitting here, far from him, I can still feel it. I know I could call him right now and say I needed to see him and he’d say, “Come on.”

This amazing doctor’s name? It’s Mohammed-Ammar Ayass. He is Syrian. He is a devout Muslim. He’s a pulmonologist, a cardiologist, AND he’s also an internist. I have never known a better doctor or a more brilliant man.

Like all people everywhere, Syrians are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly. Why would people assume they’re all terrorists? Really? What we need, what every country needs, is more human beings like Dr. Ayass. What if he had been turned away from our shores?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rio Grande Affair

canyon photo by Molly

photo thanks to Molly Dumas

Some of you may have seen this post from July 11, 2013. “A Rio Grande Affair” was my first column for the Alpine Avalanche.

 

A Rio Grande Affair

 

Recently I had an opportunity to stick my toes into the Rio Grande. The river is no longer the formidable barrier it once was, and it can seldom be rafted, but the mud along the bank still squishes. Birds still swoop at the surface, turtles still dive into it, the water still moves downstream, and it still smells like damp desert. I still love it.

We have a history, this river and I. Thirty-three years ago, I saw it for the first time. It might have been its historical significance or cowboy movie memories, or the surreal beauty of the land it divides, but I had goosebumps at first sight. And I fell in love, not just with the Rio, but with the rugged, wild terrain on both sides of it.

This Florida girl, accustomed to sandy beaches, lakes, crystal clear streams, swamps, and more greenery than is healthy, fell hard for the Big Bend country—everything about it. The immense open spaces with nothing to block the view, jagged peaks, hidden forests, steep canyons, and the widest sky I had ever seen, spoke to me in a way nothing ever had.

At the time, my familiarity with Mexico pretty much began and ended with Speedy Gonzalez cartoons and of course, all those insulting stereotypes from old westerns.

I stood at the top of a nature trail at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park. The idea of a foreign land “right over there” was even more intriguing than the famous river. From the top of the trail I could admire both sides, the mountains that stretched out in all directions jutting towards the sky, the vegetation growing along the banks, and then I spotted a man, a Mexican man, dressed all in white and wearing a wide sombrero, hoeing in a garden in Boquillas, Mexico. Ordinary, you might say, but my heart rate sped up and I got a little teary-eyed. I wanted to laugh and cry and dance at the same time. And I had no idea why.

How would I have known that I would meet, fall in love with, and marry a Mexican man? Or that my future self would learn to speak Spanish and cook Mexican food? Or, that without question, I would take in a chubby little Mexican boy and raise him as my own? If you had told me I would stay up until two in the morning making tamales with my mother-and-sisters-in-law on Christmas Eve, I would have thrown up my hands and sworn there was no way that would ever happen.

I have spent so much time in Mexico it has become as much a part of my life as my country of birth. I’ve attended weddings, quinceañeras, funerals, births, and deaths—and more dances than I could ever count. I’ve wandered its shores, explored its mountains, and camped in its wilderness. I love its people with all my heart.

How would I have known then that I would go to work for a river outfitter and enjoy the work so much I would eventually own the company? I would raft all the canyons and most of them more than once, on trips guided by some of the most fun and life-loving people I have ever had the pleasure to know. Every river adventure was different and each held its own magic. There was always something new to learn or to admire or some side canyon to explore. After sumptuous dinners and campfire conversation, we would fall asleep under a ribbon of stars or stay up late to watch the full moon illuminate the canyon walls.

It runs in my veins now, this muddy river. Who knew it would be so hard to drag my toes out of its mud?

 

Introducing Vi Dotter

This morning I’d like to share a friend’s blog with you. Vi Dotter lives within the Big Bend Ranch State Park, between Presidio and Lajitas. One of the things I enjoy the most about her is her enthusiasm for where she lives. There is nothing “ho-hum” about Vi!

This link takes you to her post, “4 Things I Learned on The Most Scenic Road in Texas.” Please note there are more posts and interesting things to read/explore. You could spend days on there!

I hope you enjoy Vi’s excitement about the Big Bend Country as much as I do!

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