This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.
The trucks move quickly across the horizon, leaving dust in their wake. The air is dry and engine noise travels ahead of the white and green vehicle as it patrols. The trucks crawl along; but why would they move quickly, if they do not need to? The heat dampens the desire to move. But, living things must move in the desert, or they die. I know I need to keep walking or the sun will slowly start to steal any moisture it finds. My eyes water, but this is no place for tears.
The animals don’t acknowledge the line. There is no edge to their world, no geography that matters beyond their instinctual drive. The birds soar over the fence, dancing to tones in the wind. They circle and glide, entertaining the eye in their flight and dredging deep pulses of longing from earth-bound humans. Their freedom enchants us, until a dart of movement provokes a dive down to our plane and we see that their beauty contains brutality, too.
I walk along an arroyo where the Saguaros are particularly whimsical. They are clustered here because of the route the water takes coming downward from the hills. Their arms point to the fence, sometimes intertwined in prickly embraces. I am taller that most of the plants here in the desert, but not these. I come eye to eye with a nest hole. I can imagine the bird family sheltered inside in the darkness that pecked this hole in the trunk and burrowed deep. I do not want to frighten them as they rest. I see the callous the cactus has grown to heal itself around its wound. The trunk has other holes, yet reaches skyward, towering over me. I remember that these Saguaros are sacred to the people from this area. Do I believe, also, that I came from this earth, that this cactus is me? Do I see the human in it? I feel it standing as I am. I sense it is strong and resilient. I feel soft and weak.
The black water bottles are not to be touched. They are the ones the migrants use. We are told to stay aware at all times. To note unusual activity. To report anything out of the ordinary. We are humans vigilant for danger. Danger from other humans. Humans must not cross that line without permission from other humans. Permission from papers. Many, many humans feel this is true and right. Do we crave a bit of fear? What of the fear dripping from these dry bottles? I wonder who else has stood here with these black water bottles discarded in the dust. Did they stop in the dirt where I am and did they feel the heat radiating off them? The water inside must be boiling hot. But they are black in the hope that they will go unseen. This hope is small against the powerful dollars and the latest technology. Drones are not soaring birds. This is unusual to me. I am vigilant. But I tell only the lizard that passes across my path.
At nightfall the cactus reveal secrets. It is the season of migration. While most humans sleep, the desert animals awaken, including the bats that travel over 1800 kilometers as they migrate north. The moon watches over these tiny souls as they navigate their way between cactus and cave. The bats are guided by the bloom of the cactus flowers. For only a few hours at night, the petals open and the nectar beckons the bats along their route. They travel light. Many will not make it. They are often mistaken for blood-sucking bats and killed. Nighttime vampires of horror stories, feared. But, without their travels, the namesake cactus of this place would not be pollinated and would become extinct. the bats, a link in the chain. A long journey, across two countries, and back. The mothers feed and nest and fly. Yes, the ones that make this long journey are the mothers, the female.
Hunger is a powerful thing. Love does not know about walls. We take risks for our own. Sometimes, these risks break rules, force choices, endanger lives. Sometimes, they remind us of shared hope, of the common trails we follow to sustenance. Sometimes as we move, we transcend. I am here. One witness to the migration.