A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Our area has no prestige. Was supposed to be all site built but isn’t. Sharp turn onto dirt road, quick to avoid an unperceived vehicle. Next pass 3 houses, 2 of them double-wides. All “wildcat”. Turn on Little Dog. Gravel road, gentle turns because it’s downhill and can easily rut and erode with monsoon rain. Impedes road vision, though. Grass along roadside mostly native sacaton. Good for wildlife, not eaten by cattle, so unwanted by ranchers. Mowed down bushes are wildlife friendly 4-wing saltbush. Several years ago I read it might be the most quickly mutating plant known. Not sure it’s true, but both seed eating birds and munching ground squirrels like it a lot. Invading cows, too, but that hasn’t happened in years. People could eat saltbush seeds, but as far as I’m aware, they don’t. I tried some, thought them bland, but if you were really hungry, you could make do.
When we first arrived with our 5 dogs in a hot September, none of this landscape existed. What it was is described as climax type brush, not subject to change, consisting mostly of catclaw acacia, whose seeds are viable for at least 90 years, tarbush, ubiquitous, some greasewood, no grass. You see that brush everywhere outside the fence, and you dig new seedlings out every fall. Blazing sun and no shade. Brutal then, brutal now, as area heats. For years I planted and watered trees near the house. This Spring I find several trees are stressed, thirsty, shedding needles, requiring more watering, bark beetles at work. Elevation is about 4300 feet; the atmosphere is thin; seems we in the high parts of the west are on the front lines of the warming that will eventually result in, how shall I put it, our downfall.
When I look to the west, I see the Huachucha Mountains. Closer in and lower, I see the cottonwoods leafing out around the San Pedro River, which once covered a large plain, now maybe 12 feet across. The river originates in Mexico; it flows north, one of two major flyways. Our area is called Hereford (pronounced Herford). Before it was part of Mexico. Before that there were Clovis people. And once, in the late 1800’s there was 24 hour mining in Bisbee, in Tombstone, in Douglas; there were New York investors and the rich people in Bisbee accessed the ticker of the stock exchange. Once, not long ago as time goes, downhill from us there was a thriving community with a railroad line which moved millions of cattle from Mexico to the east under the auspices of William Greene, the self-made multi-millionaire. Long after Colonel Greene’s death, it was still one of the most important shipping points for cattle. But that flurry of sound and activity is just part of the past.
When we came to the Hereford area a train ran once a day to and from Benson. It ran past where no structures stood. Hereford’s buildings were gone: the Greene mansion, one here, more southwards, all identical, the crowded cattle pens, lively dance hall, night club, post office, Wells Fargo office — all lost in time. Much later soldiers disembarked in Hereford and stumbled into the dark nothingness, where they waited for pickup. (Here the darkness remains very dark.) Nearby is a road called Copper Glance, remote, a few people still around; you can see their gates. Something eerie about it. When my neighbor Rachel, was concerned about some lost dogs, she asked me to go along to find them– didn’t want to drive it alone. If you broke down, you’d have a long walk back to the bridge and Hereford Road.
The 5 dogs we had when we came are all dead now. One of them, the German shepherd, was outside the hospital where I worked in Chicago Heights, just hanging around, no collar. Security guard said he’d been there a while: quiet, just waiting, seemed not to belong to anyone. So I called my husband, and he came and took him back to where we lived, in a woodland with oak, hickory and walnut. We called him Argo. He was so afraid of abandonment that on the trip to Arizona, we had a terrible time getting him out of the truck to relieve himself; the truck had become the only home he could rely on. The dogs were ruled by another rescued dog, Duke, a female, who mourned the loss of her first home and only became our dog after she got lost in a snowstorm and I managed to find her. She was ready to run away as I got out of my car, but when she saw it was me, her eyes lit up and she ran to me with joy in her eyes. We had a doberman, a lovely, happy dog, but he became so upset when his urchin mongrel friend disappeared, he brooded at the window, slumped down and aged before our eyes. Even his coat seemed to dry out. Turned out our urchin was at the local golf course, chewing on discarded cans.
A question. Who has the greater innate strength, the saltbush or the human? And is this strength wisdom?
Copyright 2016 Ruth Clark