Apache, AZ. A Raven is a Hole in the Sky
In the remote southeastern corner of Arizona, there's a place where the hard desert landscape seems to soften and the endless road rises gently for miles. Out here, state lines and international borders seem like weaknesses of the human mind. The locals sometime refer to this land as "Baja Arizona," and Mexico seems just as close as the US.
There's only one paved two-lane highway. Along the roadside is a rounded monolith made of smooth stones held together by concrete. Standing alone under the open sky, it’s the monument that commemorates the final surrender of Geronimo and his followers to the US Government in 1886 at nearby Skeleton Canyon.
History is burdensome here. One can't help but think of that weary band of the last Apache holdouts being pursued by thousands of soldiers across this land until hunger and despair overtook them. For white America, it's considered the event that marks the end of the Indian Wars of the 19th century.
Looking south, one imagines the vast deserts rising into the great Sierra Madre that anchors our continent to the Earth. Close to the northern side of the highway, however, stand the much smaller, but no less rugged Chiricahua Mountains. They are a mecca for wildlife, birders, and researchers. Home to perhaps the greatest biodiversity in North America, they are my destination. It's where my eyes wander.
Here, the Americas come together. The mountains and the deserts, plants and animals, the land and the sky. Local monsoons, Gulf of California storms rolling toward the Great Plains...and people.
Maybe one day I'll live here, but in the meantime, it's fine to visit.
The people I've gotten to know here are more likely to leave bottled water hidden under a cactus for the struggling wanderer than they are to demand a border wall. They'll tell you that there's no wave of human migrants here. It's a harsh and difficult place to move about on foot. And enough border agents and surveillance are already in place to make sure that hardly anyone slips through.
I've met the agents and seen them work myself. Most of them are young, with limited prospects in this remote region, and in a way they seem trapped here by circumstance. They're compassionate if they need to be, tougher when they must. There's some who, in the name of basic human decency, shouldn't be doing the job at all.
For many years now, I’ve stopped at this point in the road on an annual trip into these mountains with my students. The afternoon sun is always warm, but never too hot. A comforting wind from somewhere far away blows strong and steady. The stalks of the agave rustle, and if the wind picks up, the wire fence along the roadside will begin to sing.
A rusted and rattling metal carport canopy shades a pair of picnic tables. So close to the highway, so exposed to the elements, it's hard to imagine anyone willingly stopping here to eat a meal.
I choose not to sit, however. Ignoring the ugly monument, I hold my camera in the middle of the road, where one can see for miles. And I always get the same feeling…of being very far from home while being very close to where I want to be.
Once, where the mountains end, was a tiny black dot, a raven. Some things know no borders, some things need no roads. No fences. No walls.
A raven is a hole in the sky.