Day 1: No Turning Back Now
We arrive at Byrd Camp (called so because it sits on children’s book author, Byrd Baylor’s property in the town of Arivaca) around noon and begin a third round of training and orientations. We are introduced to the med tent—a tarp tent with a swinging door that holds a red cross emblem on the outside attached to an old motor home. Medical supplies are stored in the motor home with a row of cots laid out inside the tent. I suddenly feel like I’m in an episode of M*A*S*H without the theme song. From there we are introduced to the kitchen and “office” (another tarp tent attached to an old trailer), the dining area (a row of three picnic tables beneath a tarp cover), the water tent, the dirty dishes station, and last the bathroom that sits at the end of a stone-lined trail where we find a bucket placed below a standing toilet seat next to a green metal cooler filled with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The day before I had heard the words “poop bucket” which sent a quick panic through me and now here I am facing it.
After the tour, we get training on GPS and maps, search and rescue (though recovery is more likely) protocol, and medical procedures where we learn how to look for and treat heat exhaustion and dehydration, and how to dress a blister. We are also introduced to “lightening position,” and what to do if we see mountain lions, rattle snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, and centipedes as if ranchers, minutemen, and Border Patrol with guns aren’t enough to worry about.
After dinner we circle around the fire pit to talk camp roles. A part of this experience feels a lot like summer camp, but just as I am comforted with that thought Davey, a person on the “Leadership Team,” darts out of our circle and into the darkness. All discussion ceases as we hear him speak to the darkness in Spanish, “Come in. Come in. You are welcomed here.” He is assuring someone that this is a safe place. And then the wailing begins. Loud, high-pitched sobs of a woman break the night and my reality. Her screams are long, full-body, and desperate. I want to cry with her. I take a quick look around the circle and everyone is shocked mute. No one looks anyone else in the eye. This is not summer camp.
Someone within the circle proposes a medical person goes out to meet Davey (there are four people in camp with either EMT or Wilderness First Response certificates), and Jason goes out into the darkness. The woman continues to wail and Kennedy (a woman who works with the group, but lives in town) proposes a woman goes to meet them. I try to imagine what it might be like for this woman to find a strange camp in the dark, frightened, perhaps injured, desperate, only to be met by two men. I picture her flagged by them. Sonia quickly removes herself from the circle to meet them. Jason returns to the fire and asks that someone warms up food, and another person leaves into the darkness. By now her wailing has calmed and we listen to the grumbling of conversation. Davey invites her into the med tent.
“Should we continue?” someone in the circle suggests, and we return to the doling of camp roles as if nothing has changed, but of course everything has. Davey returns with an update: There is a man and woman in camp with us. They were split from their group by Border Patrol and chased by dogs. She is very scared of dogs. They have been lost without clean water or food for two days. They are trying to get to Florida. We will be checking their vitals and caring for their injuries. Their names are Francisco and Yessica. Don’t be afraid to say hello when you get a chance.
Don’t be afraid to say hello? But I am afraid. I gulp back the round, dry lump in my throat and stare out into the darkness. I don’t think I am ready for this. I’m not ready for it to be real. When did I become this person? How did I get here? I didn’t know it would be so quick. I didn’t know I would thrown-in without warning. Suddenly, I am (we are) responsible for the well-being of two people and I should say hello. To say hello means there is no turning back. There is no turning back now.
I wonder if this is what war feels like.