Day 6: Finding a Way to Feel
I returned to Jalisco’s “Oak Tree” drop with Winston and Jason to take the water we missed the day before. The area still had heavy Border Patrol, but no helicopter.
We made two trips to the “Oak Tree,” each time carrying 8 gallons on us because while scouting the area we discovered two separate and distinct trails passing under two separate oak trees—the shade and placement of which could be a good rest stop. After dropping our 16 gallons we decided to hike back into the canyon for a couple of hours and see where one trail lead. The hike was not too strenuous and no one was in a hurry. We kept a steady pace and didn’t talk much. After an hour in, we stopped at a vantage point where we could see Ruby, Montana peak (Hippy Mountain), and the valley. It was all-encompassing and quiet. It felt good to be out there, in the sun, working out knotted emotions through the muscles.
I do these water drops every day and I feel good about myself, I feel like I’m accomplishing something, but then a migrant is found, or a person wanders into camp, or a story is shared, and nothing makes any sense anymore. My well-meaning tasks of the day are blown to tiny little bits of hope scattered across the desert and swept off by the wind.
But today, I don’t think of that because today I can climb, and move, and feel the breeze on my sweat-glossed skin. I can look across a vast valley and see its rugged, untouched beauty. Today I can feel my heart in my chest, my breath in my lungs, and my legs tire. Today I can feel.
On the journey back Winston and Jason have a talk about religion. Winston grew up Baptist but left the religion for many reasons, one of which being he identifies as queer. Jason grew up Catholic and went to a Christian Brother’s university, and though he is now a Catholic Worker, he is no longer Catholic and doesn’t know if god exists. They talk about callings. Winston is in seminary school to become a United Church of Christ minister. People in camp have often asked him about callings. I like to hear him talk. He is thoughtful and balanced. He shared that to him a calling is not always something you like to do or something that is good for you. I wondered if writing is mine. Together we talked about prayer, meditation and community, and I thought that this ritual of walking, this conversation we shared, could be a prayer. I don’t know if god exists, but I do believe in magic, and if anything the desert if full of magic and the unexplainable. It is in the mesquite trees, in the fire-orange flowers blossoming out the top of barrel cactuses, in the Ocotillo that stretch like fingers up to the sun like praise.
The second half of the day the entire group (Jason and Winston volunteered to “hold it down” in camp) headed back to Ruby Lake to celebrate Sonia’s 23rd birthday with swimming and brownies baked from a solar oven. The festivities were somber with six days of stress pressing on everyone’s minds and muscles, but people swam and even laughed. I tried to show Jacques how to float on the water to no avail, and people took turns jumping off the rope swing. Kennedy suggested that who ever jumped from the rope had to scream something funny, the more random the better.
“Hot Pocket!” Mike sang as propelled himself into the lake.
“Happy birthday, Sonia!” Jacques screamed making the whole group ring out in a joined, “Ah.”
“I heart Jacques!” Davey cheered with a click his knees before plunging into the murky green sludge. Over the days, our 18 year-old Frenchie had turned into object affection around camp. The frivolity helped lighten the weight of the week, and for once it felt like our collective fears had quieted for a moment.
Getting out of the water, I laid out on the white sand and let the sun bleach dark worries from my body. In a strange trance, I felt my limbs relax and sink into the sand, my cheeks warm with sunlight, my body calm with recent memory of green water washing over me.
And then we all gathered to go and I walked off the beach like waking from a dream, and headed back to reality.