Sunday, October 22, 2017

We need Connections, not Walls!

Ocelot and Mexican Amberwing, watercolor October2017
 I live in Tucson, Arizona. 30.7 miles, or 50 kilometers, or 44 min by car from the US/Mexico border. In my dual role as artist and biologist I spend much of my time in the field. Tucson is surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. As deserts go, the lower Sonoran is beautiful and rich in geological formations and fauna and flora. But also hot and dry most of the year. The long drive to the Colorado Plateau and Grand Canyon in northern Arizona  would take me through the endlessly sprawling metropolis of Phoenix. So I turn south instead. The borderland to Mexico, studded with sky islands and the first hints of the Sierra Madre Occidental has become my favorite hunting ground.  I regularly join  excursions to study the biodiversity south of the border wit groups of US and Mexican naturalists and biologists. More often, and on my own, I spend time just north of the border. Long dirt roads connect the Canelo Hills and the San Rafael Grasslands, Parker Lake and Copper Canyon, Sycamore Canyon and Arivaca. Many side roads take me directly to the border fence. There are often heavy truck barriers, but they are low enough to step over. In other places, tall metal beams, set too close to each other to squeeze through, form a more impressive interruption of the landscape, but it still seems penetrable for small wildlife and cougars have been shown to jump it. In Lochiel, an old, nearly abandoned border town south of Patagonia, AZ, I used to pet Mexican horses grazing on the other side of an old chain link fence with big holes.  It's a quiet area, somehow suspended in time, and full of natural beauty.
It's not all paradise. In many areas along the fence, there is a wide gash in the vegetation, where border patrol erased every living thing to create a corridor for easy surveillance. There are strange contraptions that the agents can pull behind their trucks to sweep the ground so new tracks of border crossers show up clearly.   There is thrash that crossing people abandoned and sometimes clearly the packing material from drug transports. There are water stations that good Samaritans established because the harsh desert claimed so many lives. Very occasionally I meet people who approach me for help - who ask for water or need a charge for their phones. Or even a connection to the next agents of 'la migra'. The white, green-barred  SUVs of the border patrol agents are usually not far away, always cruising, waiting, watching ... but also often the last resort for people in need. The agents keep up the immigration restriction that US law dictates, but  so far, the situation is very different from what we experienced in the Europe of my childhood along the Iron Curtain and most of all the Wall and Death Stripe of Berlin. I can only hope that it stays that way.  


  1. I hope so, too, but it's hard to have hope right now. Southern AZ is so beautiful, you're lucky to be so close to all of it.

  2. Well written. I've often wondered whether 'the wall' won't be a serious problem for wildlife. I can't imagine the current thinking to include critter crossings, which may be vital in some areas.

    1. No, I have not heard of Critter crossings - we have some over our highways, and they work - to a point. I think in the end our wild terrain with many rocky and mountainous areas will be its own best protection. It seems quite impossible to force a wall through there.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful piece Margarethe. I agree.