Tuesday, 3/26/19, 10pm
No More Deaths volunteer week, day 3
back in my tent, writing by flashlight
There’s a certain alchemy when people come together around a common cause. More than that—when they eat together, hike together, cook together, eat together again, then settle into separate tents where we can nevertheless still hear each other across the dirt and dried grass as if we were all still sharing the same great space.
Which we are. The land, the sky. Is that corny? Well, I opened with “alchemy,” so.
I slept well. We rose after sunrise and shared coffee and half-heated leftovers with fresh-scrambled eggs. The group split up among pickup trucks to cover different ground, per the now-familiar pattern. ___, ___, and I embarked fairly early for a long day of drops to the south near the vehicle barrier that marks the border and the surrounding hills.
Things felt routine at first, but then: “Oh shit, oh shit!” Up ahead we spotted a Border Patrol truck parked at our first drop point, followed by the quick camouflaged movements of people crouching in the brush beneath a tree to the left of the road.
Three people—men—white men in sweaty tan T-shirts holding rifles.
When ___ realized they were neither migrants nor uniformed Border Patrol agents he braked just past them and called from his open window:
“Hey, what you doing out here?”
“What are YOU doing out here?”
“We’re just driving. We’re not the ones hiding under a tree with rifles.” A pause. “Are you Border Patrol?”
“See you, dude.”
“But are you Border Patrol?”
“See you, dude.”
So we kept rolling until we could turn around and drive back out the way we came.
Before we reached our next drop we came across another white man, this one old, skinny, with a white beard, wearing camo pants, knee pads, and a shirt with a badge on the left shoulder: a skull with a long beard. This time he was walking toward us on the side of the road with the air of someone about to greet us, but when ___ said “Hey” from a few feet away he ignored us. Just past him at the side of the road: a small collection of SUVs and trucks and an ATV. A militia’s campsite? Again, we turned around and headed out, wanting no part in whatever strange war games were afoot.
It takes a special kind of maniac to come from afar to pretend, or practice, or actually engage in the sport of hunting humans.
Humans who are hardly a threat, no less—who just want to go unseen as they pass, swiftly and quietly. Who are just trying to survive.
The rest of the day went well. I think the three of us made five drops total, some with long sweaty hikes up hillsides of loose rock and sharp plants and a few scattered saguaro, others along streambeds green with moss, scum, and patchy grass. At one point a military helicopter buzzed overhead, a sharp tack of black against the blue sky. No idea why—assisting the Border Patrol with surveillance? Conducting an unrelated exercise? How strange it is that after thousands of years of evolution as a rugged, beautiful ecosystem, a line drawn on a map elsewhere suddenly burdened this strip of desert with so much human meaning. Our distant politics have turned it into a place of clandestine migration, barriers and cameras, government trucks and choppers, amateur militarizing. And us. Us and our backpacks full of beans, trying to minimize casualties.
We got back to camp toward seven to find that ___ and ___ were stir frying vegetables for dinner—delicious. Everyone ate around the picnic table tonight as the air chilled. Afterward we spent a couple hours just talking and laughing into the night, breaking to clean the kitchen and wash dishes, then going right back to that community chemistry.
Chemistry—alchemy. The reaction that happens when the right ingredients combine. The rearranging of energy from angry strangers to activated allies to friends who are starting to know each other here in camp. Just a little. Not last names, but bits of history and personality. Dietary needs and hiking abilities and body odors. We’re all bonded, at least briefly, by the simple fact that we all believe there should be no more deaths out here in the desert, and we all know beyond a doubt that each of the others share that belief because here we are, using our time and energy to do something about it. Maybe we don’t really know each other or have reason to be friends forever, but that’s enough for now. Enough to be a little family under the stars for a few nights.