Walking Near Death

I went toward Death.

It was 1986 and I was nearing forty. I’d recently left Tucson for a job in Kansas City, Missouri. In Tucson I’d been involved with the Sanctuary Movement, assisting Guatemalans and Salvadorans fleeing repression, torture, and death squads in their countries.

When I arrived in Kansas City in the fall of 1985, churches there were just beginning to organize to assist refugees. I immediately became involved. Soon I realized I had to go to Guatemala myself to learn firsthand what was happening.

My learning began in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. A refugee camp in the jungles of Mexico, less than a mile from the Guatemalan border. Where sometimes, at night, helicopters would drop low, their thump thump thump giving warning.

Chiapas is the pink-colored state at the southern end of Mexico.

Warning before bullets strafed the village. A warning, but not enough.

Warning, but no time to jump from sleep, grab the babies, rush out the door and head deep into the jungle.

Just enough warning to let them know they or a neighbor or their daughter or son would soon die.

But I went there, to the place Death often visited. I went in daytime. I wasn’t ready to die, I knew I likely wouldn’t die—the strafing happened less by day. But I knew I’d walk close.

And today, how many in that village are still alive?

Arrow shows approximately where I was.

Walking out of the village, back to town, hiding in the jungle when I heard a vehicle. The army patrolled this road, and if they saw me, I’d be arrested. Visitors weren’t allowed in the camps. Hiding, crouching low in jungle’s dense green, running out when I spotted an old farm truck, waving it down for a ride.

Days later, time to enter Guatemala. A bus at dawn from Comitán in southern Mexico, then a back-of-a-truck ride to the border. Crossing a border, paying an illegal entry fee. Argue with the border guard who wanted a little of my money? The one who could prevent my entry or even have me arrested? Never a good idea.

Comitán to the Guatemalan border.

Four hours, bumping along on a Guatemalan bus, probably an old school bus, on that road to Huehuetenango, from borderlands jungle to highlands. The paved road that dissolved to dirt and rock and cratered holes, the craters caused by bombs. “Don’t take that road,” the nuns had told me. Muy peligroso! Very dangerous.

Bouncing down that road, three to a seat, me wedged between two farmworkers. The man by the window with his head fallen to my shoulder in sleep, his machete tied at his waist, swinging, banging against my leg with each bump. Each crater.

Border of Mexico to Huehuetenango.

Off the bus briefly in Huehue to stretch, then boarding again to ride south two more hours into Santa Cruz del Quiché, still in the highlands. Santa Cruz del Quiché, surrounded by villages too tiny to appear on maps. Most of the villages sites of army-led massacres. Villages that no longer existed because everyone there had been killed, the buildings burned.

South another hour, through Chichicastenango and changing busses in Los Encuentros. Cutting southeast in another old school bus, in the aisle for hours, sitting on my suitcase. But at least no longer on the road the army sometimes laced with mines.

The whole route—what a long day!

Arriving outside Antigua in the dark. “But how do we get to town?” we asked. The driver swinging his arm to point up a steep hill to the road above.

Slip sliding our way up the hill. “I wonder when there’s a bus?” one of them said. “No, we’ll just get a ride,” I said, as I stepped into the highway and waved my arm to stop a passing truck.

Necesitamos un hotel simple y limpia. We need a clean, basic hotel. We piled into the back of the truck, and within ten minutes he’d dropped us in front of a cheap hotel where we bunked, three females sharing one bed, two males sharing one next door. I’d been a stranger before that night.

Another night, unable to sleep. Hearing the gunshots just outside of town. The next morning, I approached two women washing clothes at the neighborhood spigot. “What was happening?” They turned sad faces away, eyes downcast. As I’d feared: death squads.

Attending gatherings of leftists in little cafes, speaking of refugees and how to get information to villages. How many informers were there that night? Afterwards, scurrying down unlit streets, glancing over my shoulder at imagined footsteps. Avoiding darkened alleyways.

Another trip in 1989, as the wars still raged, as activists continued to disappear, as villagers continued to be massacred. Meeting in a daycare center in Guatemala City. Sitting on the floor, my feet in a hole. The hole caused by a bomb tossed through the front window a few months previously. Thankfully, women had just taken the children into the back room for lunch. No one injured.

The daycare center, run by—and for—women whose husbands were among the disappeared. To start a daycare center, to organize at all, was considered subversive.

Stepping out of the daycare center, we knew we were being watched.

Back to the hotel. The same man who’d been reading a newspaper on the patio that morning was still there, still reading a newspaper. In the dark. And he was there the next morning, pre-dawn, and that night too. Always with a newspaper. Our own personal spy.

Was it the same paper all the time? Did he listen at our doors when we were closed in our rooms?

Meeting also in living rooms. Thirty people standing, sitting, leaning against walls. Talking with village organizers who’d slid in after we’d gathered, who disappeared when they were through talking. Who cautioned us not to acknowledge them in the market, in the streets. To acknowledge them in public would make them suspect. Make them a possible target. Make us ones also.

Meeting with the US Ambassador to Guatemala, in the US Embassy. Taken to a small theater that was far too large for our little group. An uncomfortable feeling I was being watched, turning to see the camera pointed at us. Later spotting another at the edge of the stage. They hadn’t even bothered to disguise them. Blatant intimidation.

And meeting with organizers in a village on a dirt road, helicopters suddenly appearing above, flying lower, lower. Kicking up dust and gravel, impossible then to talk. The Guatemalans we’d been speaking with disappearing, running all directions, down every street. Me wondering if they’d be alive the next day. Wondering if we would be.

Our bus breaking down on a back road, several miles outside of Chichicastenango. At night. Flagging down a truck yet again, this time a produce truck. Hiding behind sacks of potatoes and corn. The driver didn’t want to be accused of operating an illegal taxi service. Having his truck confiscated. Going to jail. And then, well, who knew what would happen?

A third trip, 1990, in Quetzaltenango, traveling alone. Attending a concert by Nicaraguan activist Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy, one of the best concerts I’ve been to. And once again, walking many unlit blocks back to where I was staying. Walking in the middle of the street, once more away from darkened doorways and alleys. Again, looking over my shoulder, noises making me jump.

I’ve walked near Death. Walked toward him. Sometimes looked at him more closely than I’d liked, as though he were just across the room. And yes, there were times I was afraid.

But Death never wanted me. He never stepped forward, never gave forth a greeting.

He waits.

The Pilgrimage

Juan Pablo Ixbalan left his home in the village of Santiago de Atitlán, Guatemala. He crossed the lago in a small boat, a panga. Other parishioners accompanied him, and when they reached the shores of Panajachel, they began to walk.

They walked through the highlands and the jungles of Guatemala and crossed into Mexico. They did not have to hide or sneak across. They were expected and welcomed, and then they began to walk some more.

The pilgrimage took them a bit east and then north. They walked past villages and towns and along the outskirts of cities until they got to Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Here they headed into the city to continue their journey to the US border.

Again, they were expected and welcomed. 

They persevered with their walk, knowing they’d already covered more than 1200 miles but had nearly 800 to go. At times they were joined by others for parts of the trip. Many who accompanied them were Guatemalans, but not all.

The pilgrimage continued to the small farming town of Okarche, Oklahoma. There they walked dirt roads, passing fields of corn, cattle, and wheat. Their walk ended, temporarily, in the birthplace of Father Stanley Rother who had been assassinated in the church rectory in Santiago de Atitlán in 1981.

Father Stanley Rother at a fiesta in Guatemala. Photo from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma.

Although the priest’s body returned to Okarche, he left his heart—literally—with the people of Santiago de Atitlán. The heart is buried under the church altar where Rother served the village he loved for so many years.

Juan Pablo and the others made the 2000-mile pilgrimage to honor Fr. Rother and to attend his beatification in September of 2017.

In 2015, thirty-four years after his murder, Father Rother was named a martyr by the Catholic Church.  He was the first US-born priest to be named a martyr. The following year, Pope Francis approved his beatification and the ceremony was held in 2017.

Ixbalan and the other pilgrims were honored and well taken care of while in Okarche, staying in homes of local parishioners and eating, for the first time, fried chicken.

While in Okarche, Juan Pablo and the others had the opportunity to visit Stanley Rother’s childhood home. This is where he broke down in tears.

The sixty-three-year-old man wept for the memory of the priest who’d come to his village in 1968, when Juan Pablo was a teenager. The teen took to the priest quickly, although the man could speak none of the village language, Tzʼutujil.

While Rother had done poorly studying languages when he was in school and laughingly claimed to know fewer than a dozen words of Spanish upon his arrival in Guatemala, he learned the village’s language.

Juan Pablo remembered the man who’d worked side-by-side in the fields with the village men and could even fix the broken tractors.

He remembered the Father searching for—and sometimes recovering—bodies of the village’s disappeared. He remembered the priest setting up a fund for the widows and children of the disappeared. He remembered when the man started a village radio station. He remembered when Rother’s name appeared on the army’s death list.

After resting for some days in Okarche, Juan Pablo and the others began the final leg of their journey: to the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, forty-one miles away.

This time the pilgrims were not alone. Some of Rother’s family and friends went with them and over time, hundreds joined them for the journey, especially on the last leg through the city to downtown.

Hundred walk through Oklahoma City to attend Father Rother’s beatification ceremony. Photo by Doug Hoke, originally published in The Oklahoman.

Over 20,000 people showed up at the convention center for Fr. Rother’s beatification ceremony. Juan Pablo and others from his village participated in the liturgy.

The Cox Convention Center was filled. Photo by Dave Crenshaw, originally published in Today’s Catholic.

Archbishop Paul Coakley conducted the ceremony. Of Rother he said, “Ultimately, if God calls a young man from Okarche, Oklahoma, to be a saint, to be beatified, to be a martyr, it reminds us that all of us, no matter our beginnings, our circumstances, are called to holiness as well.”

Juan Pablo Ixbalan who walked over 2000 miles to honor Father Stanley Rother and attend his beatification ceremony. Photo by Juan Pablo, published online by KGOV in Oklahoma City.

In Praise of the Roundabout

I remember fifteen or twenty years ago when there was all kinds of work done on the Bisbee traffic circle. It went on for months, and when it was done, it looked basically the same. But there was a little landscaping in the center (some ocotillos and cactus) and of course the large N-S-E-W monoliths indicating the cardinal directions were added.

And as the cartoon in the paper said, “Abracadabra!” When the magician pulled the the cloth off the traffic circle, it had magically become a roundabout.

Bisbee Roundabout. Thanks to Jay Jenkins for the drone photo!

Roundabouts are a British thing. Traffic circles are a US thing. The difference at first seems small, though it’s critical: A traffic circle has two lanes and a roundabout has just one.

But as it turns out, there are other differences, due to the design of the single lane roundabout.

First, the number of accidents per year on a traffic circle is quite large compared to wrecks on a roundabout. One reason is when on a traffic circle, people may zip in between oncoming cars and head to the inside lane. But they need to then blast back into the outside lane to exit. Collisions often ensue. 

The roundabout creates much less of a traffic hazard. With one lane, the driver enters when there’s space and never needs to jostle her way to a different lane in order to exit. 

In addition, roundabouts are generally smaller than traffic circles. That is, their diameter is smaller, although this isn’t true for the Bisbee roundabout since it was born as a traffic circle. 

A small roundabout in Tucson

But the smaller diameter of a roundabout leads to slower speeds. Thus, when there is an accident, traffic is moving more slowly so damage done to both vehicles and passengers is less than a wreck on a traffic circle.

This is also true for accidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists, and animals. Slower speeds result in less damage or injury.

Another Tucson roundabout

In Britain, roundabouts are often used instead of traffic lights, and there are lots of benefits, from less maintenance to less pollution.

Roundabouts need little maintenance. There’s some grooming (if there’s a garden or grass in the center) and regular repaving and pothole repair. At an intersection with signals, big traffic lights burn out, and they whole signal system generally needs to be replaced every twenty-five years or so—and that usually means calling in the experts.

There are a lot of wrecks at traffic lights because so many people try to blast through on the yellow or even the beginning of the red. And wrecks those drivers cause can be quite severe and even fatal since speed is often a factor.

Then of course traffic lights have operational costs. There’s the monthly electric bill as well as bulb replacement.

Traffic lights can go out when there’s a storm, and often that means a police officer has to head over to direct traffic because some idiots just won’t take turns. But in a city, there aren’t enough officers to cover all the outages, so of course there are a number of car wrecks each time the light’s power is out.

Another big plus for the roundabout is drivers don’t waste gas sitting at a light. How many times have you sat at a light when there’s no cross traffic? Yet you’ve had to sit and wait. And wait. That simply doesn’t happen at a roundabout.

Studies show that each traffic light replaced with a roundabout in Carmel, Indiana, the US capital of roundabouts, saves about 24,000 gallons of fuel.

A roundabout in Carmel, Indiana. Thanks to the city of Carmel, Indiana, for the photo.

Initially, it costs more to build a roundabout, mostly because cities have to buy up more land than they would for a regular intersection. But because roundabouts have lower maintenance costs, have no electric costs, and and never have outages or need to be replaced, over time they save a lot of money.

That city in Indiana, Carmel, has more roundabouts than almost any other city on the planet. Well, more than any other US city. Carmel started replacing traffic signals with roundabouts in the mid 1990s, and they’ve seen an 80% drop in injury accidents.

In 1996, Carmel had a population of 30,000 and had 217 traffic accidents. In 2019, with more than120 roundabouts, there were approximately 100,000 residents and the city saw fewer than 200 traffic accidents.

Carmel currently has 125 roundabouts with plans to add more. There are only about a dozen traffic lights left in the city. That’s big news for the city that claimed Indiana’s first traffic signal.

Thanks to the city of Carmel, Indiana, for this photo it another of their roundabouts.

Carmel proudly says the network of roundabouts has saved money, reduced vehicular emissions, improved air quality, and enhanced community walkability and traffic safety.

The switch to roundabouts came because of one man: the mayor. Jim Brainard had been to England in the 1970s when he was in graduate school. And he loved the concept of no stop-and-go. People just drove placidly on. So refined. So simple. So smart. No lines, no congestion, no pollution pouring out the backs of cars at street corners. 

When Jim became mayor of Carmel, he introduced the idea of roundabouts to the city planners who tossed the idea aside. Jim did the research on how cost effective and efficient roundabouts are, and the planners changed their minds and got behind the idea. 

By the way, roundabouts are also popular in Australia. The town of Canberra even had the International Roundabout of the Year in 2020 with its Gay Pride roundabout.

This roundabout is in Canberra, Australia and was taken from act.gov.au.

Will roundabouts catch on in other cities? I surely hope so. I know I now feel proud that Bisbee made the abracadabra! switch from a traffic circle. Anything that can lower the number of car wrecks, save money, cut back on pollution, save driving time and look pretty on top of that deserves our support.

Coincidences

Note: I wrote this in 2017. Be sure to read the end note!!

NPR recently ran a story on coincidences. There were some amazing stories and not one of my coincidences seemed to measure up to what I heard. But I have had a few.

Like the time I was in a cafe in Antigua, Guatemala, and a former housemate I hadn’t seen in eight or nine years walked in the door. Another time in Guatemala, (what is it about Guatemala?) on a different trip, I was sitting in a park in an obscure town and a friend strolled and sat beside me.

Just a few weeks ago, I hopped on the Tucson trolley to go to the Women’s March. As it was cool and damp and I have a hard time with cool weather on my legs and feet, I’d snuggled into my thermal boots. They’re warm and cozy, though I don’t particularly like them: black rubber with colored dots all over them.

Imagine my surprise when I boarded the trolley and found a young couple with their little girl, maybe age two. The child’s rain jacket was the same rubber and dots as my boots. A coincidence? Yes. Exciting? Not at all. But special in that brief moment when the child’s mother and I locked eyes and grinned. (sidenote: They also were headed to the march.)

But the biggest one, though it may not exactly count as a coincidence, happened in 1981.

I’d gone to Phoenix for a board meeting of the Arizona Solar Energy Association. After the meeting, the board members went out to tour a few solar homes. I spent the night with some friends on a chicken ranch named Huevos Rancheros del Sol (really) and returned to Bisbee the next morning.

When I unpacked the van, I couldn’t find my camera. I was devastated. I couldn’t afford a new one. Also, I’d taken lots of photos of the solar houses and wanted those pictures.

My then-partner went out to the van and searched. It was a plain panel van, two seats and nothing else, so it wasn’t hard to see everywhere. Obviously, he found no camera either.

About three weeks later, my partner and I did the co-op run to Phoenix. It was one of our volunteer activities: drive to Phoenix, visit three or four growers, pick fruits and veggies, bring them back to the coop.

The first stop was a farm in what was then the far southwest edge of the city, maybe five miles or so from Huevos Rancheros del Sol. This grower raised melons of all types. We’d stopped there first since we wanted the largest, heaviest things on the bottom of the load. 

We picked several varieties of melons and laid them across the floor of the van. I closed the van’s back doors and we headed down the road for the peach farm.

When we got there, we picked a few boxes of peaches and walked back to the van. I laid down my box, opened up the back door and shrieked. 

There, on the top of a watermelon, sat my camera.

It was impossible for it to be there. It hadn’t been there forty or so minutes earlier when I’d shut the back doors after loading melons. But there it was.

Is this a coincidence? It’s probably more like magic than coincidence, but it will have to do. 

I suppose the coincidence part is that the camera both disappeared and reappeared while in the southwest end of Phoenix. 

When I developed my film a few days later, all my shots were there, none missing or added.

The mystery of the reappearing camera still occasionally gnaws at me.

End Note: Just today, I looked at this piece and considered putting it in this blog. Then I decided it wasn’t complete enough. Not enough good coincidences. Half an hour later, I climbed into my car. My radio came on and the same coincidences story I’d heard years ago was replaying!

A sign, yes, and one more coincidence to put into this story, a story that is now complete.

Dancing Woman

She danced to a rhythm only she could hear.

When she first started dancing nearly forty years ago, she had no wings.

But it was often said she danced as an angel might, her long skirts flowing and twirling.

She danced at home.  She danced in the streets. She danced her way into church and she danced in the Safeway while choosing frozen peas.

I believe she danced through her dreams each night and then danced her dreams each day.

About fifteen years ago, she found a lump. Rather, she found two. She eventually danced her way to the doctor’s office where she was referred to a specialist, and then she danced her way there.

She paused in her dancing through the biopsy and danced up a storm when the doctor told her the lumps were benign. She danced as she told the doctor she’d live with the lumps.

But the lumps grew and within a few months they sprouted tiny downy feathers.

She danced her delight.

By year’s end, the downy feathers had become tiny wings.

Each year the wings grew, and each year she got her clothing adjusted to accommodate their size. After seven years the wings stopped growing.

With her wings, when she danced she could flutter off the floor, spin in the air, and touch lightly down. She danced her joy at having wings.

She said she would dance on her own grave.

The Clifton Hotel

Clifton, Arizona, is a small town, about 3400 people. And Morenci, the mining town just up the highway, is even smaller at under 1500. I hoped that, between the two towns, I’d find a decent hotel.  

Clifton is located right where it says “Greenlee County Historical”

I looked online and found four but checked the Clifton Hotel first. I looked at the website and found it was recently restored, and, in fact, still under renovation. It was a former “cowboy hotel” built in 1890 and at the time was called the Central Hotel. Happily, it was said to be haunted.

How could I not go? I’ve encountered spirits in the past but never when I’ve stayed in a hotel that was haunted. But I could hope.

I called the hotel and spoke to one of the owners, Karen, who bought the hotel with her husband Matt in 2017.

The couple lived in Tucson, she an engineer and he busy restoring and renovating buildings. They saw an article about Clifton that had a photo of the arch ruins downtown and decided to drive the two-and-a-half hours for a visit.

I have no idea what this used to be. I’ll find out on my next trip.

But Clifton held a surprise for them. The same day they arrived, they saw a rundown old hotel.

They called the realtor, visited the building, and bought it. That fast.

The realtor who sold it to them had once owned the hotel but sold it because shortly after purchasing it, he injured his back quite badly and wasn’t able to rehab it.

He sold it to the the current owner who just a few weeks after the purchase was hit by a car while walking in a crosswalk. His injuries left him unable to do the renovation, so he hired a crew to begin work.

The first day the crew showed up, they felt extremely uncomfortable there. They walked off the job and refused to go back.

But with all of that, Karen and Matt decided to buy the place.

Matt, however, became the third owner in a row to be derailed from his restoration project.

A few days before closing on the hotel, Matt became desperately ill. He couldn’t get out of bed for a week. In fact, he had to lie down in the back seat of a car to make it to the closing at all.

But he made it through closing and when he was better, he moved into the hotel to begin renovation.

Karen wrote this to me:

“Matt’s first few nights here were terrifying (I was living in Tucson at the time). He saw shadows and felt very unwelcome. But he persevered, and we feel that, because our intention was to restore the hotel rather than just modernize it, his work was accepted.

We’ve just put the finishing touches on our fourth room. This one is upstairs. While I don’t usually notice anything other-worldly, when I was in that room, putting up curtains, I was overcome by strong, long-lasting deja vu. I brought my bartender in there and she was immediately covered in goosebumps. She left the room and said she would never go in it again. Interestingly, the dogs do not like the room either. Katie will go in, but will slouch the entire time, while Pops will not enter at all.”

When I saw some of the before photos, I was shocked. If I hadn’t already stayed in one of their lovely rooms, I almost wouldn’t have believed it was possible.

From the outside it looked pretty hopeful.

All the “before” photos were provided by Karen and Matt, owners of the Clifton Hotel. Remaining photos of the interior today are mine unless otherwise noted.


The hotel today

The lobby needed a bit of work. Much of the damage was due to the 1983 flood which left 6-1/2 feet of water in the hotel! The building was abandoned then because it seemed impossible to clean up.

The walls held up well, though, since they’re constructed of slag block, a mining byproduct. Each block weighs about fifty pounds. Exterior blocks are stacked three thick making the walls 18” wide.

Matt and Karen had the blocks tested to be sure there were no traces of uranium or anything else dangerous. They’re perfectly safe.

Here’s a shot of the lobby when they bought the hotel followed by two photos of it today.

Waiting to greet visitors

Karen shared all three of the above pictures. What an astounding difference!

Here’s the stairway as they found it.

Here are a few more shots that show the state of the hotel when Karen and Matt purchased it.

I simply can’t believe they bought it!

Here’s a before shot of Suite 2, where I stayed. Cement blocks fill in most of the space of the original window. A few photos down you’ll see today’s lovely curtained window.

And after.

Matt removed some walls to double the size of the rooms. Suite 2 was lovely, but it wasn’t large.

Back when it was a cowboy hotel, rooms must have been about 8’x10’. Today they’re twice the size, but once the bath and kitchenette are carved out of the space, the room is comfortable. But “cozy” might be a better description of its size.

Noticed that part of the wall was left un-plastered to show the original slag block wall.

The microwave and mini fridge were handy, and there was even a small sink for washing my utensils. Rooms are decorated in period furniture, but I’m sure it’s much nicer than what the guests of the late 1800s once had!

A few sweet touches.

No clock radio here!

A big plus: My bed was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept in. And there was lightning-fast internet, too, something those cowboys of a hundred years ago could never have imagined.

At the back of the hotel is a common area with a large table, a coffeemaker, and space to relax.

I sat in this area for breakfast and dinner each day. I mostly had the space to myself but ran into another guest one time.

Well, I didn’t quite have the space to myself since the two hotel doggies often showed up to keep me company.

Pops (left) and Katie

If you’re headed to Clifton, I truly recommend this hotel. I did have one disappointment with my stay, however. I never saw a ghost. Perhaps next time.

Beware when searching for the Clifton Hotel on the web, though! There’s one with the same name in Tucson that may come up first when you look.

To avoid the confusion, here’s a link to the hotel. Its website has additional information on the hotels history and on the town.

https://www.clifton-hotel.com

A Visit to Clifton

I went to Clifton, Arizona, to visit a saint for my birthday See previous blog post: https://emilievardaman.com/2020/09/25/a-visit-with-a-saint/

Heading north, I took Highway 191. Previously, it was named Highway 666, but in 2003, states ceded to pressure to rename it. “The stigma of being the mark of the beast” was the reason given for the change. Some travelers refused to drive the highway fearing it was controlled by the devil.

Many of us shook our heads and adjusted to the new name, though many long-time residents around here still call it Old 666.

Driving through the Sulphur Springs Valley, I took in the differences from my last trip in the spring (see Pursuing Poppies). In early April, the ocotillo had not yet leafed out. Now summer’s leaves were turning gold, and amber sprinkles began to litter the ground beneath the cacti-like plants. 

In early April, bright green corn stood a few feet tall. This trip, field corn was dried, ready for harvest as cattle feed, with ears to be left behind for winter’s visiting Sandhill Cranes to eat.

Last April, cotton had only been in the ground a month or so but it, too, was ready for harvest. Hay was baled and ready for winter.

Pecans trees, which need up to 200 gallons of water daily over a seven-month season, were also ready for harvest. 

Especially after this summer’s near-record drought, many county residents are speaking out against raising the water-thirsty trees here in the desert.

I continued up through Willcox to Safford. As I passed Mount Graham on the way to Safford, I recalled the sparkling blue skies and big puffy clouds of a year ago when I drove this route to Colorado. I mourned the fires throughout the West that have left smoke hanging even here, many hundreds of miles from burning forests, burning subdivisions.

2019
2020 The photo doesn’t convey how gray the skies were. My eyes were burning due to the smoke!

East at Sanford and then north again. West the last ten or so miles to Clifton, population about 3400.

I drove through town a bit and tried to stop in the Visitor’s Center, but it was closed due to Covid. Then I headed to Park Avenue to find the Clifton Hotel, my home for the next two nights (blog post about the hotel soon).

And what a greeting I got on Park Avenue!!

Bighorn Sheep!
A park full!

I found my hotel and unloaded. I’d planned to head straight to the cemetery to visit the saint and then have dinner. I’d brought a meal from Bisbee’s Cafe Roka and planned to eat by the San Francisco River. Amazingly, it was still running even with the drought.

But since I’d had only a light breakfast, I tucked into my grilled tuna and salad (delicious as always) before heading off the the cemetery. The two dogs at the hotel volunteered to help me with the tuna, but they didn’t get a nibble.

Katie stared sadly from a distance after being turned down.

After visiting Santa Teresa’s grave, I spent a leisurely evening reading in my room.

On Sunday, I visited the cemetery again and then roamed the area a bit.

I found Clifton to be a lot like Bisbee—no surprise since they’re both mining towns built into mountain hillsides. 

Someone’s goats

But Clifton has more and better sheer rock cliffs than Bisbee. And it’s much, much quieter. The silence at night was a delight. 

I wandered downtown and didn’t see a soul. Clifton seems to be closed up tight on Sundays. But I did see a few great old cars. 

Parts of downtown are in serious need of restoration.

I even went to Morenci, about four miles up the road, to look at the open pit copper mine there, the largest in the US.

But I became dispirited after seeing hillside after hillside of mining damage and turned around without visiting the main overlook.

That evening, I visited Rio San Francisco. Such a delight! The temperature dropped significantly by the water under big cottonwoods. I waded upstream a bit then simply sat awhile, listening to the music of running water.

Later as I again settled into my room, I realized that if I were (far) younger, I’d consider moving to Clifton, buying and fixing up an old building. Perhaps open a small coffeehouse. That’s how comfortable I felt, and that comfort had much to do with the handful of people I’d met.

The few people I’d encountered were very friendly and welcoming. Some I talked to admitted to many differences among residents and their opinions, but all said the townspeople as a whole cared for and supported one another. 

On Monday, I had a quick breakfast and said my goodbyes to Clifton Hotel co-owner Karen.

I headed out on Park Avenue and found my welcoming committee had gathered on a cliff to see me off.

I took the back road out of town, which conveniently passed the cemetery, so I was able to stop in again for a last visit with the saint.

Then back south, down Old 666 and home.

Chloe was glad to see me.

A Visit With a Saint

My adventure began when my friend Cinda sent me a small article she’d found online. It was about the Mexican folk saint Teresa Urrea, “The Saint of Cábora”. (Or it could be Cabora, without the accent. Maps disagree.)

Now, I happen to love Mexican folk saints. And I’d read about Santa Teresa in Luis Urrea’s famous book The Hummingbird’s Daughter. Luis is the great-nephew of the famous saint. I’m a big fan of Luis Urrea and have read a number of his books, but The Hummingbird’s Daughter is special to me.

Teresa’s story begins in the Mexican state of Sinaloa where she was born in 1873. It continues with the family’s move to Caborca, Sonora, and through her development there as a healer. The book ends when she has to flee for her life. The book is historical fiction but Teresa’s healing and miracles are well documented.

Teresa and her father, late 1800s

The article Cinda sent me said that Santa Teresa, often called Teresita, was buried in Clifton, Arizona, a few short hours north of where I live. She’d died of tuberculosis on January 11, 1906, only thirty-two years old.

As if it happened, my birthday was coming up in about six weeks. I’d been looking for something special to do. When I reached 70 a few years back, I figured it’s pretty important to celebrate every year.

So what does one do to celebrate during the time of Covid?

Easy. Visit a grave. The grave of Santa Teresa Urrea.

I did a bit of research online and found a photo of the grave. It was covered with a concrete slab and surrounded by a small, decorative metal fence. The notes said the grave was unmarked, but with the photo I hoped to find it. I saved the photo onto my iPad.

I scheduled a room at the Clifton Hotel (blog post soon about this sweet place). I reserved two nights.

I headed off on my birthday around 9:30 and after stopping along the way for gas, coffee, photos, etc., I pulled in to Clifton around 1:45. I wandered a bit and got to my hotel by 2:30.

After a quick meal, I headed out to the cemetery with my iPad containing the grave’s photo.

The photo showed two tall Italian Cypress trees, and I figured I’d line them up with the mountains in the background to find the grave.

I got to the cemetery and was happy to find there were only two Italian Cypress trees, the ones in my photo. I could see them right through the cemetery entrance.

It didn’t take long to find the grave, but I was surprised and pleased to find it was now marked with a simple cross atop the concrete. Teresita was etched into one arm of the cross, Urrea into the other.

The fence was decorated with a rosary, and there were pink and yellow plastic flowers tied to the fence. A candle to the Virgin of Guadalupe and a small card called an estampita (a little stamp) for the Virgin sat at the base of the cross. The estampita had the Virgin’s likeness on the front and a prayer on the back. The rim of the concrete was decorated with rocks. 

I sat.

I poured out some of my sorrows, told her about Covid and the terrible divisiveness in our country. I asked her to intervene. She’s a saint, after all.

We chatted for about twenty minutes. Truth be told, she didn’t really chat. But she listened.

As I left, I asked her to come to me in my dreams.

I visited her the following day, leaving some fresh-picked flowers on her grave, and stopped by again on my way out of town the morning I left. 

Each time as I left, I asked her to visit me.

She hasn’t yet, but who’s to know? If you’ve read my post of a few weeks ago, you know I sometimes encounter spirits.

Teresa, I’m ready for a visit.

Seventy-Four and There’s So Much More (With Apologies to Neil Young)

“Old man, look at my life / I’m a lot like you were /Old man, look at my life / I’m a lot like you were / Old man, look at my life / Twenty-four, and there’s so much more.”

I loved those lines from Neil Young’s Old Man when I was twenty-four. I left the Midwest for Tucson at twenty-three, and a month later at twenty-four I was living in Tucson and knew I was a Westerner.

But Neil, you need to do a rewrite now.

“Young one, look at my life / I was a lot like you are / Young one, look at my life / I was a lot like you are / Young one, look at my life / Seventy-four and there’s so much more.”

I don’t yet know what the “much more” is, but to be sure, I plan on going after it.

Some of that “more” will include sorting, tossing, packing, and moving, though to where I don’t know. But it will be a place with public transportation and good medical facilities.

Part of the “more” will involve travel to places near and far and especially travel to be with my family. 

Most likely a part of the “more” will include a cat one day. An indoor cat. No more feline mass murderers in my home. 

Before Neil Young sang of  being twenty-four, there’d been songs with ages in them. Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen. Janis Ian’s At Seventeen

When I did a Google search, I found there are many more songs with ages in their titles. Most are by people or groups I’ve never heard of and mention ages sixteen to twenty-five. Very telling about our culture.

One didn’t fit that mold, though. The next song I related to was John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High

“He was born in the summer of his 27th year / Coming home to a place he’d never been before / He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again / You might say he found a key for every door.”

I was twenty-seven when I moved to Bisbee. It was winter. But by the summer of my twenty-seventh year, I knew I’d come home, to a place I’d never been before. You might say I was born again, into a community of hippies and I felt I’d found a key to quite a number of doors.

Key? Ha. In those days, no one locked their doors.

Then there were no more songs with ages in them, at least not that I recall, until sixty-four. When I finally caught up to the Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four, well, I still liked the song, but the line “Will you still need me, will you still feed me / When I’m sixty-four” held little meaning since I didn’t much need to be needed and anyway, I was feeding myself. 

Feeding myself a bit too much, actually, since I was at least thirty pounds overweight. Glad I’ve corrected that. 

There was one more song that spoke to me though it wasn’t about a specific age. It spoke to me long ago and does so even more clearly today. It’s John Prine’s Hello in There.

“You know that old trees just grow stronger / And old rivers grow wilder every day / Old people just grow lonesome / Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello.’”

But Neil, now that I’m seventy-four, please do a rewrite on Old Man and call it Young One. You can use my suggested opening lines. They are all I can come up with, but please pick up on it, okay?