Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 142: The Land

Graham County Line to Artesia. 20.7 miles/2719 total

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


9:15 a.m. The car is on the side of a hill on U.S. 191, near the Graham County line. I’m heading north to Artesia, 20.7 miles. It’s going to be a straight walk today, with no interruptions for gas stations or towns. Just the road and the desert and the mountains.

It’s a clear day, cool now, in the 40s. It’ll probably get up to about 60 later. For a change I’ll be walking north all day instead of west. The sun will be over my right shoulder in the morning and my left in the afternoon.

My companions this morning, such as they are, are the road construction guys who are working on making this part of 191 a four-lane road. Their main occupation seems to be rearranging the molecules of a fifty-foot hill of rock so as to put the road through it. This involves chipping away at the hill, and converting huge rocks into all grades of stone—rip rap, trap rock, gravel, and sand. Huge piles of different sizes of rocks line the side of the construction site. Busy yellow machines with Brobdingnagian tires move back and forth like creatures from a Star Wars movie. I can’t help thinking that George Lucas got his ideas from watching stuff like this when he was a little kid. That and reading and watching too much really bad and trashy sci-fi.

At 1.1 miles I enter Graham County, leaving Cochise County. Off to the left I come upon a large field of cholla cactuses, their yellow clusters of fruit hanging down off their branches like little chandeliers.

Departing from its habit of naming counties after subjugated Indians and tribes, the Territory of Arizona named Graham County for Mt. Graham, a 10,720 foot peak in the Pinaleño Mountains, northwest of where I’m walking now. Mt. Graham was in turn named for Col. James Duncan Graham. He was a surveyor and topographical engineer in the U.S. Army; born 1799, died 1865. And not just any knockabout topographical engineer. He was about as active in that capacity as anyone could have been, helping to establish boundaries between the U.S. and Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, the U.S. and the Republic of Texas, and settling a dispute about the Mason-Dixon Line, about which he published a voluminous report.

Just got stopped by the Arizona Highway Patrol. Again, a friendly guy asking after my welfare, and telling me to have a good walk.

I walk along today through the countryside with the mountains on all sides of me, now becoming so commonplace that I don’t even marvel at them any more. The foothills of the Pinaleño Mountains are off to the left. It gets me thinking about the attitude various groups of people have had toward the land. We’re told the Native Americans revered the land but didn’t feel they possessed it, just that it was their ancestral home, full of spirits and good magic and all that stuff. We’re also told, about ourselves as Europeans, that we came and viewed land more as a commodity to be owned, tamed, and exploited. Okay, fine. But because of the myth of the Noble Savage, perpetrated by Rousseau and others and certainly abetted by the Native Americans themselves, we’re also given to believe that the former attitude, that of the Indians, is somehow better and wiser and more spiritual and more highly to be prized than our attitude, which is considered crass and tantamount to the love of money writ large.

But there are other ways to view the differences between the so-called indigenous people and us as relative newcomers. First, the Indians, like everybody else except maybe some Africans, moved in from somewhere else. Over a long period of time they came to regard their position here as almost perpetual, since it went back to time out of mind. Some tribes even thought of themselves as autochthonous--as having arisen from the very earth they lived on. Then when the Europeans came, first the Spanish and later the English speaking people, they brought this idea that land was to be used for specific purposes and that others were to be kept off of it. Here, we are told, is where the Indians saw things differently. But in fact they saw things the same, only they had in mind that they and their gods were the husbands of the land, not us. There were so few of them, comparatively speaking, that they had perhaps been able to avoid major conflicts over this issue.

In any event, the Native Americans are perceived, and indeed see themselves, as being tied to these ancient homelands in a physical, spiritual, and emotional way. On the other hand, our intrepid European ancestors, not saddled with such restrictions, were happy to leave their ancestral lands and come over here and move into whatever kind of setup they could get—eastern and southern swamps and fields, Midwestern prairies, western mountains. Now I ask you, which person is more fit to occupy the land? The one whose spirit pines away and shrivels up when removed from one greasy little spot, or the one who says, "Okay, show me where to sleep and how to get water, and I’ll make the best of any place you put me"? Everyone possesses both these instincts in some measure and proportion, of course. But we, the ones who came to this continent from the other side of the ocean, had liberated ourselves from the sentimental and superstitious ties to place and time. We were dispossessed already—peasants, younger brothers who wouldn’t inherit, dodgy members of the demimonde. We were portable by nature. We even had a portable god, who didn’t live in the mountains or rivers, but went with us everywhere we went. Ancestors? Who needs ‘em, they’re dead, and a fat lot of good they did us anyway.

Ultimately this was our strength. We were more adaptable. It didn’t hurt that we were technologically way ahead of these people who hadn’t had really felt the need of our inventions until we got here. Originally they, like we, had been nomads and adventurers. But lack of serious conflict had made them stagnant, or at least slowed them down. They were evolving, but more slowly than we. Hence, they weren’t as adaptable as we were. Too bad for them.

So I ask again, who is nobler, more spiritual, and wiser in the long run, the winners or the losers? Why do we glorify the losers? We see them as purer somehow for their very vulnerability. Look at the Irish. An island full of people who have been beaten down time and again by the English, and will never be their match in anything but the ability to get drunk and recite poetry. Yes, of course, give them the island. Give the Palestinians their homeland, yes. But don’t say they occupy the moral high ground because they’ve been unable to hold on to what was once theirs. The conquerors are the ones who move and evolve fastest—to conquer and evolve some more and become stronger, and to strengthen the species thereby. Yet the losers make us pine for something we can't get back, some supposed innocence and leisure and purity. They make us want to return to the Garden. What they really represent to us, rightly or not, is our own childhoods, lost forever and replaced with the sense of purpose that comes with maturity.

It’s warmed up nicely this afternoon, probably into the low 60s. I have taken my sweatshirt off and have its sleeves tied around my waist, Eurotrash style. The Adopt-a-Highway sign over Mile 104 says, “In memory of Louie R. Tartaglia.” Sounds like a name that belongs in Rhode Island or New Jersey rather than out here in the arid mountains of Arizona. Maybe Louie got sent here by the witness protection program. Badda bing.

At 13 miles I arrive at the junction with Arizona 266. This is the first intersection I’ve come to all day. The road has gone from two lanes to four and back to two, but here at least there’s a shoulder wide enough so I can stay well clear of Refuseniks.

At about 15 miles I crest a hill and begin a long descent into a valley containing scattered settlements and evidence of human habitation. I’m looking at Artesia and beyond that Safford, and the Gila River Valley. I can find little information about Artesia other than that it's on the map.

At about 19 miles I begin passing some houses and more trees as the road flattens out a bit here in the valley. Just short of Mile 112 sits the motor home, against a high dirt embankment, across from Stauffer Lane.


Billie Bob said...

Pining for the simpler more spiritual ways of the beaten down savage is a way of flogging ourselves. We don’t mind moving in and taking over, killing everything in our path. But when it’s done and over, there is this sort of hangover. The way we did what we just did kind of rubs our sensitivities wrong.

The conquering hero goes to his bedroom at night and takes out the whip and starts to flog his back. WHACK! I just ran over those poor backward bastards and didn’t even break a sweat. WHACK! I killed innocent women and children just for the fun of it. WHACK! I destroyed their way of life. WHACK! F--- it, tomorrow I’ll go build me a fence, plant me some corn, raise some cattle, and get rich...maybe run for congress. I deserve it after all; I work hard for my money, my status, my way of life…

And the hangover fades away.

Erik said...

Hi Dad. Just thought I would let you know I am watching your blog every now and then just to see how your walk is going. I am envious of you down there in the desert southwest, as I have only been there once before in 1999. I loved it and would someday like to return there. Should you travel through the Superstition Mountains on your walk, please see if you can find the "Lost Dutchman's Mine". So enjoy the sunshine of the desert, as we are in our second day of a three day lake effect snow warning. Have fun and don't forget to stop and smell the mesquete every once in a while. And of course, hate the Buckeyes even more with every one of your steps. -Erik

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Billie Bob, nicely put.
Hey Erik, I will be skirting the south edge of the Superstition Mountains, but don't think I can find that mine. Others have tried and never returned. Right now I'm hating Rich Rodriguez even more than the Buckeyes.

Michael Roberts said...

[Spooky echo heard out on the desert wasteland...]




Michael Roberts said...

Many Native American tribes, as well as many Asian cultures, see the land, nature, and reality for that matter, as a moving, living thing of which they are an integral part of. It's a vision even reflected in the structure of their language and words for things as "be-ings" rather than things. Therefore the notion of conquering nature is an absurd, self-inflicted blow. We highly rational Euro-beings see reality as a collection of separate Newtonian things sharing space. Conquer. Devour. No problem, that's someone else's stuff, no skin off my back. That ability not to identify with one's surroundings or fellow beings is the foundation for most forms of shameful acts, against other people and the planet.

Ted Agar said...

Hey, there's a bright side to all of this. When humankind finally manages to complete their cycle of self-destruction, it's estimated that it will take the Earth a mere 100,000 years (suspiciously round number, isn't it?) to erase all traces of our ever having existed - unless of course, we manage to take her with us when we go...
I've been reading almost every day, Pete.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Howdy fellas--now this is more like it.

Ah yes, the kindly misogynistic torturing Native Americans, with their endless internecine wars. And the visionary infanticidal overcrowded pollution-spewing Asians. Query: if we're so fucked up, then why is everybody else so much MORE fucked up? Add self-reproach to the long list of western vices, Michael. As far as shameful acts to the planet are concerned, it's a pretty large and tough rock. It's only our vaunted opinion of ourselves as a species that makes us think we are capable of damaging it beyond the disruption of our current lifestyle. Like the old joke about the flea crawling up an elephant's hind leg with rape on his mind. And speaking of fleas, the future has always belonged to the insects and the microbes. And the rocks themselves.

Anonymous said...

You know I'm out here, first thing in the morning but I don't want to be the only one making comments and I too was wondering where everybody else had gone. I was thinking just recently that I miss your visits to cemeteries and your description of squalor in the cities. I think of that every time I take the"virage qui tue" and am hit by the stench of urine at Chatelet where line 4 connects with line 1.
How's that voor een comment ?

Michael Roberts said...

Every culture has its self-important egoists fixed on their own internal wisdom, the little voice that assures, cajoles, and rationalizes shameful acts. Some are in charge. Cultural stereotypes and jingoistic appeals are part of their noise. And the earth will abide; the dude won't. ( Good walking today, partner.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Tut tut, Mike. Eat less tofu and embrace your inner Attila the Hun.

S.--Cemeteries have been a little scarce, but I do still love them. I think they hide them around here. And the cities have been so small. Sometimes the smell of cow urine is overpowering, though.

Anonymous said...

As far as animals go, nothing beats the pigs. Spend an hour indoors with them and you will need to change your clothes completely, wash your hair three times, scrub your skin red and even your tongue and nostrils and you may still smell it after that.

Randy said...

I'm still here, although very busy moving Aaron to Madison; he got a job! One of those good state jobs, although the new Gov. is a teatard and who knows what damage he'll wrought.