Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Day 142: The Land
Graham County Line to Artesia. 20.7 miles/2719 total
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
IS ANYBODY OUT THERE BESIDES BILLIE BOB? I’VE BEEN GETTING VERY FEW COMMENTS LATELY, AND HALF OF THEM ARE MINE. IF YOU’RE READING, DROP ME A LINE. THANKS.
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.