Last week, we traveled to the borderlands of Arizona with dear friends. We visited a magical place called Hacienda Corona de Guevavi. It’s a beautiful bed and breakfast perched atop 36 acres of a historic mission and ranch along the banks of the Santa Cruz River, just miles from the U.S.-Mexico border town of Nogales.
Our hosts were a delightful family: a gracious, determined and spiritually grounded woman; her capable, enthusiastic and fun-loving partner; two adorable children; four dogs; a couple of horses; and a flock of chickens. In the owner’s own words, “While the old barn and rusty silo remind us of its rich ranching heritage, the Hacienda itself is elegant and quite refined...It's no wonder that John Wayne and other Hollywood luminaries were attracted to this cool, high desert location where they could hide from the world, rest, relax and have a little fun.”
We spent two peaceful nights in the Duke’s very own guest suite, sleeping under the stars. We ate some great meals with our hosts and traveling companions. We had cocktails, took photographs and made music on a rock wall looking out over acres of rangeland.
We also went to the town of Nogales to visit a portion of the infamous border wall. It was painful seeing the division and demise of a once vibrant community where family, friends, neighbors and co-workers happily lived on two sides of an invisible line that casually identified two countries.
Described by The New York Times as a “metal curtain,” the wall is 18 to 30 feet tall, depending on where you stand. It’s made of rusted steel tubes and plates with reinforced concrete, and covered with barbed wire. Constructed in 2011, the wall cuts through the center of town, forcing people to wait in long lines to make the trek from one side to another for shopping, doctor appointments, family visits, and work. Since much of our winter fruits and vegetables are grown in Mexico and shipped from southern Arizona, there are truck drivers whose sole business is to drive cargo from the border crossing to neighboring warehouses and then return an empty truck back to Mexico.
The wall has hurt the economy of Nogales, Arizona. A number of local businesses have closed; regional tourism is down; and the population of both the town and its county is dwindling.
On the other hand, in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, the population is growing. Some interesting local businesses thrive where Arizonans travel for less expensive pharmaceuticals, dental work, cosmetic surgery, haircuts, manicures, and restaurants.
The wall has divided friends, neighbors and families. I was told on Sundays, people gather on both sides of the wall for picnics and extended visits. You can see elders stretching their hands through the 4-inch gaps between the bars to touch their children and grandchildren. One woman sitting on a bench pointed to it and said to me, “El muro es malo,” meaning “The wall is bad.”
My time in Southern Arizona made me reflect on the notion of the “Borderlands.” In a book of his collected writings, Celtic author David Adam describes these marginal lands as “the edge of the familiar...and the known.” I think of them as liminal places where where the spirit of the land and its inhabitants (both past and present, human and otherwise) communicate with us through sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste.
The Borderlands reach beyond the known out to new horizons. They invite us to the edge of life as we know it, the space of possibilities. The Borderlands are the places where Jesus often stood: from the shores of Lake Galilee to the Emmaus road. The Borderlands are the locales where journeys are begun and ended - remember the great river crossings in all those bible stories.
The Borderlands are found in nature, in hospitals, in churches, in prison, at immigration crosses, and in country inns. These places on the edge call to us, inviting our exploration of the ebb and flow, the pain and joy, the paradox we call life. Sometimes, I feel like I’m living in The Borderlands of Dementia. It is no doubt a liminal disease, and I often feel like a stranger in a strange land as I cross to a wilderness that I don’t fully understand.
I left the Borderlands of southern Arizona determined to return. I want to go back to Nogales and take more pictures and have conversations with those affected by that awful wall. I want to see the story that the wall tells and listen to the voices who live in the shadows of that hideous concrete and steel manifestation of human fear and control. I also want to return to Hacienda Corona de Guevavi and soak in the gentle spirit of the land, the house, the barn, the rock wall, the animals and the people who live there. I might even invite some other friends to come along. - Tracey