My mesa top ranch, Apache Mesa, east of Las Vegas, New Mexico, on the road to Romeroville, is burning in this remorseless drought. The whole world is burning up; the map of the United States is a uniform angry red. I feel the drought most strongly among the dwarfed pinions and junipers of this high mesa, never fertile or wet, never providing enough forage for a big herd of cattle, although it seems that sheepherders may have camped here with their flocks. Their rough stone one-room huts remain and we are converting one into a combined tack room and studio, for when I move my working operations out here and we find a way to haul horses up the ferocious road.
A month ago, we saw three nun-like wild turkey hens hunching across the dirt road, a single young stag, and a lot of birds. Today we only saw a four-foot rattler sunning in the middle of the road, a female by her stripes; she moved casually away, pausing only to rear and strike at an injudicious stick.
There are neighbors, invisible in trailers and small houses; one, the hermit, lives in a great mess of bottles and dogs, cans and broken cars. Another, more respectable, has made herself guardian of the four gates that must be laboriously opened each time we drive to the little house. She has finally given up, although it took some strong words to convince her that there are no cattle on the mesa to be contained.
Well, actually there are! Yesterday when I went up with my son Barry, we passed two small herds on the road, five cows with a frisking calf and five somber Black Angus steer, but they are enclosed by cattle guards and so don’t require gates.
On this trip, we met a grandfather, son and grandson coming down the road in a white truck; this family is the original landowner on the mesa and we will see them again at the neighborhood meeting in September. What is priceless about the enclave on Apache Mesa is that it is not only us newcomers who have found little pockets of paradise there; the people who have lived there for decades are still in place. In this rigidly divided state, where our boast about “three nationalities”—Hispanics, Native Americans, and Anglos—is punctured by the way we have moved apart into different areas that seem to have no common ground, the people living on Apache Mesa offer a thread of hope: we can cooperate, we can even enjoy each other’s company, and we share a love for this place perhaps best reflected in the tiny rusted child’s cup we found near the little house, or the tiny ‘thirties tin truck, or the worn sole of a child’s shoe.
[For more on Apache Mesa, please see “My Wild.”]